The University of California could begin using factors of race, gender and national origin when selecting students for admission, after the California State Senate passed Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, or SCA 5, which would do away with previous restrictions on granting “preferential” treatment based on “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin,” as outlined by Prop 209.
The amendment was passed on Jan. 30 by the California Senate and now awaits passage by the California State Assembly. If the legislation is approved by the Assembly, it will be presented as a referendum for California residents to vote on at the statewide election this November. The amendment would delete many provisions of Proposition 209, which is a California ballot proposition approved in November 1996 that prohibits state government institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity, when selecting individuals for public employment, public contracting or public education. Senator Edward Hernandez authored the amendment to address the declining rate of minority presence in the UC system.
However, UC Office of the President spokeswoman Shelly Meron said the University would not necessarily have to change any of its current admissions policies.
“Nothing in SCA 5 requires the University to revise its admissions policies,” Meron said in an email. “Also, even if SCA 5 were approved by California voters, UC would remain bound by federal and other state law.”
Additionally, Meron said the UC has not taken a position on SCA-5 and the UC Board of Regents will only take a stance if the measure makes it to the ballot. Meron said that if SCA-5 was passed by California voters, it would undergo a lengthy implementation process into the UC system, during which the Academic Senate and UC Board of Regents would need to review and approve any policy changes before campus admissions departments act upon them.
“Should SCA 5 pass, the Academic Senate may choose to revisit the list of factors currently considered as part of UC’s admissions process to determine whether race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin should be given any consideration,” Meron said.
Kevin Ahnert, fourth-year economics and accounting major and treasurer of College Republicans, said the proposal for SCA-5 highlights the hypocritical and contradictory nature of ‘liberal’ policymaking.
“Liberals use inequality as a major theme in their agendas, but they often promote the same inequality they denounce in order to achieve their own version of equality,” Ahnert said in an email. “SCA-5, which is by definition ‘affirmative action’ … aims to achieve a more equal opportunity for the underprivileged races by discriminating against other races.”
According to Ahnert, SCA-5 perpetuates, rather than mitigates, inequality and discrimination. Ahnert said he believes that when a piece of legislation “essentially says you’re going to admit students because they’re black,” this becomes “extremely racist” against not only white people but “mainly against African Americans.”
“You don’t fix inequality by reversing the inequality and giving preferential treatment to one race,” Ahnert said. “You fix the inequality from the ground up, with fundamental reforms in education systems so that no race is in a disadvantaged position in the first place.”
However, Ansel Lundberg, third-year English and geography double major as well as a Campus Democrats member and A.S. Collegiate Senator, said he is glad that a policy of this nature is being discussed again.
“I believe that it doesn’t make sense that California public universities shouldn’t be allowed to consider race and gender in their admissions process, while private schools are allowed to,” Lundberg said in an email. “The public education system should be the great economic equalizer in our society, and unfortunately, economic inequality often follows racial lines.”
Unlike Ahnert, Lundberg said race and gender should be a consideration in the UC admissions system, considering the lack of measures to address inequality taken by the California public school system.
“Unfortunately, affirmative action is not the perfect system for getting underprivileged students into college, but looking at some of the failures of our K-12 system, it is clear that something like affirmative action is needed to [decrease] inequality, especially because private schools do so,” Lundberg said in an email.
However, Lundberg also said he does not expect voters to pass SCA-5, given that “the right people won’t come out to the ballot box to vote” and that there are common misapprehensions regarding affirmative action.
“A lot of folks have misconceptions about affirmative action,” Lundberg said in an email. “Some people think that the UC and CSUs see race in admissions. I know I did, until I looked at the reality: it hasn’t been a factor for around 20 years. When Prop 209 passed, minority representation in UCs and CSUs fell drastically.”
Despite this, Lundberg said he has hope that inequality can be addressed in other ways, if SCA-5 fails to pass.
“If this does not pass, all is not lost, however,” Lundberg said in an email. “Like I said, there are ways that the admissions office can strengthen the equality of the process and work to reduce the effects of racism and promoted education for all.”
This story appeared as an online exclusive on Friday, March 7, 2014.