If passed, ACA 5 would allow voters a chance to repeal Prop. 209, ending California’s ban on affirmative action
The UC Board of Regents voted unanimously at its June 15 meeting to endorse Assembly Constitutional Act 5, which passed assembly this month and now goes before the Senate, where it must pass with a two-thirds majority by June 25.
If it passes — which it’s expected to — California’s voters will have a chance to vote on repealing Proposition 209, paving the way for reimplementation of affirmative action in college admissions at California public colleges and universities. Proposition 209, passed in 1996, amended California’s Constitution to prohibit the state from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to anyone based on race, sex, gender or ethnicity. It expanded on the precedent set by Bakke vs. UC Davis in 1978, which ruled specific race or gender quotas unconstitutional.
A press release from the UC Office of the President said that the results of the Regents’ vote are indicative of UC’s commitment to proactively addressing systemic inequalities in public education.
“There is amazing momentum for righting the wrongs caused by centuries of systemic racism in our country,” said Chair of the Board of Regents John A. Perez in the press release. “I am proud UC endorsed giving California voters the chance to erase a stain, support opportunity and equality and repeal Proposition 209.”
The UC is the last of the California higher education systems to endorse ACA 5. Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, signed a letter of support for ACA 5 on May 25, and on June 8, Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University, wrote his own letter of support for the act.
The UC Student Association previously expressed support for the act’s passage, with ASUCD Vice President Akhila Kandaswamy and External Vice President Maria Martinez previously meeting with Assemblymember Cecilia Aguilar-Curry to talk about the effort to repeal Proposition 209 on May 15.
In a text statement for The California Aggie, Martinez said she hoped ACA 5 speedily passed through the California Senate, adding that including race in admissions decisions is essential for the UC’s student population to reflect California’s diversity.
“ACA 5’s unanimous endorsement by the UC Regents is a huge win for marginalized communities in the fight against systemic racism,” Martinez said.
According to a CalMatters infographic, the enrollment of Black, Latino and Native American freshmen across UCs declined after Proposition 209’s passage.
Regent Debby Stegura said during the meeting that many tools after Proposition 209 were established for admitting “a better balance of students,” including holistic review, which she called a poor way to achieve a student body representative of California.
“I will note that many people of color are first generation students,” Stegura said. “I think there’s no better way to […] serve better all demographics of California.”
Still, there has been strong opposition for the repeal. At the Regents meeting, representatives from the California Federation of College Republicans (CFCR) allegedly attempted to engage in the meeting’s public comment period but were denied the opportunity to speak, according to a Facebook statement from the federation.
“CFCR represents thousands of UC students and is deeply concerned about the apparent censorship of opposing viewpoints by the Board of Regents this morning,” the statement reads. “We remain committed to fighting both ACA 5 and any and all attempts by UC and other institutions of higher learning to silence opposing views.”
All public comments made during the meeting were made in support of the Regents endorsing ACA 5.
Others that have pushed against the repeal include predominantly Chinese American and white groups. In a national survey of Asian Americans from 2016, 63% of Chinese residents surveyed said they believed affirmative action programs were a bad thing — the highest percentage among Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans surveyed. When asked whether they favored or opposed affirmative action, Chinese Americans surveyed had the closest margin of favor/oppose — 4%, with 41% of respondents favoring affirmative action and 45% opposing it.
Assemblymember Phil Chen (R-CA), one of the 14 assemblymembers on the Asian American Pacific Legislative Caucus, voted against ACA 5, asserting that it legalized racism and sexism.
“I do not want to live in a state where the color of my skin or my race or my sex or my national origin determines my qualifications for a position, a job or entering to college,” Choi said, as reported by LAist. “I came here to this country to get away from ideologies like that.”
Regent William Um, who formerly voted to abstain, acknowledged during the meeting that the Asian American community was often portrayed as being on the fence with regard to affirmative action and expressed worry that the board was getting ahead of the Senate.
“I would like this body to promise me that it will — in the event that it comes before the voters, if and when the Senate approves it — […] once again have this conversation in this body with similar enthusiasm and personal stories and the like,” Um said before giving his support for the endorsement. “That’s the pivotal time period where the vote will really matter.”
The fight to repeal Proposition 209 began in 2013, with Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, put forth by then-Senator Ed Hernandez; it failed in the Assembly.
Abigail Fisher, who is white, sued the University of Texas over its affirmative action policy in 2013 — a case that intended to challenge race-based policies across the nation — though the district court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit both ruled that the admissions process was constitutional.
The decision draws on a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court that schools may use race as a factor in admissions decisions under certain circumstances, while Proposition 209 barred California schools from doing so at all.
UC President Janet Napolitano said it made “little sense” to exclude consideration of race in admissions, given the university’s goal was to understand and evaluate applicants holistically.
“The diversity of our university and higher education institutions across California should — and must — represent the rich diversity of our state,” Napolitano said.
Written by: Janelle Marie Salanga — firstname.lastname@example.org