UC Regents, in Historic Vote, Wipe Out Affirmative Action : Diversity: Decision signals end of California’s national leadership in opening top universities to minorities. Jesse Jackson, who led protest against rollback at meeting, says it casts a ‘long shadow.’
After a daylong meeting marked by emotional debate, peaceful protests and political grandstanding, University of California regents took a historic step late Thursday, abolishing race-based preferences in students admissions, hiring and contracting.
In the midst of a growing national debate over the merits and fairness of affirmative action, the regents’ vote signals the end of an era in which the state made special efforts to open its prestigious university campuses to minorities and set a standard for diversity in higher education in America.
“July 20 will live a long time in California history,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led opposition to the movement to end the 1960s-era policy.
The rollback of affirmative action “will have a negative impact across the country” and result in fewer blacks and Latinos on college campuses nationwide, he said. “California casts a long shadow or a long sunbeam. This is a long shadow.”
The tumultuous 12-hour meeting, held on the campus of UC San Francisco, was interrupted twice-- once by a bomb threat and later by a demonstration by students and others unhappy with the regents’ 15-10 vote to eliminate race and gender preferences in hiring and contracting. It was one of two resolutions that the board voted on.
The first vote prompted hoots and catcalls from the audience. When one trustee suggested that police clear the room, the crowd erupted and began surging down the steps toward the regents’ table at the front of the room.
Jackson took command of the group, linked arms with several other ministers at the front of the room and sang “We Shall Overcome.”
“What we are seeing here tonight is a blatant act of racism,” Jackson said.
The regents continued their meeting away from the crowd in a room heavily guarded by some of the more than 300 police officers called out to ensure safety during the meeting. There they voted 14-10, with one regent abstaining, on the admissions issue.
It was a clear victory for Gov. Pete Wilson, who was credited with lobbying regents and marshaling support among an anxious board uncomfortable with its spot at the center of a national controversy.
Of the 18 appointed regents on the 26-member board, 17 have been appointed by Republican governors--five of them by Wilson. It was a Wilson appointee, black Sacramento businessman Ward Connerly, who catapulted the university into controversy with his proposal last fall to reconsider years of affirmative outreach.
The policy change will force UC to stop using “race, religion, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin” as criteria in its admission decisions, beginning Jan. 1, 1997, and in hiring and contracting decisions beginning Jan. 1, 1996.
“Change is never easy,” Connerly said after the vote. “I would like this to assure diversity without using affirmative action. For those who say it can’t be done, they’ve never tried. . . . What this is saying is that we want to ride this bike without the training wheels.”
Wilson, who serves as president of the regent board, had not attended a regular board meeting since 1992. He has made opposition to affirmative action a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.
He used Thursday’s meeting to solidify his image as a fiscal conservative and court the support of a disenchanted middle-class, with talk of individual rights versus group rights.
“Are we going to treat all Californians equally and fairly? Or are we going to continue to divide Californians by race?” the governor asked.
“It takes all the state taxes paid by three working Californians to provide the public subsidy for a single undergraduate at [UC]. The people who work hard to pay those taxes and who play by the rules deserve a guarantee that their children will get an equal opportunity to compete for admission to this university regardless of their race or gender.”
After the vote, Wilson said he had “no idea” how the regents’ decision will affect his presidential campaign. He called the charge that his efforts were motivated by his political ambitions “bogus.”
Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis predicted that the governor will attempt to capitalize on the vote. “I’m sure that he’ll make a commercial and jet off to New Hampshire and claim this is a great victory,” Davis said. “But the rest of us are left to deal with the aftermath. And as you can see from the feelings, the aftermath is not going to be easy.”
The vote made UC the first university system in the nation to scale back its affirmative action programs.
An analysis of enrollment statistics by university officials, conducted at the regents’ request, indicated that so-called race-neutral admission policies would probably decrease the number of black and Latino students, particularly on the most popular campuses.
If the university disregarded race, but added economic status to academic merit as admission criteria, enrollment of black students could drop as much as 50%, the study showed. Under that approach, blacks would make up less than 3% of the student body. Latino enrollment could drop from 13% to 11%.
The number of Asian American students would increase between 15% and 25% across the university system, bringing the number of Asian American students to between 48% and 58% on UC campuses. White enrollment would increase about 5%.
But such an admission policy could have dire financial implications for the university system, which is struggling to hold academic quality steady in the face of funding cuts, by resulting in such a significant increase in the number of low-income students that current levels of student financial aid would not be sufficient.
Moreover, the analysis said, an admissions process that depends heavily on socioeconomic factors would probably produce a student body with lower standardized test scores and grade-point averages.
With more than 162,000 students, the giant UC system is one of the country’s largest, most prestigious and most diverse university networks. For years, the university’s policies have required its nine campuses to enroll a student body that represents the cultural, racial, economic and social diversity of California.
Admission decisions now are based on academic standing as well other factors, including geographic location, ethnicity, gender and special talents or experience. No student is supposed to be admitted on the basis of race alone.
The chancellors of all nine of the university’s campuses have vigorously defended those policies, as have faculty leaders and UC President Jack W. Peltason, who serves on the board of regents.
Peltason said the university review of affirmative action programs did indicate some problems, primarily at the most popular campuses, such as UCLA and UC Berkeley, where there are several applicants for each spot in the freshman class.
Peltason has already ordered changes at those schools, he said. Now, all applicants will be given the more “comprehensive” review previously reserved for minorities.
“We are a public institution in the most demographically diverse state in the union,” Peltason told the regents Thursday. “Our affirmative action and other diversity programs, more than any other single factor, have helped us prepare California for its future. . . . To abandon them now would be a grave mistake.”
Haile Debas, dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, reminded the regents that if they dismantled affirmative action, they would do so in defiance of UC’s president, vice presidents, faculty, Academic Senate and the student leadership--all of whom have expressed strong support for maintaining programs that seek to ensure diversity at UC.
“It would be an outrage if 13 or 14 regents, acting alone, destroyed a historic instrument of social progress in a moment of political frenzy,” he said before the vote. When he finished speaking, many in the audience rose to applaud him, and student Regent Edward P. Gomez saluted him with a raised fist.
Jackson agreed, characterizing the vote as a slap not just at minorities, but at the very leadership of the university system. “I’m astounded at how today they didn’t just run over black and brown students, they ran over the president of the university, the chancellors . . . [Wilson] ramrodded the academic community.”
After the votes, Jackson and about 200 protesters headed toward downtown on California Street, a major thoroughfare, yelling, “We will go to jail tonight!”
Chanting “No justice, no peace,” the group walked for several blocks before 100 people sat down in the middle of an intersection. Jackson was in the center, surrounded by a group of ministers.
Earlier in the day, six people had been arrested outside the building, five for blocking a driveway, one for trespassing. All were cited and released.
After the vote, Regent Roy T. Brophy expressed concern that repercussions from the actions would scare off potential candidates for the UC presidency, which will become vacant in October.
“I see no way in the world that when the campuses all break out in confrontation, we’ll be able to attract a president,” he said. “It’s going to be a very unattractive proposition for an outside president to come to California.”
Wilson praised Connerly, who is black, for having the courage to propose “essential” changes to the system that determines who gets to benefit from the education offered by the state’s premier public universities.
But Davis scoffed at Wilson’s characterization of the vote as a courageous step forward.
“He said this was a historic day,” Davis said. “It is a historic day, but Pearl Harbor was a historic day that we don’t look back on with any pride.”
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How the Regents Voted
The Board of Regents has 26 members: 18 appointed by the governor, one student regent appointed by the regents and seven ex-officio members. The board voted on two proposals that would require UC to stop using “race, religion, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin” as criteria in its admissions policies and hiring and contracting practices. Here is how the regents voted on two proposals.
Regents Ex-Officio (By virtue of their position or office):
Admissions Hiring/Contracting Pete Wilson, Governor Yes Yes Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor No No Doris Allen*, n/a n/a Speaker of the Assembly Delaine Eastin, Superintendent No No of Public Instruction Jack W. Peltason, President, No No University of California Judith Willick Levin, President, No No Alumni Assns. of UC Ralph C. Carmona, Vice president, No No Alumni Assns. of UC
*Did not attend Appointed Regents: William T. Bagley, San Rafael attorney, former state Assembly member Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Abstained Hiring/contracting: No
Appointed Regents: Roy T. Brophy, Sacramento developer Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: No Hiring/contracting: No
Appointed Regents: Clair W. Burgener, Former five-term Republican congressman Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Glenn Campbell, Director emeritus, Hoover Institution Appointed by: Reagan Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Frank W. Clark, Jr., Los Angeles attorney Appointed by: Brown Jr. Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Ward Connerly, Sacramento land use consultant Appointed by: Wilson Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: John G. Davies, San Diego attorney Appointed by: Wilson Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Tirso Del Junco, Los Angeles businessman, founded Los Angeles National Bank Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Alice J. Gonzales, Former head of Employment Development Department Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: NO Hiring/contracting: NO
Appointed Regents: S. Sue Johnson, Co-owner, Johnson Tractor Co., Riverside, active in UC Riverside alumni affairs Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Meredith Khachigian, San Clemente community volunteer Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Leo S. Kolligian, Fresno attorney and developer Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Howard H. Leach, Agribusiness leader Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: David S. Lee, Milpitas businessman, chairman of Cortelco Systems Holding Co. Appointed by: Wilson Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Velma Montoya, College professor, active in civic and Latino organizations Appointed by: Wilson Admissions: No Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: S. Stephen Nakashima, San Jose attorney, accountant Appointed by: Deukmejian Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: No
Appointed Regents: Tom Sayles, Vice president, governmental and regulatory affairs, Pacific Enterprises, parent of Southern California Gas Co. Appointed by: Wilson Admissions: No Hiring/contracting: No
Appointed Regents: Dean A. Watkins, Palo Alto businessman, former Stanford professor Appointed by: Reagan Admissions: Yes Hiring/contracting: Yes
Appointed Regents: Edward P. Gomez, Student regent, graduate student at UC Riverside Admissions: No Hiring/contracting: No
“This institution has a long and proud tradition of generating and tolerating diverse opinions and perspectives. We will carry on that tradition today. But as regents of the University of California, we cannot tolerate university policies or practices that violate fundamental fairness, trampling individual rights to create and give preference to group rights...The questions before us are simple and can’t be set aside: Are we going to treat all Californians equally and fairly? Or are we going to continue to divide Californians by race? The answer we owe the people, and the change we must make, are clear.”
Gov. Pete Wilson
1964: Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in employment.
1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson lays groundwork for any company with federal contractors to follow affirmative action policies.
1978: Supreme Court rules that Allan Bakke, a white male student who was denied admission to the UC Davis medical school, must be admitted because he was unfairly discriminated against because of his race. At the same time, the court approved the principle of affirmative action.
1989: Supreme Court rules that city and state officials may not steer contracts toward minorities, except to make up for clear history of discrimination.
1995: Supreme Court limits use of affirmative action programs to correct only specific, provable cases of discrimination.
Changes Since 1980
Percentage of UC system students covered by affirmative action in the fall classes of:
Impact on White Males
Proportion of white males in UC system:
Graduation rates, within four years, for minority students:
Admitted on affirmative action: 7%
Admitted on regular standards: 185
Proportion who feel that affirmative action has gone too far:
Sources: University of California, Times files
Researched by NONA YATES / Los Angeles Times