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Affirmative action ban discussed

By Joanne Hou

Oct. 28, 2007 11:41 p.m.

The passage of Proposition 209 led to a decline in the number of underrepresented minority students and faculty in the University of California, according to speakers at a symposium focused on the effects of the proposition held last Friday.

The proposition, which was approved by voters in 1996, went into effect in 1997 and banned the use of affirmative action in public employment and public education.

Scholars, labor experts and community activists convened at UCLA to discuss the ban’s impact on labor and employment in California 10 years after its passage.

Presenters at the event discussed research in economic and labor issues such as the state of businesses owned by women and minorities since 1997.

One of the panel discussions at the symposium focused on the impact of Proposition 209 on the hiring of faculty and the admission of students at the University of California campuses.

Panelist Bob Laird, a former director of undergraduate admissions at UC Berkeley, said the proposition has led to a decrease in the admission and enrollment of underrepresented minorities, including blacks, Latinos and American Indians, at UC campuses.

Laird said these three groups made up 21.4 percent of the freshman class at Berkeley in 1997 but were 39 percent of public high school graduates in the state that year.

In 2007, however, these three groups made up 15.8 percent of the freshman class at Berkeley, but they now make up 47.2 percent of public high school graduates.

Laird attributed part of this growing gap in representation of minorities to Proposition 209, which prevents schools from using race as consideration in admissions.

“Affirmative action is the only policy that has mitigated the history of discrimination in California,” Laird said.

Though minorities are still underrepresented, Laird said he believes there is grounds for optimism.

The enrollment of black students doubled at UCLA in 2007, which Laird attributed to the holistic evaluation policy adopted by the university last year.

The holistic policy looks at applicants as a whole in the context of socioeconomic background and the opportunities they had in high school.

Laird also credited the establishment of private scholarships targeted toward specific minority groups in the increased enrollment of black students.

In addition, Laird said dropping the SAT Subject Test requirement would help minority students, since many are not aware they have to take those tests.

Improving outreach programs that reach students in middle school so that they are on track to be UC-eligible would also help the situation, Laird said.

Along with the changes to the demographics of the student body in the past decade, there have also been changes in the composition of the UC faculty.

Rosina Becerra, UCLA associate vice chancellor for faculty diversity, said the hiring of underrepresented minorities began decreasing after 1995, but has now returned to pre-1995 numbers.

For black faculty, however, the hiring rates have not completely rebounded.

Overall, the percentage of black faculty at UC campuses has stayed flat since 1991, at just under 2.5 percent.

The number of Latino faculty members has increased about 1 percent since 1991.

Becerra said black and Latino faculty are concentrated in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and they are not well represented in the sciences.

Women and Asian faculty both had more significant increases over the last two decades, but are still underrepresented when compared to the larger state population, Becerra said.

Becerra said the issue of underrepresented minorities in universities is a national problem, which is further compounded in California by Proposition 209.

The increased hiring of minority faculty in recent years is in part a result of making the search pool for hiring broader and more inclusive, as well as of including statements that show a commitment to underrepresented minorities in hiring ads, Becerra said.

The decrease of underrepresented minorities in the UC has also impacted the public, according to Mandla Kayise, a UCLA alumnus who founded New World Education, a youth and community-development consulting practice.

He noted that since many minority college graduates end up working in the UC or elsewhere in the public sector, a decrease in the minority presence on college campuses can also lead to a decrease in diversity in other fields outside of a university setting.

“The pool (of university staff) the university is drawing from is much less competent culturally in serving students and a diverse population,” Kayise said.

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