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The Sacramento Bee


Should California Let Universities Use Race As A Factor In Admissions?

July 20, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

THE ISSUE: A solid majority of Californians in 1996 approved Proposition 209, which bars the use of race, ethnicity or sex-based discrimination in state contracts, hiring or college admissions. But efforts are under way to overturn this constitutional amendment.

Ben Boychuk No: Leave Prop. 209 alone

The argument over voter-approved Proposition 209 is really just another fight about individual rights. That’s a never-ending struggle, of course, but it requires a better understanding of rights than what Sen. Ed Hernandez and Jerry Brown embrace.

Hernandez, D-West Covina, is sponsoring a bill, SB 185, that would let the University of California and California State University system consider race, sex and economic background among several factors in admissions. And on July 8, Gov. Brown filed a brief supporting a federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition 209.

Rights belong to individuals, not groups or races. A government of laws cannot make rights contingent upon race, because race is arbitrary


By Any Means Necessary, a group supporting SB 185, complains that Proposition 209 has had “a continuing devastating impact on minority enrollment,” noting that Latinos, blacks and American Indians last year made up 48 percent of high school graduates but just 21 percent of UC Berkeley’s freshman class.

Obviously, not all of those high school graduates have the grades or test scores for Berkeley. But BAMN is really making a case for proportional representation. Merit is secondary.

Meanwhile, the governor in his legal brief in BAMN v. Brown, et. al., argues that Proposition 209 bans “constitutionally permissible admissions programs” and therefore “imposes unique political burdens on minorities.” Both the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court disagree, and have upheld its constitutionality on more than one occasion.

Fact is, the plain language of Proposition 209 places no burdens on citizens. Rather, it obliges the state to ensure that all Californians are protected from racial, ethic and sex-based discrimination.

And Proposition 209 didn’t end affirmative action. The University of California, for example, has gone to absurd and expensive lengths to accommodate women and minorities, creating various programs to help boost high school seniors’ prospects and establishing a vast bureaucracy to maintain its preferred “diversity” regime.

As Heather Mac Donald reported last week at City Journal California, UC San Diego recently created the position of “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion,” even though budget cuts forced the La Jolla campus to eliminate its graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering and comparative literature.

Opponents of Proposition 209 may not realize they’ve put themselves on the reactionary side of the civil rights movement, but that’s precisely where they are. The authors of the amendment conscientiously modeled it after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which plainly outlawed “preferential treatment to any individual or group” based on race. Let’s keep it that way.

Pia Lopez Yes: Life experiences matter

California’s public colleges and universities have more qualified applicants than spaces—especially with the current crimped budget situation. They turn away qualified applicants.

Ben and I agree that all applicants should be considered in a single admissions process, where students are considered as individuals based on their merits.

That’s a lot different than what the University of California, Davis, medical school did in the past with its “two-track” admissions process—reserving 16 of 100 spots in each class for members of certain minority groups and holding them to a different standard. That was wrong, and when other schools assigned points for being member of an underrepresented group, that was wrong, too.

Both are unconstitutional.

The real issue is what colleges should do after assembling a pool of academically qualified students.

Then comes the tough part—looking at each individual on a case-by-case basis and looking beyond grades, test scores and class rank. Colleges legitimately seek to admit an entering class that includes students with a wide variety of interests, talents, backgrounds and perspectives—and, yes, that should include varied racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Let’s stop dancing around the idea that you can achieve “diversity”—that is, the educational value of having students associate with others who are different from themselves—without confronting race or ethnicity. To say to a black student, for example, that his race has had no impact on his life experiences and contributes absolutely nothing to the person he has become is just nonsense.

Something is wrong if whole groups of people present in the society are barely present in our universities.

Ben does not mention that Senate Bill 185, by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, would simply align California’s public university admission policies with U.S. Supreme Court decisions since the 1996 Proposition 209 initiative—which aimed to ban discrimination and preferential treatment.

Nor does Ben mention that Gov. Jerry Brown’s legal brief comes after a July 1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a Proposition 209-style initiative in Michigan promoted by Ward Connerly, a former regent of the University of California.

Just what, exactly, is wrong with admitting a student body that meets academic standards and reflects the diversity of California?

The real issue here is that California needs to find ways to get more qualified high school students to college or university. Surely, we can all agree on that.

Original Source:



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