Call it fate, call it timing, call it the unpredictable synchronization of man and event. For years Dr. Kenneth Tollett wrote treatises on education, minorities and law in scholarly journals. Then in April of last year Tollett's quiet academic life was suddenly interrupted. The microphones opened up, the camera rolled and the interviewer arrived.
Unwittingly, Tollett has now become one of the official national voices for proponents of affirmative action when the Bakke case became a national issue. Allan Bakke a white, contends that he was not accepted at the University of California Medical School at Davis because less-qualified minorities were admitted under a special program. (The Supreme Court has not yet decided on the issue.)
"There could be no issue that has confronted the country that I could have been better prepared to deal with," says Tollett.
"It is the most serious threat to black survival. It could be seen as the formal announcement of the post- Reconstruction era again," he says, as he sits behind his desk at Howard University's Institute for the Study of Educational Policy. Tollett's views reflect a more cautious view than many blacks.
A group of civil rights organizations opposed to Bakke's stand met last April in Philadelphia to form loose coalition to inform the public of their position. As director of ISEP, Tollett volunteered the institute's services as liason for the groups. Tollett has been steeped in facts, figures and studies on black education compiled at the Institute. Next thing he knew Tollett found himself on the Bakke speaking circuit.
Thus, Tollett has been on the "Today" show arguing with Albert Sanker, the New York teacher's union leader. In just about one month's time late last year Tollett was on 20 radio and television shows.
"So here I am," says Tollett, "debating Shanker on the 'Today' show, on 'Panorama,' on 'Crossfire,' I've been on all the channels and on all the news reports. On July 14, I held a briefing of 80 journalists on the Bakke case. "
So armed with his 16-page resume, Tollett has been going about the country speaking on the Bakke issue. Now, he says, he's trying to cut down on the appearances -- the requests are still coming -- to concentrate on writing a book on the Bakke case and a monograph on the need to preserve black colleges as insurance against declining interest in educating blacks.
Why Tollett as spokesman?
Possibly it has something to do with the American mania for experts, the love of listening to the thoughts of a lettered person on a current subject.
Does Tollett enjoy all this publicity?
"Well, the travel and so forth has been especially difficult because I'm raising my 15-year-old daughter by myself. Nicola's her name; she was the anchorperson on 'Youth News' last year. And. of course, all the speaking has intruded on my scholarly work. At one time, I was engaged in some really massive research. I was comprehensively and systematically investigating how science, art, religion and law impact on social policy and social order. It has something of the breadth and depth of research of Toynbee's 'History of Civilization.' I'd like to get back to that some time."
Still, Tollett, a dean of Texas Southern University's law school for two years, describes himself as a "classical liberal" who is interested in "civil liberties more than civil rights."
Tollett sees his role as [WORDS ILLEGIBLES] for the public on the real [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Bakke case. Other civil rights groups involved in the issue say generally that he is doing a service, though some say he's involved for personal glory.
Tollett contends that his present position in life, the media exposure, the conferences and the travel are "just some of the ironies of how life proceeds."
As he escorts a visitor to the elevator, a television crew arrives. They ask to see the Institute's public relations person, but Tollett introduces himself and says, "I think you came to see me." CAPTION: Picture Bakke authority Dr. Kenneth Tollett [WORD ILLEGIBLE] -- The Washington Post