Faculty members weigh in on the outcome of Proposition 16 and how UC Davis continues to address structural barriers to higher education and employment
Despite the failure of Proposition 16 in the recent California election, the UC system has reaffirmed its commitment to promoting diverse campuses. The proposition would have replaced Proposition 209 that banned affirmative action and thus prohibited the consideration of race, ethnicity and gender in higher education and employment. UC Davis also released a statement regarding on-campus diversity.
Three faculty members at UC Davis have weighed in on the outcome of this proposition and how the UC system has found other ways to enhance diversity on campus.
Brian Soucek, a professor of law at UC Davis, theorized that Proposition 16 would not have created a lasting effect on the diversity of the UC Davis campus for two main reasons. The first involves the future decisions that are likely to be made by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think the current U.S. Supreme Court is incredibly likely to strike down affirmative action as unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, in which case, it wouldn’t matter what the California Constitution says on the subject,” Soucek said.
The second reason is that, since Proposition 209 was first passed in 1996, the UC system has almost 25 years of experience in working to diversify its institutions without the use of affirmative action. While it can’t make specific use of race and gender in admissions and hiring, the UC administration utilizes outreach targeted towards underrepresented minorities to diversify the applicant pool.
“Proposition 209 limits the methods we can use in building the university’s diversity,” Soucek said. “We can’t consider race directly, but it just means that we have to do a better job building pipelines, doing outreach, making sure that people of all races in California know that UC Davis is a place where they can get in and thrive.”
According to Soucek, other efforts to enhance diversity include fellowships that nurture graduate students from underrepresented populations, targeted hiring efforts that attract a diverse population of workers to Davis and the requirement of diversity statements from faculty candidates.
Raquel Aldana, a professor of law at UC Davis who specializes in criminal law and immigration, stated that affirmative action was a flawed solution to the greater problem of structural inequality.
“The silver lining of Proposition 209 is that, in the absence of affirmative action, the UCs had to take a hard look and say, ‘How do we take up the harder task of addressing the barriers to access, now that we don’t have this tool to create this pipeline?’” Aldana said. “‘And how do we become more honest about our own responsibility in the creation of these barriers?’”
One of the ways that the UC system has worked towards dismantling these barriers is by implementing a more holistic admissions process. Earlier this year, the UC Board of Regents decided to suspend the requirement for standardized test scores in applications, such as those from the ACT and SAT.
“The standardized tests, increasingly, have been shown to not be perfect measures of what it actually means to be successful and a good citizen,” Aldana said. “These instruments, and grades as well, also reflected the inequalities because the people who did best are the people who had access to resources to prepare.”
UC Davis currently has early outreach programs in place to help high school students overcome these obstacles. For example, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) helps students from historically-disadvantaged communities prepare for college by understanding what courses to take, how to apply for financial aid and how to connect with campus resources. Another program that Aldana herself has benefitted from is Upward Bound, a federally-funded program that provides low-income high school students with financial assistance for college.
The UCs turn their attention not only to high school students, but students in community college as well. Aldana, a previous co-chair of the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force at UC Davis, has also done research on the experiences of Latinx students. She stated that, of the Latinx students who go to university, 72% will go to community college first. After two years, only 6% transfer to a four-year institution.
“The problem is that community colleges are not resourced adequately to be able to help students navigate towards a four-year institution,” Aldana said. “So supplemental programs, like the ones that UC Davis has, to create that pipeline from community college to the UCs is really, really important. That’s another important contribution of the UCs that is attempting to ameliorate, in a more meaningful way, the true structural barriers to accessing elite higher education institutions.”
UC Davis has programs geared toward enhancing the diversity of not only their students, but their faculty as well. Philip Kass, the vice provost of Academic Affairs at UC Davis, stated that the university has put much effort into hiring diverse faculty. For example, every person who applies for a job at UC Davis must write a statement about their contributions to diversity.
“That’s one way we continue to try to hire people who care about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Kass said. “Many of the people who do are women and people of color.”
Kass also stated that UC Davis has received more than $1 million in grant funding to conduct experiments with respect to faculty hiring that would increase the number of people within the applicant pool who care about diversity, equity and inclusion. One example is the Advancing Faculty Diversity Grant of the 2018-2019 school year, which allowed UC Davis to hire eight new individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to diversity on campus.
“Having a diverse faculty leads to a more diverse educational experience, which our diverse student population benefits from,” Kass said. “There’s a lot of research to show that students want to see role models who relate to them, who look like them in all kinds of dimensions that define diversity.”
While there is still much room to learn and grow, UC Davis has gained national recognition for its commitment to enhancing diversity, even without the use of affirmative action.
“We are trying, year after year, to improve the way we advertise faculty positions,” Kass said. “Every initiative that we have worked on has come with complete and total support of our campus leadership who are 100% behind trying to have a diverse campus, one that promotes inclusive excellence.”
Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— firstname.lastname@example.org