BERKELEY — University of California regents appear ready to withdraw their much-protested, and moot, 1995 vote banning affirmative action.
The move got the surprise endorsement Wednesday of Regent Ward Connerly, who wrote the 1995 policies and had firmly opposed the idea of revisiting them.
The vote, which comes in the form of a new resolution eliminating the 1995 policies, won’t bring back the old affirmative action programs. UC’s nine campuses will continue to be governed by Proposition 209. That 1996 state ballot measure bans considering race and gender in public hiring, contracting or education.
But supporters say the new resolution, on the agenda for next week’s meeting in San Francisco, would be a significant gesture.
“We shouldn’t have led the cause. We did, and now we are trying to withdraw from the cause,” said Regent Bill Bagley, who has long campaigned to overturn the 1995 vote.
The new resolution replaces two policies passed in 1995, one forbidding consideration of race and gender in hiring and contracting and the second doing the same for admissions.
The 1995 resolutions also decreed that at least 50 percent of all admissions be based on grades alone – up from the previous minimum of 40 percent. It also included a statement committing the university to promoting diversity by, among other things, considering students’ individual hardships.
The diversity statement has become the basis for a multimillion-dollar “outreach” program aimed at getting more California public school students interested in and qualified for UC.
The new resolution notes that Proposition 209 is law, and affirms the commitment to diversity. It refers the question of how many students should be admitted by grades alone to the Academic Senate. The senate, which also is considering a request by UC President Richard Atkinson to consider dropping the SAT 1 college entrance exam, another closely watched UC admissions issue, would then report back to the board for further action.
After race-blind admissions went into effect for undergraduates in 1998, admissions of blacks and Hispanics, traditionally underrepresented at UC, fell sharply. At flagship Berkeley, admission of black students dropped nearly 70 percent, from 515 in fall 1997 to 157 in fall 1998.
Since then, the numbers have increased. Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians – “underrepresented minorities” – comprised 18.6 percent of in-state freshman admissions at all eight undergraduate campuses this fall, compared to 18.8 percent in 1997.
However, underrepresented minorities have yet to reach 1997 levels at the most competitive campuses.
Regent Judith Hopkinson, who is sponsoring the new resolution, said in a statement that many had formed a perception that they were unwelcome at UC following the 1995 vote.
“I believe now is the time for the regents to seek common ground to dispel this perception,” she said.
Connerly had opposed the idea of revisiting the 1995 vote, saying UC’s new outreach programs, which includes developing partnerships with public high schools, are working.
On Wednesday, Connerly said he still would prefer to leave the 1995 vote alone, but considers the Hopkinson resolution to be a satisfactory compromise because it acknowledges the authority of Proposition 209.
Supporters of repeal have said they believe they have enough votes on the 26-member board to win. Connerly saw it as more of a stalemate and said he wanted to avoid that kind of battle.
“It would be foolish for me to dig my heels in the sand,” he said.