SCA 5 would repeal much of Prop. 209 anti-discrimination initiative

Prop. 209July 12, 2013

By Josephine Djuhana

A resolution that seeks to amend the California Constitution and undo the work of Proposition 209 for institutions of higher education is making its way through Sacramento and will likely be placed on the ballot in 2014.

SCA 5, authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, proposes “an amendment to the Constitution of the State, by amending Section 31 of Article I thereof, relating to public education.” Recently re-referred to the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments after passing the Committee on Education, the resolution specifically exempts public education institutions of higher learning from the requirements of Proposition 209.

In other words, SCA 5 allows schools to use race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as a consideration for accepting students or hiring employees. Using such criteria currently is banned by Prop. 209, which voters passed in 1996.

Janet Chin, a media spokesperson for Sen. Hernandez’s office in West Covina, told me the resolution would take steps to “ensure that universities reflect the diversity of the state.” She said long-term benefits would include creating equal opportunity for all Californians by having a “well-trained, diverse workforce” that is needed to compete in the global economy.

“Campuses have become less diverse” since Prop. 209 passed, Chin said. “Qualified individuals have been looked over.” Since Prop. 209, she said, minorities have been “underrepresented” in universities, and SCA 5 seeks to correct this error by securing the best and brightest students.

Prop. 209 and measures of merit

Ward Connerly, founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, told me Chin’s reasoning was “nonsense.” He sponsored Prop. 209.

“If they want the best and brightest, they will use merit,” Connerly said of university admissions processes. “They have the right to do that right now, free of any race consideration or discrimination.”

Connerly, a former University of California regent, highlighted higher education in the Golden State, starting with the UC system — in his words, “a very prized system” — which regularly secures the top 12.5 percent of students from California high schools. He also pointed to 23 campuses in the Cal State system, many of which, he said, were “equally as good as some UC campuses”; and to our community college system, with more than 100 college campuses across the state. “It defies logic,” he said to me, “for anyone to say that anyone in California doesn’t have a chance to get an education.”

“We’re a pluralistic society in California, probably the most on the planet,” he said. “We have to learn to treat everybody equally and not allow anybody to have any preference from any public institutions. It’s a mistake to now flirt with changing that and empowering public institutions to discriminate.”

Prop. 209, said Connerly, was the product of a very contentious battle in the state back in 1996. The ballot measure explicitly denied public institutions, including state and local governments, as well as universities, colleges and schools, the ability to discriminate against or give “preferential treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education, or public contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

The results of Prop. 209 were robust. In fact, minority graduation rates actually increased after Prop. 209 was implemented. The measure “led to a more efficient sorting of minority students” according to research by Duke University:

“To address the robustness of the positive eects on graduation and the role of matching, we analyze unique data for all applicants and enrollees within the University of California (UC) system before and after Prop 209. The positive Prop 209 eects on minority graduation rates persist, even after controlling for observed and unobserved qualifications of UC enrollees. We present evidence that certain institutions are better at graduating more-prepared students while other institutions are better at graduating less prepared students and that these matching eects are particularly important for the bottom tail of the qualification distribution.”

The research also clearly demonstrated that students admitted with lower qualifications than their peers ended up learning less and had a drop out rate disproportionately higher than science majors.

“Sen. Hernandez is behind the times,” said Connerly. “It’s not forward-looking for him to inflict on the people of California another meaningless battle.”

Striving for diversity doesn’t solve the problem

Heather Mac Donald, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told me the UC system has “already been violating the spirit of Prop. 209 by importing obvious surrogates for race into its so-called ‘holistic’ admissions process.” The Hernandez bill, she said, would simply “open the floodgates of blatant racial references once again and allow UC to discriminate without apology.”

“There are high quality students that are not getting into these schools because there is already an informal quota,” she said.

The Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case brought national attention to similar issues. The Supreme Court recently decided in a 7-1 ruling that the federal appeals court was wrong to dismiss Abigail Noel Fisher’s case, in which she argued that the University of Texas illegally discriminated against her because of her race.

The ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy essentially stated that diversity must not be an ultimately deciding factor in university admissions processes. “The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity,” Kennedy wrote.

“Attaining diversity for its own sake is a nonstarter,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion. “The pursuit of diversity as an end is nothing more than impermissible ‘racial balancing.’”

The San Francisco-based Asian American Legal Foundation, in their amicus brief filing for the Fisher case, underscored the problems with having such racial quotas. Asians, they write, have “historically been, and continue to be, denied access to public schools due to overt racial and ethnic prejudice as well as ostensibly well-intentioned ‘diversity’ programs such as the program at issue here.” The brief went on to explain:

“UT Austin is engaged in racial balancing without any remedial purpose. It is similarly denying applicants access solely because they are of the ‘wrong’ race or ethnicity. And it is proclaiming that its good faith should excuse the fact that it is trammeling on applicants’ civil rights.”

The same is essentially happening in California’s higher education system behind closed doors.

In regards to admissions, Ward Connelly echoed the majority opinion of the Supreme Court and said officers must “use neutral measures first” and “exhaust all avenues of race neutrality” before considering employing policies of racial preferences.

But exempting universities, colleges and schools from the requirements of Prop. 209 would do exactly the opposite.

Connerly and other critics insist that SCA 5 would create the framework for an even broader scope of racial discrimination against qualified students, regardless of their achievements or merit.

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