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Rutgers President Disavows Remark About Heredity And Test Scores

February 1, 1995

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) _ The president of Rutgers University came under attack Tuesday for saying disadvantaged students do not have ``the genetic hereditary background″ to score well on standardized tests.

Francis L. Lawrence did not deny making the statement, but said it was not what he meant.

``In spite of the fact that I did use those words, they are opposed to my beliefs,″ he said at a news conference. ``I regret it, I do regret it, I certainly regret those comments.″

Lawrence made the comment during a Nov. 11 talk to about 30 faculty members at the Camden campus.

A recording of the speech was distributed by the faculty union; the remarks were first reported Tuesday in The Star-Ledger of Newark.

Describing his views on the use of exams like the Scholastic Assessment Tests to assess student performance, Lawrence said:

``Let’s look at the SATs. The average SAT for African-Americans is 750. Do we set standards in the future so that we don’t admit anybody with the national test? Or do we deal with a disadvantaged population that doesn’t have that genetic hereditary background to have a higher average?″

Gov. Christie Whitman urged the university’s board of governors to hold a special session as soon as possible to allow Lawrence to explain his comment.

The student government associations of two of the university’s colleges, Rutgers and Douglass, called on Lawrence to resign as head of the 40,000-student state university.

So did the state chapter of the NAACP.

``Given the volatile nature of race relations in the state of New Jersey, we cannot afford to have the future of our state _ our young people _ placed in the hands of an individual who devalues their very presence,″ the civil rights organization said in a statement.

Carlton Holstrom, chairman of the board of governors, defended Lawrence’s record of recruiting and nurturing minority students and faculty.

``If actions speak louder than words, his actions virtually shout the words,″ Holstrom said.

Asked if he would apologize, Lawrence repeatedly said he was correcting his remarks.

``I’m here to respond to the community, many of whom could be hurt if there were not a quick clarification,″ Lawrence said.

``What I intended to say was that standardized tests should not be used to exclude disadvantaged students on the trumped-up grounds that such tests measure inherent ability, because I believe that they do not.″

A spokeswoman for the College Board, which created the SAT, said it advises colleges not to evaluate students solely on SAT scores.

``The SAT is not an intelligence test. It measures verbal and math reasoning skills,″ spokeswoman Jan Gams said. ``Every racial and ethnic subgroup contains students with exceptional scores, and the converse is true.″

State Assemblywoman Shirley K. Turner questioned Lawrence’s explanation.

``The fact that someone in his position _ especially a leader in a diverse state like New Jersey _ would utter such outrageous ideas is troubling enough in itself,″ Turner said.

Rutgers senior Alex Norman, editor of The Black Voice student newspaper, said: ``It was irresponsible for him to say something like that. It’s ignorant and insensitive.″

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