After six years of rallies and protests, student activists achieved their most coveted goal yesterday afternoon when the University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously to repeal SP-1 and SP-2. The people who made this happen should be commended for their diligence and conviction, but lest the fanfare grow too clamorous, it ought to be recognized that this was a victory for the regents as well.
SP-1 and SP-2, adopted in 1995, banned the use of racial criteria for admissions and hiring within the UC system and their repeal is trumped by Prop 209, which continues to prohibit Affirmative Action programs statewide. Activists and liberal regents touted the symbolic significance of yesterday’s vote. It is true that the UC Regents are one of the most visible public education authorities in the nation and are certainly not political lightweights. SP-1 and SP-2 drew quite a bit of attention and spearheaded the push for Prop 209. Their repeal is an important statement, but it remains unlikely that yesterday’s actions will prove to be comparable stimulus for change.
The withdrawal of SP-1 and SP-2 is a brilliant political move on the part of Ward Connerly and other conservative regents because the board has effectively washed its hands of the issue. Many activists, such as those who consistently protested regents’ meetings over the past six years, played up the repeal of SP-1 and SP-2 as the end all be all of achieving a greater amount of diversity on UC campuses. UCSB External Vice President for Local Affairs-elect Ana Rizo and External Vice President for Statewide Affairs-elect Eneri Rodriguez campaigned on a promise to work toward the repeal SP-1 and SP-2. These two individuals, as well as other activists, must not quit here if they are truly committed, but they must also realize that their beef is no longer with the regents.
Since 1996, when Prop 209 was enacted, there have only been two roads to achieving greater minority representation on UC campuses. One leads to Sacramento and the other to more local effort. Although students are welcome to try, Prop 209 will not be as easy to discard as SP-1 and SP-2. A more immediately practical alternative is to dump more public money into K-12 education, where the root of the problem lies, and Gov. Grey Davis has already demonstrated a commitment to this course of action. And speaking of the root of the problem, there is nothing on the books to bar “Affirmative Action” along economic lines. Economics is, after all, what is currently keeping minorities at a disadvantage, and they would comprise the majority of those who would benefit from such a program. While Rodriguez concentrates on these endeavors, Rizo can focus her attention on outreach efforts closer to home.
The board of regents was never designed to be an outreach group and right now, there is not much they can do for Affirmative Action. The universities themselves can lend a hand in this capacity and student groups can achieve a far greater impact on regional elementary and secondary schools. Outreach programs that encourage economically disadvantaged children not to give up hopes of higher education, tutoring programs and administrative assistance programs are feasible on a local scale. In addition, individual campus administrations can be pressured to revise certain admissions standards.
Currently at UCSB, 60 percent of all students are admitted on the basis of numbers alone. Their GPAs, SAT I and SAT II scores are crunched through a mathematical eligibility index. The remaining 40 percent are considered for their essays, extracurricular activities and personal traits. In the face of Tidal Wave II, it is impractical and unrealistic to consider scrapping this two-tiered admission procedure. However, the percentage of those students who are admitted by numerical analysis alone can be reduced. Or the eligibility index can be revamped so as to give less weight to the SAT I, which many have effectively argued places minorities at a disadvantage.
So again, those who sacrificed their time and energy to the repeal of SP-1 and SP-2 should be congratulated. Their achievement was an important step. But the regents are smiling as well because the problem, for all intents and purposes, is out of their hands. Our student leaders and activists must realize that nothing practical has been accomplished and they must now forage for new means to bring concrete results.