Search This Blog

Friday, March 14, 2014

Affirmative Action in California

A legislative push to permit California's public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from Asian-American parents who fear it will make it harder for their children to get into good schools.
A planned referendum sailed through the state Senate in January without fanfare on a party-line vote, but three Asian-American Democrats who initially backed the measure are now calling for it to be "tabled" before the state Assembly has a chance to vote on it -- a highly unusual move. And it seems unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly without the support of the five Asian-Americans in the lower house.
Over the last several weeks, the three senators who have had second thoughts about the referendum -- Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; and Carol Liu, D- La CaƱada/Flintridge -- said they have received thousands of calls and emails from fearful constituents who believe that any move to favor other ethnic groups could hurt Asian-Americans, who attend many of the state's best schools in large numbers. A petition to kill the referendum now has more than 100,000 signatures, and email listservs for Chinese-American parents have been flooded with angry posts.
At Slate, Richard D. Kahlenberg explains why liberals should want Proposition 209 (California's ban on racial preference) to stand:
First, under Prop. 209 California has adopted a whole host of terrific measures to boost racial diversity indirectly, mostly by looking at socioeconomic status. Schools have reduced their reliance on standardized test scores for admissions, banned legacy preferences for the children of alumni, encouraged more community-college transfers to four-year institutions, and created new outreach programs to high-poverty high schools. In part because of these efforts, UCLA and UC–Berkeley are far more socioeconomically diverse than most selective colleges. In 2011–12, theproportion of students eligible for Pell grants (federal financial aid for lower-income students) at UCLA was 38 percent and at Berkeley 37 percent, compared with just 13 percent at another top public institution, the University of Virginia.

These steps helped accomplish what education is supposed to do—promote social mobility. But they are likely to disappear if universities can go back to recruiting by race. Prestige-conscious universities receive no points from the U.S. News & World Report rankings for admitting low-income students. They’re actually “diverting” funding from things that will boost rankings.

That helps explain why most universities create racial diversity by recruiting fairly advantaged students of all colors. Indeed, one study found that 86 percent of African-Americans at selective colleges were middle- or upper-class, while the white students were even richer. To their credit, universities care about racial diversity, perhaps because the lack of it is visible. But they generally do not aggressively pursuesocioeconomic diversity except where race has been taken off the table and recruiting low-income students is the next best way to achieve racial diversity.

The second major reason that liberals should be concerned about a return of racial preferences is the one raised by the Chinese-American protesters: The shift would hurt Asian-Americans, who have suffered their own history of discrimination. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders constituted 14 percent of California high-school graduates in 2011–12, but 42 percent of UC freshmen and 49 percent of freshmen at UC–Berkeley in 2012. One Asian-American group has compared the proposed repeal of 209 to “a ‘Yellow Peril Act,’ a 21st century version of the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.’” This rhetoric seems overheated, as the principal goal is to expand access to black and Latino students. Still, restoring racial preferences would undoubtedly drive down Asian numbers. (White students made up 31 percent of California’s high-school graduates in 2011–12, but only 24 percent of students in the UC system and 25 percent at UC–Berkeley in 2012.)