Regents ‘rescind’ unpopular policy
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Six years after propelling themselves into the thick of the affirmative action debate, University of California regents voted unanimously Wednesday to drop their controversial ban on race-based admissions.
Shouts, claps and cheers rang out from the scores of students who packed the auditorium, many of whom broke out into an impromptu chant of ”Whose university? Our university!”
The vote won’t restore affirmative action to UC. That was ruled out by Proposition 209, the 1996 state ballot measure that dismantled most state affirmative action programs.
But regents hope the vote sends a conciliatory message to minorities, whose numbers have dropped at the flagship campuses of Berkeley and UCLA since regents banned consideration of race and gender in 1995. They also are seeking a graceful exit from an issue that has proved a lightning rod of protest.
”I believe the university should reach out to all deserving students regardless of their race or ethnicity,” Gov. Gray Davis said in a statement praising the vote.
As governor, Davis is an ex-officio member of the board, but he did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. In 1995, when Davis was the state’s lieutenant governor and had a seat on the board, he voted against dropping UC’s affirmative action admissions policy, although as governor he has promised not to fight Proposition 209.
Board members had disagreed over how they should word their retreat, wavering between whether they should repeal, replace or supersede the old policies.
But that dispute apparently was settled in a late-night agreement to change the wording to ”rescind.”
”We are repairing the reputation of this university,” said Regent Bill Bagley, who has long campaigned to overturn the 1995 vote.
”We have to move on. We’re spending enough energy on this thing that we could light the city of Los Angeles for weeks,” said Regent Ward Connerly, who wrote the 1995 policies.
Both Bagley and Connerly supported the compromise measure, introduced by Regent Judith Hopkinson, that rescinded the 1995 vote.
When first proposed a week ago, the measure had talked about ”replacing” the old policies. That led Student Regent Justin Fong to propose a competing measure, saying anything less than a measure to rescind was meaningless.
Compromise backers offered an amended version using the word ”supersede” and then, on Wednesday, produced the final version, which was supported by Fong.
Even in its final form, the compromise resolution avoided the one substantive issue – a clause in the 1995 version that raised the minimum number of students admitted by grades alone from 40 percent to 50 percent – by sending it off to a faculty committee for review, which would put off any changes until fall 2003.
However, the final version set a deadline, meaning any changes would take effect for students entering in fall 2002.
After race-blind admissions went into effect for undergraduates in 1998, admissions of blacks and Hispanics, traditionally underrepresented at UC, fell sharply. At flagship Berkeley, admission of black students dropped nearly 70 percent, from 515 in fall 1997 to 157 in fall 1998.
Since then, the numbers have increased. However, under-represented minorities have yet to reach 1997 levels at the most competitive campuses.
Regents said they hoped their vote Wednesday would send those numbers up.
”This is a huge victory. This is a victory for the University of California and a victory for the state of California,” Fong said.
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