The 40-year debate over affirmative action at state universities generally has been conducted in terms of general principles. At first, advocates emphasized the importance of compensating African Americans (and later others) for the effects of generations of discrimination, while opponents contended that the Constitution must be colorblind. Later, the debate shifted to the claim that there are educational benefits to a racially diverse student body, a rationale for preferences that the Supreme Court grudgingly has accepted.
But always lurking beneath the high-minded discourse was the question of how racial preferences — or a ban on them — would affect my racial or ethnic group.
That subtext surfaced with a vengeance recently when three Asian American state senators expressed second thoughts about a proposed ballot question that would have allowed California's state universities to consider race (and gender) in admissions decisions. The measure would have asked voters to repeal part of Proposition 209, which prohibited state agencies and educational institutions from discriminating or showing preference on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
To get on the ballot, the amendment needed the support of the Legislature. Among those voting yes in January were Sens.
The senators got their wish. The Assembly will not act. Instead, the Legislature will convene a task force on whether admissions policies need to change and how.
It's not a foregone conclusion that, if parts of Proposition 209 were repealed, Asian American enrollment at
That's why we opposed Proposition 209. Allowing universities to take race into account in their admissions policies isn't the only way to promote diversity; to its credit, the University of California system has pursued other means to that end such as aggressive outreach to high schools attended by minorities. But these efforts have fallen short of achieving the university's diversity goals, particularly in the enrollment of African Americans.