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CSUN Asks Ex-Klansman Duke to Speak at Debate on Prop. 209

September 04, 1996|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Rejecting critics' charges of "mindless political theater," the Cal State Northridge Student Senate voted Tuesday to invite Senate candidate David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, to debate affirmative action with a civil rights leader.

Duke, who will be paid $4,000 for his appearance Sept. 25, will be opposed by Joe Hicks, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles-based Multicultural Collaborative, who will receive $1,000, according to student representatives.

Some of the approximately two dozen students and faculty members who spoke before the vote at the CSUN student union argued that because of his past association with the racist Klan, Duke was the wrong choice to represent conservatives on the issue, and that his presence would not foster greater understanding of the debate over ethnic and gender preferences in hiring, advancement and college admissions.

Proposition 209 on the November California ballot would outlaw such preferences by state and local government agencies.

To treat Duke, a fringe candidate, as an expert on affirmative action "would discredit the university and degenerate into mindless political theater," said economics professor William Brown.

The student senators deadlocked 11-11 and the tie-breaking vote was cast by Student Senate President Vladimir Cerna.

"We seem to forget this is a university," Cerna said. "If you can't discuss these issues here, where can you do it?"

Three years ago, CSUN's Black Student Union drew fire from Jewish students and community leaders by inviting Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam to speak on campus.

Some student speakers, citing past racial tension on the CSUN campus, suggested Duke's appearance could spark violence.

That drew objections from T. Fox, first vice president of the Black Student Union. Angered by what he said was the mistaken assumption that blacks would resort to violence to protest Duke's presence, Fox praised the Senate's decision.

The decision to invite Duke was criticized as "regrettable politics . . . on the students' part" by the office of Gov. Pete Wilson, who supports Proposition 209, which its backers call the California Civil Rights Initiative.

To cast Duke as a representative of Proposition 209 supporters is an attempt to taint the initiative as racist, said Sean Walsh, the governor's press secretary. "To equate the civil rights measure, an initiative that seeks to end discrimination, with a racist like David Duke is an outrage," he said.

The Duke invitation has become involved in the debate over using compulsory student fees to pay controversial speakers whose political or social views may be opposed by many students.

Legislation is expected to be introduced in the next session of the Legislature to allow students to get a refund for the portion of their fees that go to political or ideological causes they disagree with, said David Reed, chief of staff to the chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education and Finance, which has jurisdiction over the issue.

"There's a vast difference between the people they say they invited [to oppose affirmative action] and David Duke, an ex-Klansman" Reed said. "It's a transparent effort to move a political agenda using student fees. That's not appropriate and the public will see it for what it is."

Cerna said the student group had tried to get other speakers to represent the anti-affirmative action side, but was unable to do so.

"We sent faxes and letters to many participants," he said. "The majority had scheduling conflicts. We tried to be flexible. Everyone kept turning us down. The only person that stuck with us was Mr. Duke."

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