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Several months ago, Christopher Newport College, a small state institution in Newport News, Va., placed a classified ad in Science magazine. The college wanted to hire an assistant professor of biology. Thereby hangs this depressing tale.

The ad set forth the usual information. The professorship would be a "tenure-track teaching position" beginning in the fall of 1990. A Ph.D. degree would be required; teaching experience at the college level was desirable. "The successful candidate will show evidence of excellence in teaching and active scholarship." Salary would be commensurate with experience. Applications, with accompanying letters of recommendation, should be sent to Edward Weiss, chairman of a biology search committee, and so forth.The ad concluded with two sentences in italics: "The college is committed to a rigorous Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity program. Applications from women and minorities are especially encouraged."

Perhaps those stereotyped sentences should have been read as a warning: No white male professors need apply. In any event, an assistant professor of biology at another state institution thought a change might be desirable.

His credentials were impeccable: He had his Ph.D., he had done post-doctoral work with the National Institutes of Health, he had published scholarly papers and he had received awards for excellence in teaching.

So he put together a resume and formal letter of application, provided the required recommendations and fired off the package to Weiss.

A considerable time elapsed. On May 9 came an answer:

"It is with considerable disappointment and much frustration that I write to inform you that the search for the general biology . . . position has been terminated by the administration due to an inability to find a viable black candidate."

What can be said of this remarkable decision? At the very least, it provides a sad example of racism in its naked form.

It has to be assumed that the college needed an assistant professor of biology. The slot was available within the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Science. Funds were on hand. Presumably an expanding enrollment justified an additional faculty member.

And here was a manifestly qualified applicant who might have been hired but for one unforgivable flaw: His skin was white.

It is to this lunatic end that "affirmative action" is taking us.

A number of Southern institutions of higher learning are under court orders to find such teachers, willy-nilly. Fire departments and police departments similarly are coerced.

The sorry incident in Virginia relates directly to the pending civil rights bill in the Senate. One purpose of the bill is to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court a year ago in Wards Cove vs. Atonio. The effect of the court's opinion was to put the burden of proving racial discrimination largely upon the plaintiff.

If the bill passes, prudent employers will be driven to racial quotas; they will have to count white noses and black noses, and relate the noses proportionately to all noses on the payroll. If the nose ratio is out of balance, costly litigation will ensue.

It is undeniably, sorrowfully true that for generations racial discrimination worked the other way. No qualified black biologist could have been found on the faculty of any white college in the South. But two wrongs never yet have made a right, and in its decision last month, a small Virginia college went woefully, inexcusably wrong.