Students champion affirmative action
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Angry students took the floor at the University of California regents meeting Wednesday while hundreds more rallied outside, demanding that the board reverse its 1995 ban on affirmative action.
Repeal, which has been floated since Democrats recaptured the governorship three years ago, is not on this week’s agenda and is not expected to come up for a vote until at least May.
Even if it passes, repeal would not substantively change UC’s policies because of Proposition 209, the ballot initiative passed by voters in 1996 that outlaws affirmative action in public education. However, it would be a significant turnaround for UC, which has been in the cross-hairs of the affirmative action debate ever since the 14-10 vote to stop considering race in admissions.
Regents who support the idea of repeal say they’re waiting until they’re sure of a commanding vote.
But students had another idea: Act now.
”We are sick of waiting,” Tania Kappner, a former UC Berkeley student now working as an Oakland teacher, told the board. ”You have no future as anything but villains in California if you do not take the vote.”
”You must take down the unwelcome signs,” said Hoku Jeffrey, a Berkeley student.
Jeffrey and Kappner were among about a dozen students who spoke directly to the regents meeting at UCLA. Another 1,000 people gathered outside, marching around campus and rallying for hours.
”We need affirmative action so my students can get into these UC schools,” said one of the speakers, Noah Lippe-Klein, a history teacher at Dorsey High School in South Central Los Angeles.
Later, several hundred protesters marched to Royce Hall on campus, where a debate between candidates for mayor of Los Angeles was scheduled Wednesday night. As about 200 protesters continued the demonstration from inside the hall and another 200 outside, sponsors canceled the debate.
The demonstrators agreed to leave the hall peacefully at 8 p.m., a deadline set by the university, after they said a student member of the Board of Regents promised to ensure that the issue comes up for a vote at the May meeting.
Meanwhile, three candidates who arrived for the debate – City Councilman Joel Wachs, former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles – offered the demonstrators their support.
”You didn’t cancel a debate, you started one,” Becerra told the students. Villaraigosa, a UCLA graduate, said he had attended the university through an affirmative action program.
”Some may say I got in the back door, but I came out the front door,” he said.
Earlier, students had demanded that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is a regent and supports repeal, come out to speak to the crowd. Bustamante did, but promptly was shouted down as he tried to explain why repeal isn’t up for a vote this week.
”If I had the votes today, we’d do it today,” Bustamante said.
”Show us, don’t tell us,” the crowd yelled.
UC’s ban was shepherded by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, who made repealing affirmative action programs a cornerstone of his short-lived campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Regent Ward Connerly, appointed by Wilson, wrote the 1995 resolution and went on to become a national leader in the anti-affirmative action movement.
After the ban took effect for undergraduates in fall 1998, admissions of blacks and Hispanics tumbled at the top campuses of Berkeley and UCLA. The numbers have recovered some, but remain significantly below affirmative action levels.
In 1998, Democrat Gray Davis, who as lieutenant governor served on the Board of Regents and opposed dropping affirmative action, became governor at a time when several vacancies were coming up on the board. His appointees, as well as changes in other state officials who serve as regents, have tipped the board’s political balance.
Davis, however, remains an unknown factor, having so far not taken a formal position on the repeal effort. He has said repeatedly, though, that he will not go against Proposition 209.
Regent Bill Bagley, a Republican who fought against dropping affirmative action and has long campaigned to repeal that vote, said outside the meeting he’s confident repeal will pass, but pressuring regents to act before they’re ready could cost votes.
”We want to send a message that is clear and that message is, to the minority communities, the regents are no longer in the middle of this divisive issue. We absolve ourselves,” Bagley said.
Connerly said arguments that minorities don’t feel welcome at UC are ”bogus.” He defended UC’s race-blind admissions as the only fair way to handle admission to its highly competitive campuses.
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