He Who Fights and Runs Away...

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PISCATAWAY, N.J.: Face it: In the Supreme Court these days, affirmative action is a dirty word. So as the justices mulled a white teacher's lawsuit against the New Jersey school board that dismissed her instead of a similarly qualified black colleague, the civil rights camp ran scared and coughed up for an out-of-court settlement to keep the case off the national stage.

The Black Leadership Forum will contribute 70 percent of a $433,500 payment to downsized white business teacher Sharon Taxman, who was hired on the same day as black teacher Debra Williams back in 1980. Nine years later, the two were told that one of them had to go, due to cuts in the business staff, and the choice could not be based on seniority.

Ted Kruse, a board member at the time, said the decision to keep Williams was an "educational" one, to maintain diversity in the teaching staff to a student body that was 30 percent black. "Educationally," Kruse said, "I still believe in it."

But as far as the the battered civil rights camp were concerned, any Supreme Court that upheld Proposition 209 could not be counted on to agree. Retreat, if costly, was simple. Now proponents of affirmative action must find a case strong enough to carry the day.