A closer look: State’s affirmative action ban still called into question
May 18, 2004 9:00 pm
With a recent decrease in minority enrollment at UCLA, some
students and educators are wondering if the state made the right
decision when it voted to end affirmative action in 1996.
After the passing of the California Civil Rights Initiative,
commonly known as Proposition 209 ““ which ended the
consideration of race in admissions and state employment ““
the number of minority students on University of California
campuses, most notably black students, has declined as a percentage
of the student body.
Though various other methods of increasing racial diversity,
such as outreach, have increased in response to Proposition 209,
statistics indicate that none are as successful as affirmative
action in bringing minority students to UCLA.
Additionally, as enrollment levels of minorities are dropping,
outreach funding is being cut.
These statistics have caused many students and educators to say
the passage of Proposition 209 was, at the least, premature.
“Ideally we wouldn’t have affirmative action,”
said Dennis Arguelles, the assistant director of the Asian American
“Ideally, you don’t want programs that are making up
for problems of the past. But if those inequities still exist,
something needs to be done about it,” Arguelles said, noting
he thinks admissions officials should still be allowed to use race
as admissions criteria.
“In a state that’s majority-minority now, it
doesn’t make sense that we don’t see them in our
educational system,” he added.
Tom Wood, co-author and official co-proponent of Proposition
209, said he would also like to see an increased number of minority
students at UC campuses ““ he just does not think using race
as part of the admissions criteria is the best approach.
“Using race as an admissions criteria is a very
superficial, inadequate way of dealing with larger problems,”
He said he thinks the statewide education system needs to be
Wood also noted that Proposition 209 only prohibits the
preferential use of race in admissions; it does not prohibit the
use of other criteria.
“(Proposition) 209 is not an anti-affirmative action
initiative. It doesn’t affect most forms of affirmative
action,” Wood said.
Admissions officials are still free to use other criteria, such
as economic status, parental education level, English language
ability and geographic location, in determining which prospective
students to admit to the university.
Many people think these other factors are more indicative of
previous life hardship than of race.
“The problem with affirmative action is that it
automatically assumes that if you’re a minority, you’re
disadvantaged, and that’s not how it is,” said Jennifer
Otter, chairwoman of California Students for Bush.
“If you want to look at something indicative of hardship,
look at economic status,” she added.
Otter also said that while there is not a low acceptance rate
among minority applicants, there is instead a low number of
But studies have shown that even within the same socio-economic
status, different races often have different education levels and
With this is mind, many people still feel that race should be
taken into account in admissions and employment, either by itself
or along with other factors.
“I don’t think California was ready for Prop. 209,
because when you take race out of the admissions criteria,
you’re assuming that everyone has the same
opportunities,” said Siddhi Saraiya, a third-year political
“As long as they’re making up for differences in
opportunities available, it’s a good thing, but they need to
take into account that race and opportunities available are really
correlated,” she added.