From recent testimony from John Agresto, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, before the House employment opportunities subcommittee:

A year and a half ago . . . (the endowment) discussed what race-based goals and timetables did to our best principles, our highest ideals. We objected because goals, quotas, set-asides and timetables put an undue burden on the just principle of American equality -- the principle that no one should be rewarded or penalized, preferred or held back because of race or sex or creed. We thought, and we still think, that this was an ideal that all Americans, male or female, black or white, would hope to see prosper.

We were told that "goals" were more benign than "quotas," that one was "flexible" and acceptable, the other "rigid" and wrong. But we also know, and have seen, as the former attorney general wrote on the occasion of the Justice Department's refusal to establish similar goals, that such goals inevitably become standards of measurement indistinguishable from quotas themselves. For our own part . . . we have seen even our agency criticized for not satisfying some abstract notions of racial or sex-based balance.

But more: We objected to goals not only because they invariably degenerate into quotas but because, on a moral basis, they are indistinguishable from quotas; for they require us to judge people on the basis of their sex and race. No matter how "flexible," no matter how hortatory they may be, "goals" and "timetables" still suffer from the same fatal and regressive flaw: They ask us to take into account a person's sex or race when we look to fill our jobs. They ask us to perpetuate and promote distinctions based on race and color.