December 13, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 18
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Conn. governor proposes overhaul of civil rights agency

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. M. Jodi Rell has put together a working group to look into an overhaul of Connecticut’s civil rights agency.

The group is studying the possibility of restructuring the troubled Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. A Rell spokesman said the assessment grew out of contacts between the state NAACP and the governor’s office this summer.

There have been well-documented problems at the human rights commission, including a backlog of complaints, high caseloads for investigators and allegations of discrimination within the agency itself.

Additionally, three executive directors have left under questionable circumstances in the last 10 years.

Univ. of Texas students protest cancellation of black studies course

SAN ANTONIO — The University of Texas at San Antonio’s cancellation of an upcoming course within the African American Studies Program has prompted the resignation of a professor and drawn students’ criticism.

The university pulled “African American Political Thought” from the spring semester because of a lack of student interest in the black studies program, spokesman David Gabler said.

Eight students declared a minor in the program this year, up from four last year, according to the university, which has an enrollment of 28,500.

Margaret Richardson, chairwoman of Students Committed to Change, criticized the decision in a letter to the school’s administration.

“It is a shame that even in these times a program such as the African American studies minor is allowed to wither on the vine,” Richardson said. “As a student, I am appalled at the obvious disregard for the students who want these classes. We do not ask for special treatment, but for respect for our classes and our support of the African American Studies Program.”

Richardson said any lack of interest in the program is the fault of administrators who have failed to promote it.

Professor Frederick Williams resigned over the dispute. He helped write the course outlines for the black studies program, which he said was started in 2001 in response to a student petition. He said the canceled class had 27 students last spring.

“You think the students are doing this because they’re not interested in the classes?” Williams said. “The only reason they decided to go public is because nobody is willing to listen to them.”

Gabler said the university will continue to offer the black studies program and that any canceled classes could be put back on the schedule in future semesters if demand increases.

N.C. ACLU: Separate gang assemblies for black, Hispanic students wrong

RALEIGH, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union is objecting to how a middle school held separate assemblies for black and Hispanic students to discuss the school’s no-tolerance policy on gang activity.

ACLU North Carolina director Jennifer Rudinger said a more effective assembly would have gathered the entire seventh-grade class to talk about the importance of respecting fellow classmates, regardless of race.

The principal at Dillard Drive Middle School held assemblies at different times earlier this week after a heated argument escalated when a Hispanic girl tried to intimidate a black student with gang symbolism.

White students weren’t sent to either assembly.

Wake County school district spokesman Michael Evans said staff knew other black and Hispanic students witnessed the incident, but didn’t know which ones.

Critics of Civil Rights Museum rally for management change

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Critics wanting more black directors for the National Civil Rights Museum pressed their demands with a protest rally last Saturday, even though the state already has approved a new lease with the private group that runs it.

The recently approved 15-year lease requires the museum on the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder to adjust the racial makeup of its board while also addressing other complaints raised by the critics.

“But the devil is in the details, and there has to be a specific agreement on how this is to be done,” said D’Army Bailey, a leading museum critic.

The rally, with about 100 participants, was staged at the museum following a half-mile march from Clayborn Temple, a church where King often met with leaders of a garbage workers strike that brought him to Memphis, and his death, in 1968.

Martin Luther King III, King’s oldest son, and activist Al Sharpton were scheduled to attend the rally, but did not show up.

The new state lease with the Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation requires its directors to allow greater public access to their meetings and to meet with critics to discuss museum operations and programs.

Squabbling over the lease renewal has gone on for weeks, with critics arguing the museum’s 32-member board is too white — and with 12 corporate members is too closely tied with big business.

That makeup, critics contend, limits the museum’s establishment of programs for furthering civil rights today.

The new lease includes a “memorandum of understanding” that directs the museum board to adjust its membership to at least 60 percent black. It is currently just under 50 percent black.

Board membership must also include at least one state lawmaker, a representative of organized labor and a civil rights historian.

Some 200,000 people a year visit the museum, which opened in 1991 and chronicles the struggle for American civil rights from the days of slavery to the present.

Local and state government spent $10 million to build the museum, and the state owns the former motel, which houses the main exhibits. The foundation has doubled the size of the museum, largely through private donations.

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