A controversial affirmative action bill currently awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s approval has raised concerns over the constitutionality of using race as a factor in college admissions.
Senate Bill 185, authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), states that University of California and California State University schools may consider “race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin, along with other relevant factors, in undergraduate and graduate admissions, so long as no preference is given.”
These criteria can be used if the school is “attempting to obtain educational benefit through the recruitment of a multifactored, diverse student body,” the bill states.
The UC, however, has made it clear that its admissions policy would not change, citing constitutional reasons. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public universities in California.
“We would not change the way we do admissions because Proposition 209 is part of the California constitution,” said Ricardo VÃ¡zquez, a spokesman with the UC Office of the President. “We follow the constitution.”
Meanwhile, student advocacy groups across the state have come out against SB 185, which they say encourages discriminatory admission practices.
At UC Berkeley, the College Republicans held a controversial bake sale to demonstrate their opposition, which drew criticism from across the nation.
The bake sale, likening cookie prices to affirmative action policies, charged $2 for white males but just 75 cents and $1 for blacks and Latinos, respectively. Women received an extra 25 cents off. Hundreds of students protested the bake sale, and Hernandez, the bill’s author, released a statement calling it “insensitive.”
Organizers of the bake sale said the event was meant to be satirical.
“It was a satire of SB 185, illustrating essentially the point that separating people based on race is wrong,” said Mia Lincoln, external vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans and a third-year history student.
But the goal of the bill is to give underrepresented minorities the same opportunities to attend a CSU or UC, said Rob Charles, Hernandez’s district director.
While the UC has stated there will be no change in admission policy, students are still advocating for SB 185 to send a message to the state, said Luis Roman, undergraduate student representative to the UCLA Committee of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools. The long-term goal is to get Proposition 209 eventually overturned by the courts, he added.
For applicants from low-performing high schools, this bill would give universities a more well-rounded perspective, said Roman, a fifth-year women’s studies and Chicana and Chicano studies student.
“For example, (Los Angeles Unified School District) doesn’t provide all the resources that students need … compare those students to students in other districts, and then you might realize why these students are performing so poorly,” Roman said.
Students who have to work and support their families, or whose families lack understanding about college preparation, aren’t as likely to receive high grades or SAT scores as those who do not have to deal with these issues, said Stephanie Suarez, access coordinator for MEChA and a third-year international development studies student.
Others disagree, advocating for an admissions process focused more on merit and economic considerations.
“I don’t think college admissions should be based on race,” said Katie Mellon, secretary of Bruin Republicans and a second-year economics and political science student. “I think that if the University of California wants to make the college admissions process open to everyone, (it) should consider economic disadvantages.”
Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sunday to sign or veto the bill. If the governor takes no action, it will become law.