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Open attacks on programs benefitting people of color – Impact 1996

California Passes Proposition 209

Proposition 209 — known as Prop 209 or, as it was officially
called, the California Civil Rights Initiative — reverberated
throughout the nation in 1996 when California voters approved it by
more than 54 percent. Higher education officials around the country are
now watching to see what effect, if any, it will have on them —
especially since President Clinton decided to ask the Justice
Department to oppose its implementation.

Prop 209 bans the use of any race-based affirmative action in the
state of California. Shortly after it was passed in November, Chief
U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson stopped enforcement of the
measure on the basis that there was a great likelihood that it would be
declared unconstitutional.

Late,r the ACLU asked the court to prevent the University of
California system, which had not been covered by the court ruling, with
complying with Proposition 209. More rulings are inevitable and
observers believe the issue is not expected to be settled for a couple
of years probably by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even before the passage of Prop 209, however, the University of
California, under the leadership of Regent Ward Connerly, had been
moving in the direction of eliminating race, ethnicity and gender from
consideration in hiring, contracting and admissions since 1995. As a
result, UC scholarship, outreach and affirmative action programs that
formerly targeted racial and ethnic minorities were reconfigured to
include all economically disadvantaged youth.

Shortly after Prop 209 passed, UC President Richard C. Atkinson
stated: “We are well along in this process as a result of the Regents
action last year eliminating race, gender, and ethnicity as factors in
admission, hiring, and contracting.” Another UC official stated that no
further action was necessary and that unless directed by the courts to
do otherwise, state financial aid on the basis of race, ethnicity or
gender will be eliminated for 1997.

The California State University system and the California Community
College system have decided to maintain their programs until instructed
otherwise by the courts but some question whether the measure will
actually have a large effect on those systems, which have different
admissions systems from the University of California system.

The effects will only be able to be judged over the next couple of
years by seeing whether African American and Latino students go to
college in greater or lesser numbers.

Influence of Hopwood Decision Growing

The decision handed down last spring by the fifth U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals in the Hopwood v. Texas case ruled that colleges and
universities in Texas Mississippi and Louisiana may no longer use
diversity as the justification for race-based admission policies.
Technically, Hopwood only applies to three states, but its chilling
frost is already being felt in other parts of the country.

The Hopwood decision conflicts directly with the U. S. Supreme
Court’s U.S. v. Fordice case decision, and is a reversal of the Supreme
Court’s 1978 Bakke decision, which found that race could be taken into
consideration if it promoted diversity and was one of several
admissions considerations.

Following the Hopwood decision, the University of Virginia changed
the eligibility requirements for its University Achievement Award — a
full-tuition. four-year scholarship. In previous years, that
scholarship provided fifty African American students with full tuition
assistance. This past year forty-three African American students
received the award, a nearly 15 percent decrease.

Colorado ceased to fund race-based scholarships this year as well.
As a result, programs like the Colorado Scholarship Coalition — which
since 1992 has offered four-year scholarships to students of color who
attend public institutions throughout the state — have had to change
their eligibility criteria. Now. students eligible for the award must
he from an under-represented segment of the population.

In 1996, the Colorado coalition continued to primarily assist
students of color, with four African Americans among the 250 students
receiving awards. However, white students are now included among those
competing for these scholarships.

Together with the passage of California’s Proposition 209 and the
U.S. v. Podberesky decision, made by the fourth U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in 1995 which said the University of Maryland could not have
scholarships designed only for African American students, these events
represent the first wave of what is anticipated to be a growing tide of
backlash legal battles, legislative initiatives and policy decisions
aimed at dismantling affirmative action programs at the higher
education level.

Advocates of affirmative action are increasingly discussing other
ways to sure access to higher education for students of color,
including: strengthening the historically Black colleges and
universities finding alternative admissions criteria, focusing on
reforms of public schools systems, and loosening the grip that SAT and
ACT scores have on college admissions. Some educators in Texas, for
example, have recommended that, instead of relying on standardized test
scores, all students in the top 25 percent of their high school classes
be automatically admitted to the University of Texas. Because of the
high degree of segregation among the schools, that would ensure a
diverse mix of students.

Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Muted, Somewhat

In addition to the California Civil Rights Initiative, the Latino
community was hard hit in 1996 by the continuing anti-immigrant
sentiments sweeping the nation.

While California’s Proposition 187 — which would deny certain
rights, such as welfare assistance and public schooling, to immigrants
— was bogged down in the courts, congressional legislation succeeded
in raising some of the issues to a national level. All the issues
raised, however, did not survive congressional debate.

The original welfare reform bill passed by Congress would have made
permanent resident immigrants ineligible for financial aid to higher
education as well as U.S. citizens not born in the United States. The
1996 bill also contained a provision that would have made permanent
residents eligible to be deported if they had received financial aid.
Both provisions were dropped before the president signed it into law.

The biggest battle in the field of education revolved around the
attempts by Republicans in Congress to overturn Plyler v. Doe — the
court decision that allows undocumented K-12 students to receive an
education. That provision was also deleted.

One consequence of this steady assault on immigrants was an
enormous increase in the number who became naturalized citizens and who
then went on to vote. One of the first casualties was Rep. Robert
Dornan (R-Calif.), who was narrowly defeated by a relatively unknown
Latino woman named Loretta Sanchez. The loss of Dornan, who had been
considered ultra-conservative and a leader of the anti-immigrant
sentiment in the Congress, may have the effect of softening the attacks
on immigrants over the next few years.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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