Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

In Symbolic Gesture, UC Regents Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

In Symbolic Gesture, UC Regents Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO

In a unanimous vote, the University of California regents have repealed their ban on affirmative action, hoping to send a welcoming message to Black and Latino students -- and bid farewell to six years of protests and political infighting.

Sealed in backroom agreements under pressure from legislators on the eve of the vote, the decision by 22 regents is more about symbols than substance. Because Proposition 209, approved by California voters in 1996, continues to prohibit race-conscious policies statewide, the move doesn't change the university's procedures for admissions, hiring and contracting.

Nevertheless, more than 150 student protesters from around the UC system who came to San Francisco for the May 16 vote shouted with delight when the decision came. It was also a day of hugs, back-slapping and tears for the many state and university officials who never felt comfortable with the university's acceptance of race-neutral admissions, hiring and contracting via resolutions SP-1 and SP-2.

"This sends an incredibly important message to the children of California," says regent Judith Hopkinson, who sponsored the resolution. "We are an open and welcoming university."

In crafting the resolution, Hopkinson consulted closely with Ward Connerly, the chief architect of SP-1 and SP-2 in 1995. Despite his continued belief in race-neutral policies and despite some 11th-hour changes that he did not favor, Connerly backed the measure -- along with two other regents who had voted for it in 1995.

"In a civilized democracy, as long as we're true to our convictions, I think it's appropriate to reach out to other people to try to accommodate them," he explained. "That's why I say I support this. It does not excite me to do so. But this resolution is not about my convictions. It's about a symbol."

UC was the first university system to eliminate race-conscious admissions policies, but court decisions and legislative actions have forced other state systems to follow UC's lead.

Though it eliminates the earlier policies, the new resolution states clearly that UC will continue to abide by Proposition 209. It does not address the controversial issue of UC's quantitative admissions formulas, one bone of contention for liberal legislators and student protesters. The measures simply state that those formulas will be reviewed by the end of the year, in time for changes to affect the 2002 entering class.

Acknowledging that equity in higher education cannot be achieved without equity in the K- 12 system, the measure also affirms the university's commitment to outreach and retention programs.

At UC, the affirmative action ban resulted in sharp drops in minority enrollment at some campuses and professional schools. At UC Berkeley, for example, admission of Black students fell from 515 in the fail of 1997 to 157 a year later.

REPAIRING A REPUTATION

But in addition to the question of admissions, university officials have felt the ban made it more difficult for them to recruit even those minority students who were admitted under the race-neutral regime. In 1998, for example, all 14 Black students admitted to study at Berkeley's law school chose other campuses, leaving the first-year class with only one African American -- a student who was admitted a year earlier but deferred.

"If you read SP-1 there's nothing in there that ought to make anyone feel that they're not welcome," Connerly said 'after the vote. …

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