SAN FRANCISCO – In a move affirmative action supporters hailed as a major victory, the University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously to drop its controversial 1995 ban on race-based admissions Wednesday.
The vote does nothing to reinstate the use of racial preferences, a practice outlawed by Proposition 209. But supporters said it sends a message that the University of California system welcomes minority students.
“I believe it is important for the Board of Regents to come together and send a message that we share a commitment to a diverse student body,” said Regent Judith Hopkinson, who introduced the resolution rescinding the affirmative action ban.
Regent William Bagley, an outspoken opponent of the ban for the last six years, said Wednesday’s vote was about “repairing the reputation of the university.”
“It’s more than symbolic,” Bagley said, after the vote. “It sends a message to the academic community of the world that we are no longer the sponsors of a national movement.”
Many have credited the University of California with helping to launch a national movement to roll back affirmative action when it voted for the affirmative action ban.
UC Berkeley student Alma Hernandez, a member of the California Statewide Affirmative Action Coalition (CSAAC) said Wednesday’s vote will make UC schools more inviting to minorities everywhere.
“When you do recruiting...people will tell you, ‘I don’t want to go to UC Berkeley.’” said Hernandez, a graduating senior. “In terms of recruiting and retaining students, it does a lot for those efforts.”
If not for last minute changes to the language of the regents’ proposed resolution, the political rhetoric surrounding Wednesday’s vote might have been quite different.
More than 300 students from various University of California campuses came prepared to protest the vote Wednesday because they felt the proposed resolution was weakly worded and largely insignificant.
“It’s just them washing their hands saying, you know, don’t bother us anymore,” said UC Berkeley freshman Gabriela Santizo, a CSAAC spokesperson.
Members of the state legislature came prepared to denounce the Board of regents Wednesday for introducing a resolution which, they claimed, did not go far enough to disavow the affirmative action ban.
In an interview Wednesday, Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, also criticized the proposed resolution for failing to give assurances that the board would consider real changes in admissions policy aimed at increasing the numbers of underrepresented minorities admitted to the UC system.
But, in negotiations that lasted right up until the moment the resolution was introduced Wednesday, a number of changes were put in place to mollify the politicians and win the support of all the regents.
Language tending to praise the affirmative action ban was removed (for example, the following paragraph: “Since the adoption of (the affirmative action ban), some students at the University have expressed pride in knowing that they were admitted based on their own accomplishments.”)
A letter written by board President Richard Atkinson in conjunction with the resolution was amended to include a promise that he would bring recommendations for reforming the admissions process to the Board of Regents within the next year.
The practical impact of Wednesday’s vote could be quite limited. The approved resolution turned over the question of how the current admissions process can be reformed to admit more underrepresented minorities to the University of California’s Academic Senate, made up of professors, with the expectation that this body will bring its recommendations to the Board of Regents by the end of the year.
What those recommendation will be and whether they have any impact on the number of minorities admitted to UC campuses, remains to be seen.
The Academic Senate will decide, for example, whether to keep a current practice which says half of all students admitted to the UC system must be admitted based solely on “academic criteria,” which are based on the student’s grade point average and Scholastic Aptitude Test score. If it opts for a more “comprehensive” evaluation process for all students, the numbers of minorities admitted to the system could greatly increase, Aroner and others said Wednesday.
The Academic Senate could also opt to drop the SATI test from the admissions process altogether, a move that Student Regent Justin Fong said would be a step towards equity in the admissions process since minorities historically perform worse than whites on the test.
State Assemblymember Jerome Horton may have described the situation best when he addressed the regents at the Wednesday meeting: “It appears as though the door is cracking...Progress will depend on our ability to implement change, which will take some time.”