BERKELEY — Six years after capturing the national spotlight by dropping affirmative action admissions, University of California regents are poised to revisit the contentious topic.
At issue are new policies that would replace the 1995 resolutions that effectively dismantled UC’s old affirmative action system.
Regents can’t reinstate affirmative action because of Proposition 209, the 1996 state ballot measure that prohibited using race or gender as factors in state hiring, contracting or education.
But supporters say approving the new policies, scheduled for a vote later this month, would send an important message to minorities.
“We hopefully repair our reputation worldwide,” said Regent Bill Bagley.
“Obviously, this doesn’t effect the return of affirmative action. But it certainly tells all of the academic world and all of the qualified minorities that the board of regents of this university is no longer the sponsor of this divisive movement.”
The 1995 resolutions forbade considering race or gender in hiring, contracting or admissions at UC.
They also decreed that at least 50 percent of all admissions be based on grades alone – up from the previous minimum of 40 percent – and 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 program aimed at getting more California public school students interested in and qualified for UC.
The new policies would affirm the diversity commitment, note that Proposition 209 does away with the need for a separate UC policy on race and refer the question of how many students should be admitted by grades alone to a faculty committee for review.
After race-blind admissions went into effect 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 comprised 18.6 percent of in-state freshman admissions at all eight undergraduate campuses this fall, compared to 18.8 percent in 1997.
Still, underrepresented minorities have yet to reach 1997 levels at the most competitive campuses.
Repealing the 1995 vote would “reassert UC’s commitment to welcoming students from all backgrounds,” Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, an ex-officio regent, said in remarks prepared for a speech at UC Davis last month.
“It would remove the UC as the ’poster child’ for the anti-affirmative action movement on America’s college campuses.”
Regent Ward Connerly, who wrote the 1995 resolutions, did not return a telephone call to The Associated Press on Friday.
The 1995 policies passed 15-10 on hiring and contracting and 14-10 on admissions (Bagley abstained from the admissions vote in return for getting the diversity statement added as an amendment).
Since then the political makeup of the board has changed as members finished their terms and were replaced by the state’s new Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, an ex-officio regent, presided over the July 1995 vote.
Wilson made repealing affirmative action a cornerstone of his brief run at the Republican presidential nomination.
Davis, who was the state’s lieutenant governor in 1995 and therefore also an ex-officio regent, voted against dropping affirmative action. As governor, he has said he won’t go against Proposition 209; a spokeswoman said Friday he is reviewing the new proposal.