In their statement, the SAAS leaders also decried “this racist university campus” — in particular its alleged “involvement in the continued political harassment of the Black Panther Party” — along with what they called a “lack of concern for Black people whether they be students or workers” and a “general contempt towards the beliefs of Black students in particular and Black people in general.”
“Black students recognize the necessity of not letting the university set a dangerous precedent in its dealings with Black people,” the statement read in part, “that is letting white people direct the action and forces that affect Black people toward goals they (white people) feel are correct.”
Among the black professors who publicly supported Holder and the SAAS during this period was Black history teacher Hollis Lynch, who is one of four professors Holder later said “shaped my worldview.”
Entering Columbia Law School in September 1973, Holder joined the Black American Law Students Association. Less than a month later, that organization joined other minority activist groups in a coalition that demanded the retraction of a letter to President Gerald Ford, signed by six Columbia professors, that argued against affirmative action and racial quotas.
“Merit should be rewarded, without regard to race, sex, creed, or any other external factor,” the professors wrote to President Ford. Following a campaign marked by what two of those professors called “rhetoric and names hurled” at them, they changed their position and denied they actually opposed affirmative action.
The Columbia Spectator’s editorial page later argued against affirmative action as a factor in university admissions, touching off another controversy with the coalition that included the Black American Law Students Association. “Affirmative action is just a nice name for a quota, and quotas are just a nice name for racism,” the editorial board wrote.
In response, the minority students’ coalition responded that “traditional academic criteria have a built-in bias” that leaves many minority students “automatically excluded.”
“[A]ffirmative action is neither racist nor sexist,” they wrote. “Rather it is opposition to it, which fails to provide alternative means for eradicating bias, that supports the racist and sexist status quo.”
As attorney general, Holder has defended the affirmative action policies that are now the status quo. In February 2012, Holder said during a World Leaders Forum at Columbia University that he “can’t actually imagine a time in which the need for more diversity would ever cease.”
“Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices,” Holder said. “The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin. … When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”
Holder has also come under fire for presiding over a Justice Department that declined to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party who allegedly intimidated white voters outside a Philadelphia polling precinct in 2008.