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Affirmative Action Before Voters in Colo., Neb.


University of Colorado freshman Darian Salehy loves college life so far — except for one thing.

“It’s all White people,” Salehy mused on the Boulder campus lawn recently, looking at fellow students headed to class.

Salehy, of Iranian descent, fears that the state’s flagship university, currently about 9 percent non-White, might become less diverse if Colorado passes a ballot measure banning government consideration of race or gender in university admissions, contracts and state spending.

The measure is similar to ones approved by voters in California, Michigan and Washington state, as well as one on the Nebraska ballot this year. It’s part of a state-by-state push by former California regent Ward Connerly, who tried but failed to get the question on ballots in Arizona and Oklahoma this year.

Affirmative action isn’t dominating national political headlines — or even getting a lot of talk in Colorado, where it’s just one of 14 ballot measures facing voters and has been overshadowed by the presidential race and financial crisis.

The Colorado Board of Regents has not taken a position on the amendment, though Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter opposes it, saying it would undercut state education efforts. In Nebraska, the State College Board of Trustees and the University of Nebraska both oppose it.

Proponents are unswayed by the fact that the numbers of students of color have declined at flagship schools in states that have passed similar measures. In California, where an affirmative action ban passed 12 years ago, student enrollment among some minorities has dropped despite state efforts to target the poor and non-racial measures to attract a diverse student body.

“For a variety of reasons, people of color lag behind Whites — and Asians, to some degree — on standardized tests,” said Vikram Amar, a law professor at the University of California-Davis who has studied the effects of California’s affirmative action ban.

“The sad reality is, there’s no easy way to achieve racial equality without focusing on race.”

The University of Colorado does not award “points” toward admission for underrepresented groups. But officials do consider race and gender as factors when they have more applicants who meet academic criteria than they have room for.

CU law professor Melissa Hartis working to defeat the amendment. She said she’s struggling to fight a misperception that the university uses quotas or accepts students of color who shouldn’t be there.

“Some mornings, I wake up and think, ‘It’s a hard battle.’ Some days I wake up and think, ‘Most people in Colorado do not want this,”’ Hart said. “So I don’t know. I think it could go either way.”

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