Lino Graglia is a 67-year-old Sicilian-born American who was an attorney in the Eisenhower Justice Department and has been teaching constitutional law at the University of Texas in Austin for 33 years. A stiff-necked Catholic conservative — some would say eccentric — he passionately holds to a belief that some would call fundamentalist: that if representatives of the sovereign people choose to enact a law that is not contradicted by the actual text of the Constitution, then that law is constitutional. Period.
Last week, the president of his university, the chancellor and 51 of his law school colleagues denounced him. State legislators, including the chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, described him variously as a Klan supporter, a racist and “academic riff-raff.” The Houston Chronicle condemned him as an “embarrassment” and the local NAACP and three student groups charged him with “racial harassment.” Jesse Jackson urged 5,000 cheering campus demonstrators to boycott his classes and “turn him into a moral and social pariah.”
Graglia’s crime? As usual in these intellectual autos-da-fé, for telling an uncomfortable truth: that affirmative action is simply an attempt to conceal or wish away the unwelcome fact that blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites and Asians. Graglia made the remarks in a speech to “Students for Equal Opportunity,” a campus organization for whom he was the faculty advisor. The topic of the meeting was the Hopwood case, which recently ended affirmative action at the university.
Graglia had not come by those views recently. Twenty years ago he wrote a book called “Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools,” and is accustomed to describing affirmative action programs as a “fungus” and a “fraud.” His latest remarks on the subject were almost tepid by comparison, leaving Graglia totally unprepared for the public burning that followed them.
The frenzy has been so strong that out of a faculty of more than 1,000 professors, only two have been willing to come forward to defend the character of a man who has taught for three decades alongside them and whose Dean, after reviewing his personal file, stated that there were no grounds for disciplinary action. Despite the NAACP’s charges, the Dean added, “The record does not justify a charge that he discriminates against his students and others on the basis of race or ethnicity.” Indeed, as the Houston Chronicle reported, “No one has offered any evidence that Graglia treats minority and white students differently.”