The University of California Board of Regents will convene today in San Francisco to decide whether Affirmative Action will be brought back as part of the UC admissions policy.
Standing Policy 1 (SP-1) overturned Affirmative Action in the UC system shortly before California voters passed Prop 209, which ended Affirmative Action statewide. Under the SP-1 guidelines, campuses cannot use race, sex or creed as a basis for admitting students. If the regents repeal SP-1, which is the first item on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, Affirmative Action would still be banned under Prop 209.
Several student groups, such as the UC Student Association and regents supporting SP-1, have lobbied to get it on the board’s agenda. The board intended to discuss the policy in its March meeting.
“It’s a really controversial issue. It’s the first time in a long time that the regents have been faced with an issue when it’s clear there is a huge number of students asking for the policy to be repealed,” UCSB External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Edith Sargon said. “We’re trying to hold them accountable. It’s one of the few times that the regents are being forced to answer to the students.”
The delay, UC Office of the President Spokesperson Tray Davis said, is due to SP-1’s complexity, which has been studied very carefully over time for deliberation, review and analysis.
“Obviously something could happen in the next week that could affect it, but it’s set for the agenda, which means it would be legal for the board to take action,” Davis said. “Regent [Judith] Hopkinson will be introducing a proposal to repeal SP-1. Regent [Ward] Connerly authored the original SP-1 resolution, and Regent [William] Bagley over the last few months has indicated that he wants to replace SP-1.”
Some regents are in favor of the repeal, such as Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who has supported students fighting against SP-1. Associated Students Legislative Council Rep at Large Eneri Rodriguez said 11 regents were recently leaning in favor of the repeal, which needs 14 votes to pass.
“[Bustamante] spoke at the last meeting, and it was actually a little disturbing because the student protesters at UCLA were a little rough with him because they are really frustrated,” she said. “He has been the voice of this repeal. He’s been the representation of the students’ voice among the regents, and a big ally and supporter, but doesn’t want to push the repeal until he’s sure it’s going to pass.”
Regents differ on what action to take on the measure, said Kevin Nguyen, the executive director of the American Civil Rights Institute and a spokesperson for Regent Ward Connerly. Some regents want to rescind SP-1 while others want to update the policy to reflect trends within the last five to six years.
“Lots of the regents, Connerly included, want to take this opportunity to update SP-1, and to of course stay within the legal realities. They believe in the ability of people to rise to their highest potential and that we shouldn’t consider people as members of various groups, but as individuals who demand equal opportunity,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for the regents to reaffirm that commitment to expanding outreach and to ensure the process is as fair as possible, particularly for a public institution that needs to maintain the confidence of taxpayers.”
Nguyen said it is hopeless for people to expect California voters to change their minds about Prop 209, and that it is within the regents’ power to help the UC move on.
“There’s an emerging consensus among the Regents, particularly the new ones appointed by Governor [Gray] Davis, who are coming to the conclusion that the [Pete] Wilson-appointed regents have believed for a long time that we all need to move on,” he said. “They’ve seen the polls and they know the general sentiment that exists in California at large. Voters aren’t going to budge, and they’re not going to reconsider 209, and if they were forced to they would vote the same way, and probably by a wider margin than before.
“At every meeting people make a stink about this issue when they must know they can’t change the policy. At some point it gets numbing, and the regents, quite frankly, have tuned out a lot of the radicals a long time ago,” Nyguen said.
Demonstrators from the UCSB campus, including Sargon and Rodriguez, will join students from other UC campuses to protest the policy at the meeting Wednesday and Thursday. Sargon said she believes Affirmative Action is necessary to help bring more underrepresented students and students of color to a campus where approximately 60 percent of the students are white.
Nyugen said society’s problems couldn’t be fixed with Affirmative Action because it does not get at the heart of the problem.
“The problems that exist in our society that pertain to social inequity are largely a function of class and not of race,” he said. “Certainly racial discrimination still exists, but the UC has never been a part of that – it has never engaged in prejudicial policies.”