California Lt. Gov. Seeks to Repair Damaged Diversity
BERKELEY, Calif. — As lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante has watched in dismay as Hispanic and Black enrollment at the University of California has tumbled.
As a member of the university system’s board of regents, he thinks he knows a way to reverse the trend.
Bustamante is suggesting that the university system consider repealing its anti-affirmative action policies. The move would be purely symbolic, since Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative banning affirmative action in public hiring, contracting and education, remains the law in California.
Bustamante is not challenging Prop. 209. But he says repealing the now-redundant policies would send a significant message to minorities who feel they’re not welcome.
“We need to find a way to figure out how to attract talented, very qualified minority students who are unwilling to go to the University of California,” he says.
The university system’s regents banned race-based admissions in 1995, a vote that took on added prominence when Ward Connerly, the regent who wrote the system’s anti-affirmative action policies, became a national leader in a movement to do away with affirmative action.
Critics blame the ban for a dramatic drop in Black and Hispanic admissions after the policies took effect in 1998.
Bustamante says taking back the vote would extricate the university from the front lines of the affirmative action debate, a position he says is offensive to minority communities.
“We’re not talking about repealing Proposition 209 here, ” he says. “We’re taking off what is now duplicative and unnecessary policy.”
Bustamante isn’t planning on calling for a vote on his idea any time soon. Regents met late last month for the first time since the lieutenant governor went public with an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, but they weren’t scheduled to talk about affirmative action.
Still, Bustamante has at least one supporter, Regent Bill Bagley, who has long lamented the university’s position in the vanguard of the anti-affirmative action movement.
“We’re talking about repairing the reputation of the university,” Bagley says .
The board’s makeup has changed some since the 14-10 vote in 1995. That vote was presided over by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who made repealing affirmative action a cornerstone of his brief run at the presidency.
Since then, a Democrat Gray Davis has been elected governor and has filled several of the board’s 12-year positions.
But even with the Davis appointees, Bagley doesn’t think there are enough votes right now to overturn the affirmative action decision. Bustamante says he plans to start contacting regents to learn what they think.
At the system’s flagship campus in Berkeley, Black and Hispanic admissions fell dramatically in 1998. Black admissions, for instance, went from 562 in 1997 to 247 in 1998, down 56 percent.
Looking at all eight undergraduate campuses, overall figures for Black and Hispanic admissions were almost back to affirmative action levels last year, but that was due mainly to more minorities going to lesser-known campuses.
At Berkeley, 308 Black students were admitted last fall, still well below the 1997 total.
In his opinion piece, Bustamante says he’s particularly concerned that enrollment of under-represented minorities has dropped at the university’s medical schools even though admissions offers to those groups increased.
Connerly counters that university officials have taken extraordinary measures to make sure minorities feel welcome, with chancellors making personal calls to recruits and millions of dollars budgeted for outreach programs to disadvantaged students.
Taking back the 1995 vote would give the impression the university doesn’t support Prop. 209, says Connerly, who wrote to Bustamante in February urging him to abandon a “misguided and potentially counterproductive campaign.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com