A fight is on over Affirmative Action in California’s Higher Education System. A proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate recently and would allow voters in November to vote on affirmative action programs at the University of California and California State University. The amendment, SCA5, would eliminate prohibitions that have been in place since the approval of Proposition 209 in 1996.
That initiative made California the first state to ban the use of race and ethnicity in public university admissions as well as state hiring and contracting. The amendment under consideration in the Legislature would delete provisions in Proposition 209 that prohibit the state from giving preferential treatment in public education to individuals and groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
Sen. Ed Hernandez says that the prohibition was a mistake in 1996, and that the state is still suffering from its consequences today. “You cannot address inequality by refusing to acknowledge it.”
Hernandez says the proposed amendment does not authorize an Affirmative Action program and only applies to education, not employment. He, along with other democrats, believe that minority recruitments have dropped at UC and CSU because of the Affirmative Action ban. Republicans disagreed and says the drop is because of poor performance in K-12 schools.
“This bill, the unintended consequence is that it actually allows our public schools to use race and gender and others to discriminate against students,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. “Is that really where we want to go?”
“Prop. 209 create a barrier for people of color to access higher education,” said Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego. “With these prohibitions we have seen a stark reduction in access to higher education by people of color.”
Data on racial admission says something different. In the UC system Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented, but Asians account for a high number of enrollments at UC’s most prestigious campuses. Based on the population figures whites are also underrepresented in the UC system.
Since the passing of Proposition 209, almost two decades ago, California has undergone a change in voters. Latinos are now California’s dominant group, and there is no longer a majority racial or ethnic population. There has been a drop in blacks and Latinos in the states competitive campuses like UC Berkeley and UCLA.
Leaders at the University of California support the ban lift. After the passing of Proposition 209 several states like Arizona, Michigan and Nebraska followed suit.
Sen. Ricardo Lara says that the state “needs to ensure that the students reflect our changing population”. Republican Sen. Joel Anderson says the state should instead limit the admissions of university students from other nations to make more room for students from California.
“It doesn’t create more space in our colleges and universities,” Anderson said of SCA5. “It just rearranges the chairs on the Titanic.”
The Associated Press reported that the measure passed on a party-line, 27-9 vote and now goes to the Assembly, which also is dominated by Democrats.