You went to Yale later on. Would you have wanted to do your undergraduate degree there?
No. No, I belonged at a school like Holy Cross. In fact, in today's world, I probably belonged at a place like the University of Georgia. Holy Cross was perfect for me at that time. I had enough on my platter.
Do you feel a sense of fraternity with the people you went to school with?
In a distant way, I absolutely do. We don't pal around. I absolutely admire Ted Wells and he and I are quite different. He's one of the finest lawyers in the United States. But you know what? It's not unpredictable. It's something that could have been predicted. Think of the people who took chances on him.
There was a wonderful fraternity—The Cross. When you were a crusader, you looked after each other—no matter where you were. That doesn't mean they would always be in a position to do you a favor. But they were there, just as a friend. I've never been turned away by a graduate of The Cross.
How did you find your experience at Yale?
Let me put it this way: It wasn't the kind of environment Holy Cross was and I would not have done well there. I don't fit in there. It wasn't about them. I just didn't fit. I don't fit in an orchestra. I don't care how great the orchestra is. It's nothing against Yale. I'm extraordinarily pleased that through serendipity or, I like to think, almost divine providence, I wound up at Holy Cross.
Why do you think some people are so eager to cast you as a beneficiary of affirmative action?
That was the creation of the politicians, the people with a lot of mouth and nothing to say and your industry. They had a story and everything had to fit into their story. It discounts other people's achievements. Ask Ted how many all-nighters he pulled. It discounts those. It's so discouraging to see the fraudulent renditions of very complicated and different lives of people who were struggling in a new world for them. Everything becomes affirmative action. There wasn't some grand plan. I just showed up.
How is the world different for college kids today?
You don't go to college to be a decoration. You're not there to please other people. You're there to do better in your own life. The only answer I'm interested in is to the question: Are these kids better off for having gone to a college? If they are, how? Ask that question about the first black kids who went to Holy Cross and the answer is a resounding 'Yes.' Yes, they are better off. Ask yourself that today. What's the attrition rate? It used to be up around 40% or something like that. There was no attrition in my class.
Is it solely because of a mismatch of students and the schools that admit them?
I don't know. I don't think people even ask the question any more. I tried for years to get focus on why you actually went to school as opposed to diversity and multiculturalism. I didn't go to school for any of that stuff. I went to school to learn and get on with my life. I wasn't there to prove or disprove anybody else's point.
I've thought a lot about these things, and I've spent the bulk of my life, beating my head against a wall, trying to get people to see that they can have their grand theories but, in the end, you can't impose them on other people's kids. How many kids do you have? They're different, aren't they? If your kids are different—and they're all yours—what about just some kids who happen to be different shades of black, different degrees of Negro? They're all from different family settings—some two parents, some no parents, some raised by grandparents. Come on. How can you just all of a sudden treat them as all the same?
Were you treated the same?
There was no requirement that we all be the same. There were faddish things, like you wear an Afro. Father Time takes care of the Afro. Holy Cross never once required us to be anything other than ourselves and good people.
Doesn't every college want that?
Oh no. I think there are different points of views that are not acceptable. I go around this country and the poor kids who want to dissent from a prevailing point of view have no room. There's no room for them.
Because of political correctness?
Oh yeah. Come on, that's obvious. You don't even have to ask. That's obvious. Otherwise, there are people who have set notions of what blacks should think. But I rejected that years ago. I rejected that back when I was considered radical.
Is it harder to be an African American heading to college these days?
I don't know. I'm not going to dissect these schools now. I'm just glad I went when I went, before everybody had all the answers and theories about blacks. I'm sure it was hard to make your own way but maybe it worked better that way. Maybe it made us better, stronger people.
Did you encounter much racism at Holy Cross?
Not really. That's an easy word to throw around. I'm going to just leave that. Holy Cross was not a racial problem for me. I had no incident the entire time I was there. None. The problem wasn't that other people hated you. That wasn't it. Of course, they didn't understand you. Of course, we all sort of thought of the whole world as bigoted against us, and asked what they thought of blacks. We all thought those things.
We weren't required to be anything. In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison writes about that. Nobody had a prescription for us. We had little faddish prescriptions about what it meant to be black, and we were probably rough on the other students about that. But the institution didn't have any fad. It didn't prefer one way over the other. It didn't reward one way over the other. We were just kids. And, after we left, the institution didn't respond with some preconceived notions of what we should become.
Does that happen a lot?
Oh goodness, yes. Anybody who says it doesn't is lying to you. Why do you think I get in so much controversy? People have a model of what they think a black person should think. A white person is free to think whatever they want to think. But a black person has to think a certain way. Holy Cross has never ever done that. We did it to each other but we were just kids.
The institution didn't sanction it. Father Brooks didn't sanction it. He didn't stereotype. I love Father Brooks. I love him. He's a great man. He did right by us. He did right by the school. It was hard and not everybody made it through. Look at the standards they kept and the kids they admitted. A lot of us were Catholics so we fit right in…educated you with philosophy and history and metaphysics and modern language. And you became their kid. As long as you were honest and constructive and working hard, they were fine. You are who you are. It's almost existential.
Was it a happy period?
No. But neither is boot camp. There are lots of things that are good for you that are not a happy experience. It was a different time. There were people who were happy. There were happy moments. We got along. I was not an unpleasant person to anybody. But I was not happy. Think about what was going on in my life. It's a hard period. There's a lot going on. It was very difficult.
I don't think you should underestimate how nurturing that school was, without being warm and fuzzy. It was all male so you didn't have to deal with all those complications. It was predominantly Catholic…probably still is. It had rules because it was Catholic. So there were lots of things that were off the table. And it was a crazy time. The school was changing. I wouldn't downplay the centrality of Father Brooks and the Jesuits' role.
Was it a loss for Holy Cross to rely more on lay professors?
Yes. They're not Jesuits. They lost the religiosity. A priest is a priest. A nun is a nun. For me, it's better. It's a Catholic school. It looks more identifiably Catholic when you have religious people running it. I think it's a loss. I liked it the way it was. I was not a practicing Catholic when I went there. I had left the church. But I just feel strongly that it's a Catholic school. I'm a practicing Catholic now, in part because I went to Holy Cross.
Do you keep up with the people you met there?
I'm 58 years old now. I went there when I was 20 years old…I've been focused on these jobs which consume your life. One of the downsides is you don't see your friends much. But I consider them all friends. It brings me great joy to see them. If Ted has a barbecue again, I'm there. I really think the world of that whole group of people. I think the world of Holy Cross. That era, for me, was formative.http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_11/b4025080.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_businessweek+exclusives