Minority students aren't inferior Texas professor: How he said it was more important than what Lino Graglia said.

September 24, 1997

ONE WOULD think a son of Italian immigrants would understand what it means to be stereotyped. Not too many years ago, Italian Americans in parts of the Deep South had to fear a lynch mob almost as much as a black person did. Yet an Italian American, a distinguished law professor at the University of Texas, put such sensitivities aside in assessing the academic abilities of African-American and Hispanic students.

Swiping all with the same broad brush, Lino Graglia said, ''Blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites in selective institutions. . . . They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement. Failure is not looked upon with disgrace.''

The shocking comment is made more remarkable in that it came from a well-educated person in a university environment where he is daily exposed to evidence that counters his blanket indictment. There are good black and Hispanic students at the University of Texas.

Mr. Graglia could have admitted that in an apology he made later, but he would only concede his comments had been ''carelessly put'' and should have been expressed ''more discreetly.'' His clumsy attempt to make a point about racial preferences exploded in his face.

What the professor should have done is acknowledge that there is much concern in low-income urban and rural areas about the lack of academic achievement on the part of black, Hispanic and white children; that in such environments success in school often is not as important as survival in the streets; that students from such backgrounds may have a more difficult time making the grade in college.

But this observation might have led Mr. Graglia to conclude that perhaps such students need special consideration to provide them with opportunities that are immediately available to children who grow up in more advantaged circumstances.

There are, indeed, minority-race students who cannot blame their environment for their poor academic performance. Many of them, sadly, emulate the low-achievers glorified by pop culture. But these ''slackers'' are not representative of the whole. Professor Graglia is wrong to imply that they are.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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