A group of lawyers, economists sociologists and historians gathered at Howard University Law School this weekend and expressed generally gloomy views about the possibility of affirmative action programs improving the condition of women and minorities in America.

Walter Williams, a Temple University economist said that "affirmative action has not increased employment opportunities significantly" and its "primary echievement thus far has been to split the traditional coalition between Jews and blacks and give the false impresssion that those hard won achievements by blacks came through gifts, not merit."

Ralph Smith of the University of Pennsylvania Law School compared fighting discrimination with affirmative action to "attacking a 1,200 pound gorilla with pea shooters."

Williams went beyong affirmative action questions to state the radically conservative proposition, considering the liberal audience he was addressing, that "we need to take as many decisions as effect people's lives awat from the government as possible."

He clearly astounded some members of the audience of law students and lawyers in the Houston Chapel on Howards Dunbarton campus when he said that the minimum wage law was a major cause of the high rate of unemployment among black youths.

When asked whether that wasnt equivalent to saying that you can end black unemployment by bringing back slavery?" he responded:

"The minimum wage law is one of the most antiblack laws on the books of the United States."

Smith said that the only way affirmative action can work is if thepersons who are in a position to hire are replaced by others who will make it work.

Williams, the traditionalist, opted for education. He favors a vouches system under which parents would get government grants to pay for schools selected by the parents.

All of the recommendations had one key thing in common - no one, not even those who made them - thought that they would bring about important changes, either because they were politically impossible to implement, or because they would take generations to achieve even modest results.

Two of the panelists in the two day form titled, "Equality in America: A Color-Blind Constitution?" offered some practical advice on how to build a litigation-proof affirmative action program.

Never "make it look like a clear-cut case of race or sex," trial lawyer Richard Sobol advised employers or college admissions officer who administer programs that show preference to ward minorities.

Another approach suggested by Sobol was to examine the qualifications for a job and see if they might not realistically be lowered, rather than waiving them for minority applicans or women.

"The use of employment criteria that are not valid are just rampant," he said. "It's conceit on the part of the employer. People like to think their jobsare more complicated than they are."