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 April 24, 2000

Survey of Connecticut Faculty Stirs Controversy

A statewide survey of faculty at Connecticut's public higher education institutions about racial preferences in hiring and admissions in higher education has raised more questions than it asked.

The poll, administered by UConn's Center for Survey Research and Analysis (CSRA), was funded by the Connecticut Association of Scholars, a local affiliate of the National Association of Scholars.

The questions were similar to ballot propositions put before voters in California.

The results of the statewide poll, released last Tuesday, showed by substantial margins that professors at the state's public colleges and universities feel their schools should not grant preferences in hiring or admissions on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender.

Some UConn faculty and staff have objected to the two-question telephone survey, saying the questions were oversimplified and intended to elicit negative responses to affirmative action.

In a two-page letter to President Austin, a group calling themselves "The Committee of Concerned Faculty and Staff" called upon the president to denounce the survey.

"The interviewers didn't explain who was being polled and why or what the survey was about," the committee said in the letter.

"We were asked whether we supported the granting of preferences based on race, ethnicity or gender in the hiring of faculty and in student admissions as two separate questions. Then, ostensibly for verification purposes, we were asked what our rank and our race was," the letter said.

Some UConn professors said they refused to answer the survey.

"I refused to answer the preference questions," said Kenneth Neubeck, an associate professor of sociology. "Any yes or no answer given to the questions as they were worded would have distorted and hidden my views on and support for affirmative action."

Kenneth Dautrich, director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis, defended the poll, saying standard procedures were followed.

He noted that the center routinely accepts proposals from legitimate groups, regardless of their political ideology, but would reject fringe groups, such as neo-Nazi organizations.

In response to the criticism and concern that has been building during the past several weeks, President Austin released a strong statement early Tuesday in which he reiterated a personal pledge to diversity made during his inaugural speech three years ago.

He also defended the concept and practice of academic freedom.

Austin said in his statement that the contractual relationship between the CSRA and the Connecticut Association of Scholars was similar to those between CSRA and an array of organizations.

"As is the case with any reputable survey research organization, CSRA's acceptance of this commission entails neither support for nor opposition to the objectives of the group commissioning the survey," Austin's statement read.

"The University administration does not serve the interests of quality scholarship by second-guessing specific questionnaires," Austin said. "Nor do we challenge the right of others in the community to express their opinions on these matters."

After a press conference in Hartford at which the Connecticut Association of Scholars announced the poll's results, more than two dozen University employees, most of them faculty members, gathered briefly Tuesday afternoon outside Gulley Hall, the main administration building in Storrs, to protest the survey.

Fred Maryanski, interim chancellor, met informally with the group, listened to their concerns, and announced his intention to form a task force to look into policy issues concerning surveys.

He also reaffirmed the University's commitment to diversity, not only in terms of race but in relation to gender, geographic, ethnic and other forms of diversity.

Claudia Chamberlain