Tuesday, November 21

Regents end UC affirmative action policies


Regents end UC affirmative action policies

By Phillip CarterSummer Bruin Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – After a 12-hour meeting in which they were
bullied by politicians, besieged by protesters, and evacuated by a
bomb threat and a civil disturbance, the University of California
Regents voted to stop admitting students, hiring professors, and
awarding contracts on the basis of race and sex.

Thursday night’s decision evolved after a long day of public
testimony and political wrangling among the 26-member Board of
Regents, who voted 14 to 10 and 15 to 10 on a pair of proposals to
do away with race- and sex-based preferences in the UC system.

The proposals came from Regent Ward Connerly, who first raised
the issue in January with an emotional speech about the injustice
of affirmative action. Late Thursday night, he celebrated the
decision, saying that the Regents chose the right path in governing
the university.

Gov. Pete Wilson – a regent by virtue of his office ­
argued that "California’s diversity must be achieved naturally,"
and that the UC’s affirmative action policies stood in the way of
attaining that natural diversity.

"Students at the University of California should achieve
distinction and will achieve distinction without the use of the
kind of preferences that have been in place," said the governor,
his voice still hoarse from his throat surgery two months ago.

Somewhat stunned by the defeat, Rev. Jesse Jackson, after
leading nearly 1,000 protesters in a daylong siege of the regents’
meeting, pleaded with the board to continue their affirmative
action policies.

"Replacing race and gender solely with economic criteria
attempts to deny the existence of racism and sexism, which are
systemic, institutionalized forms of discrimination," Jackson said.
"The scale of inequality suggests that larger social and historical
forces are at work."

During eight hours of public testimony, the regents heard from
many university officials and students who argued that the
university would be making a grave mistake in passing Connerly’s
proposals.

Prior to the meeting, UC President Jack Peltason, all of the
UC’s chancellors and other administrators sent letters to the
Regents expressing their support for affirmative action.

"If you vote to dismantle affirmative action, you are doing so
in utter disregard of the entire university; in defiance of its
president, of its vice presidents, of all its chancellors, of the
faculty of all nine campuses, and of the student leadership," said
Dr. Haile Debas, dean of UC San Francisco’s medical school.

Debas’ comments struck a chord with many in the audience,
including the chancellors and administrators who applauded his
remarks.

The regents’ repudiation of all its top academics became a major
issue during the long meeting. Many speakers denounced the regents
for following the governor’s lead in lieu of heeding the advice of
its chancellors, faculty and president.

Several state legislators – including former Assembly Speaker
Willie Brown – went before the board to allege that the Regents
serve as political tools in the hands of Republican presidential
candidate Wilson.

"You run the risk … of descending into the political arena -
the arena of the Pete Wilsons, the Willie Browns, the Tom Haydens,"
Brown said. "To (pass Connerly’s proposal) would be to consign the
university to the same base place where we, in the world of
politics, reside."

The atmosphere of Thursday’s meeting matched its divisive
content, with tensions flaring so high that protesters stalled the
meeting with a demonstration, causing all but five regents to flee
the room.

The protest was sparked by a comment made by Regent Dean Watkins
while the regents were debating the issue. Watkins apparently
became fed up with some audience members’ taunts from the back of
the auditorium.

"Can we clear the meeting room," he quietly asked Chairman Clair
Burgener.

Watkins’ statement was picked up by a microphone, and the crowd
immediately erupted into open protest. Rev. Jackson and a group of
ministers went to the front of the room to lead the audience in
singing "We Shall Overcome."

Twenty university police filed into the room in riot gear as 20
of the regents fled to a secret meeting site on another floor of
the building.

During the disturbance, Jackson grabbed a microphone from the
regents’ meeting table, stood on a chair and denounced the board,
saying that there would be "no peace on the campuses until there’s
justice."

Within 15 minutes after the regents’ departure, the gathering of
protesters appeared fractured, with one group of university
employees, students and clergy clashing over what to do next.

Many said they wished to get arrested, but university police
sergeant Jim Fox refused to order his troops to handcuff the
protesters.

But the shouting inside the meeting did little to discourage the
regents from passing Connerly’s resolutions.

In fact, several regents commented after the meeting that the
disturbance made them less sympathetic to the protesters’
views.

The long-standing debate over affirmative action started with
Connerly’s highly personal speech at the January regents’
meeting.

In his address, Connerly asked the university to investigate its
policies of race- and sex-based preferences. Eventually, the debate
snowballed into an issue of presidential proportions that divided
California.

The regents then asked UC President Peltason and his staff to
prepare lengthy reports on each type of affirmative action
practiced in the UC system – in hiring, admissions and contracts.
The administration began compiling the report in February,
unearthing a series of revelations about UC policies.

UC Berkeley and UCLA said that they had given an extra reading
to minority applicants to their freshman classes. Both universities
agreed to discontinue that policy.

UC Davis and UC Irvine’s admissions offices revealed that they
had been unconditionally admitting all minority applicants who met
the minimum UC entrance requirements, without even reading their
applications.

Several campuses – including UCLA – disclosed that they had
hired minority faculty through a special program without meeting
the normal advertising and interview requirements. In addition,
similar methods were used to hire minority applicants for top
administrative spots without following the UC’s formal hiring
policies.

Despite these facts, the UC system’s affirmative action policies
seemed to pass the strictest tests employed by university
officials. Peltason joined with the chancellors, faculty and
student organizations in endorsing the set of policies.

However, this show of support for affirmative action did not
sway Connerly, who had promised as early as May to do away with
many of the UC’s policies of preferential treatment.

After 12 hours of heated debate over his proposals, Connerly
said he was glad the ordeal was over and reiterated that the
Regents had chosen the right path in following the will of the
people by abolishing affirmative action.

"Change is never easy," Connerly said. "This is a historic
moment."

Lt. Gov. Gray Davis agreed with Connerly, but chafed at his
upbeat portrayal of Thursday’s vote.

"It is a historic day, but Pearl Harbor was a historic day
also," Davis said. "(One which) we don’t look back on with any
pride."

See related story

Send a letter to the editor"California’s diversity must be
achieved naturally. Students at the University of California should
achieve distinction and will achieve distinction without the use of
any kind of preferences that have been in place."

Gov. Pete Wilson

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