Published in the Daily Nexus, February 17, 2012
On Monday, a group of minority student activists with the backing of Governor Jerry Brown prompted a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to question the constitutionality of Proposition 209, a blanket ban on affirmative action for all California government institutions.
Although Prop 209 has faced persistent opposition from critics who argue it causes minorities to be underrepresented in the student bodies of public universities, it has withstood several lawsuits since its induction in 1996. If the ban is overturned, it could potentially impact the admissions process of the UC system.
The lawsuit was filed by 55 applicants to UC schools, who argue that diversity in the UC system has decreased significantly as a result of the measure. UC Office of the President Media Relations Director Steve Montiel said the UC system should not be implicated by the court case, as the responsibility lies in the hands of the California citizens.
“Our lawyers have made the argument that the UC shouldn’t be an object of the suit, because it was a proposition made by the voters and is part of the state constitution,” Montiel said.
According to Montiel, the UC system has done everything in its power to increase diversity while still working within the confines of the proposition. Montiel said the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan and reaching out to underprivileged high school students have both increased diversity within the system.
However, Montiel said there are still disproportionate numbers of minority students on UC campuses.
“Certainly African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are underrepresented, and we would like to have all the tools we can at our disposal to change this,” Montiel said. “As long as Proposition 209 is the law, we are obliged to follow it. Meanwhile, we’re doing all we can to expand access to all applicants.”
UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young said while he supports overturning the proposition, he does not think it will affect the criteria for admission.
“We have made a lot of progress in increasing diversity within the bounds of Propostion 209,” Young said. “While I personally hope they repeal it, I don’t think it will change the trajectory we are on in terms of admissions.”
If the proposition is repealed, Young said faculty would make the decision of whether or not to let the court ruling influence school policy.
According to the UCSB Office of Admissions, this year’s freshman class was one of the most diverse in recent years. Associate Director of Admissions Donna Coyne said this might cause the Admissions Office to decide against implementing any changes if the ban is overturned.
“Before 209, most of the campuses were not using that system of taking race and ethnicity into account. It may have an effect on us, but that’s a decision that the Board of Admissions or Regents would have to make,” Coyne said. “They could decide that the results we’re getting are already sufficient — well, I don’t know if that’s the right word. We’re proud of our diversity and if we were meeting that goal already, then we would not have to make changes.”
State Assemblymember Das Williams said the UC should institute a plan for admissions that focuses more on social class rather than race. According to Williams, the UC has introduced an alternate proposal that would be equally effective in increasing diversity.
“The funny thing is, I think the UC is trying to go through with a proposal that will [handle] admissions inequity based on class at a whole different level. They’re proposing to admit the top 10 percent of high school students and it would admit a lot more minority students,” Williams said. “It’s more of a class-based approach; if someone gets a good education in some [better-funded] schools versus others, this will definitely take that into consideration.”