The Supreme Court recently decided to re-examine nationwide affirmative action legislation in light of University of Texas applicant Abigail Fisher’s claim that she was unfairly denied entrance due her non-minority status.
The outcome of Fisher v. Texas could potentially counter the court’s 2003 ruling that allowed universities to consider applicants’ ethnicity during the admissions process. The California State Legislature passed Prop 209 in 1996 to prohibit the use of such factors for college entry.
According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young, the University of California uses an array of non-academic application criteria to maintain a diverse community.
“We have adapted to ways to provide support for our underrepresented communities and have done well, certainly on this campus, in trying to provide communities that are welcoming, safe and supportive within the frameworks of our laws,” Young said.
Admissions Director Christine Van Gieson said the campus employs 14 standards independent of test scores during the selection process.
“Our goals are the same before Prop. 209 and after; the goals of admissions every year are to get the class size that we want and improve the diversity of our incoming class and that is usually under-represented minority students but not exclusively — it could be geographical diversity,” Van Gieson said. “After not being able to use affirmative action due to Prop. 209, it is much harder to improve the ethnic diversity of the campus, but we have being doing pretty well due to the hard work of a lot of different people including faculty members, recruitment, admissions officers and word of mouth.”
Van Gieson said Prop. 209 eliminates the potential to use affirmative action as a means to discredit minority students’ capabilities.
“The one thing that I think is good is that there was a time when a lot of underrepresented students felt like second class citizens because they felt they had gotten in in a different way than the regular students,” Gieson said. “They felt that they had to defend themselves, so the one good thing is that all students that are accepted got in using the same criteria and no longer makes some feel like second class citizens.”
However, Young said a country-wide ban on affirmative action would harm universities.
“There are thoughtful ways to use race and ethnicity,” Young said. “The kind of issues that those thoughtful programs have been designed to respond to have not been resolved in our infrastructure I think that would be a very unfortunate direction for the Supreme Court to take.”
Office of Equal Opportunity and Sexual Harassment Director Richardo Alcaino said continued economic segregation heightens the importance of legal measures to prevent discrimination.
“Everything is equal and everybody has an equal chance — that is not true, and that is why affirmative action should stay because until we get to that equal level where across the nation everything and every position is equally accessible, then of course we need it,” Alcaino said.