Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

View of Post-Affirmative-Action America New University of California Statistics Show Dramatic Drop in Minorities Admissions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

View of Post-Affirmative-Action America New University of California Statistics Show Dramatic Drop in Minorities Admissions

Article excerpt

For the past 16 months, California's charge into a post-affirmative-action era has been more word than action. Voters approved an end to racial preferences in public institutions in 1996, but the practice of hiring, contracting, and school admission remained largely unchanged.

No more. This week, the University of California at Berkeley, the state's preeminent public university, announced a dramatic decline in the number of minorities, other than Asians, admitted to this fall's freshman class.

Though the full weight of the initiative's impact remains years away, these figures mark the beginning of a transition from theory to practice - a process that will impact the politics of anti-affirmative action nationwide. Already, with the emergence of the first faint changes in California, supporters of affirmative action are pointing to the loss of diversity on campus as one of the dangers of destroying racial preferences. Critics, however, say that the new admissions numbers only show how unbalanced and unfair the system had become with preferential treatments. The differing perceptions are important. With neither major political party yet openly championing the cause of dismantling affirmative action, the future of the movement lies in the hands of the courts and grass-roots initiatives, like the one that has put the issue on the Washington State ballot this November. Thus, California's experience will affect how support for the movement evolves across the country. But for now, the 1996 initiative - called Proposition 209 - is changing the face of public universities in the Golden State. Applying its new race-blind admissions policy, Berkeley accepted fewer than half the number of African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians admitted last year. Most other UC campuses have also reported declines in minority admissions, though a few of the less-prestigious campuses had increases in some categories. Berkeley chancellor Robert Berdahl said he was "very disappointed" the incoming class would not match the diversity of the state because "I believe that students learn from each other as much as they do from their classes and professors." For those who led the charge to dismantle affirmative action, the numbers told a different story. "They're just confirmation of how screwed up the system was," says Ward Connerly, a UC regent and leader of the anti-affirmative-action movement. He points out that all eligible UC applicants, defined as the top 12.5 percent of the state's graduating high-schoolers, will be admitted to one of the UC's nine campuses. …

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