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Heckling, Protests at University Board Meeting on Lawrence’s Remarks

February 10, 1995

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Rutgers University’s Board of Governors reaffirmed its support Friday for President Francis Lawrence, who came under fire for saying minority students lack the ``genetic hereditary background″ to perform well on standardized tests.

The board issued its statement after a private session and a sometimes raucous 3 1/2-hour public meeting during which it listened to about 50 speakers for and against Lawrence, who again apologized for his remarks.

Angry students demanding Lawrence’s resignation heckled speakers as others tried to force their way into the room.

``Take your bigotry back to the bayou, Fran, we don’t need it here,″ Flavio Komuves, a recent graduate, said in the open meeting. Lawrence was a professor and administrator at Tulane University in New Orleans before he was named Rutgers president in 1990.

``I’m not going to allow the lynching of Fran Lawrence,″ said Mary Davidson, dean of the School of Social work, who is black and said that her great-uncle was lynched in Oklahoma.

Campus maintenance mechanic John McCutchen, who is black, asked to approach Lawrence.

``As a child of God, I forgive you,″ McCutchen said, and the two men embraced.

Some who spoke in favor of Lawrence were loudly heckled. Emmet Dennis, a black professor of biological sciences, was derided as a ``house slave″ when he spoke in Lawrence’s support.

The United Students Coalition, which organized demonstrations Wednesday and Friday at the main campus in New Brunswick, demanded a meeting with Lawrence. Otis Rolley, a coalition representative, told the board that if it did not get a response by Monday it would turn to ``alternative methods″ to force a ``dialogue.″

About 250 students gathered in a lounge on another floor of the Paul Robeson Campus Center to listen to speeches calling for Lawrence’s ouster and to watch the board meeting on closed-circuit television.

At one point the crowd left the lounge and surged into the hallway outside the meeting room. Some pounded on an outer door to the room, shouting ``Let us in!″ until more than a dozen campus police officers pushed them away.

One man was arrested on assault and disorderly conduct charges, and was later released, police said.

Inside, Lawrence gave no indication he would heed calls for his resignation, but apologized again for the remark, as he has since it became public early last week.

``People are human. They misspeak. Sometimes they say precisely the opposite of what they mean,″ Lawrence said.

He pledged his administration to ``maintain and expand access to higher education,″ and recommended that the university hold forums or ``teach-ins″ this spring to discuss admissions, testing and other policies.

About 32 percent of the state university’s 47,700 students are minorities; just under 10 percent are black.

The board has 11 voting members, of whom nine are white, one is black and one is Japanese-American.

Lawrence’s remark that ``disadvantaged″ students do not have ``that genetic hereditary background to have a higher average″ in standardized tests came during a lengthy meeting with faculty in November.

The remark drew no notice until The Star-Ledger of Newark obtained a tape of the meeting and published a story Jan. 31.

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