CSU Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Director Dana Hiatt joined a three-woman panel in a public discussion last night on the topic of Amendment 46, which, the panel argued, will disadvantage women and minorities.
Larimer County women gathered in the Community Room of the Fort Collins Coloradoan office to join Hiatt and the other panelists, assembled by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.
Opponents state-wide have harshly criticized Amendment 46 for being vague and misleading.
The amendment states simply that the government shall not grant preferential treatment to any race or gender in the application of state-funded education, contracts or other public institutions.
This means it will ban affirmative action programs, an issue which many opponents, including last night’s panel, argue voters don’t realize when they read it. Ward Connerly, the African-American businessman from California behind the bill, has argued that the amendment could not be clearer and that it will level the playing field for all races and genders.
“We’ve all heard the expression, ‘If you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he’ll have his own food’,” said Lorena Garcia, lead organizer for Nine to Five, a National Association of Working Women. “But if you teach a woman to fish, she won’t get anything if she lives in a desert.”
Garcia said that affirmative action programs do not give unqualified people jobs, as opponents might argue, but that they simply allow women and minorities to compete.
Affirmative action programs, which were referred to repeatedly last night as “equal opportunity initiatives,” do not create quotas that need to be filled – they simply require state programs to consider at least some minorities and women when filling a job position, writing a contract or enrolling students, the panelists said.
Garcia said that programs that work to close the pay gap between men and women might also be jeopardized, highlighting the fact that women still make only 78 cents to every dollar a man makes for comparable work in Colorado.
“We still need 22 more cents,” she said. “Women of color make even less, only 56 cents to the dollar of a man. We still need equal opportunity programs. We are not done.”
Panelist Melissa Hart, an associate professor in the University of Colorado’s law school, argued that the term ‘preferential treatment’ is too vague and is therefore left too open to judicial interpretation.
“What we have to do is to think about what are the long term impacts of this amendment passing,” Hiatt said. “There has been very strict judicial interpretation in states where this kind of law has already passed.”
When asked how the amendment might affect policies at CSU, Hiatt said that there are not any specific departments or programs that will be affected.
“There has been an evolution in the past several years in Colorado since similar law has raised questions in Michigan Supreme Court,” she said. “We’ve been looking at our activities to make sure they are as transparent as possible and comply under these regulations.”
She said that diversity advocacy offices and programs will not become illegal as long as they are accessible to the entire student body.
“We want to fulfill our role and mission of a land grant institution,” she said.
As for scholarships that target a specific race or gender, Hiatt said the university will not be able to implement them, but since they come from private sponsors, they will have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Senior Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.