The University of California (UC) submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday supporting affirmative action. UC president Janet Napolitano and other school officials filed the brief in support of the University of Texas (UT) in an ongoing federal lawsuit involving the UT at Austin vs. Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewizc, two white females who had filed the case in 2009 after being rejected from the University on the basis of their race. Michalewizc withdrew from the case in 2011.
A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the university in 2009, but the Supreme Court ruled against it and sent the case back down the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (FCCA) in 2013, saying that the court had failed to complete a thorough review of the university system’s admissions policy. After the FCCA ruled in favor of the university and dismissed the case in 2014, the Supreme Court decided this year that it would re-examine the case.
In their statement to the Supreme Court, UC president Napolitano and 10 UC chancellors, including Nicholas B. Dirk (Berkeley), Linda P.B. Katehi (Davis), Howard Gillman (Irvine), Gene D. Block (Los Angeles), Dorothy Leland (Merced), Kim A. Wilcox (Riverside), Pradeep K. Khosla (San Diego), Sam Hawgood (San Francisco), Henry T. Yang (Santa Barbara), and George Blumenthal (Santa Cruz); lamented that the enrollment numbers at their campuses do not proportionately reflect the race demographics in California. The enrollment numbers of blacks and Hispanics enrolled at the highly selective UC campuses, for instance, were still well below the percentage of blacks and Hispanics living in California.
The chancellors also protested that Proposition 209, the 1996 California amendment prohibiting public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity, “dramatically reduced [racial] diversity on UC campuses.” They argued that not accepting students on the basis of race would impede the diversity of race “representation” at college campuses, and that affirmative action laws are necessary in order to keep a “fair” playing field.
The abandonment of race-conscious admissions policies resulted in an immediate and precipitous decline in the rates at which underrepresented minority students applied to, were admitted to, and enrolled at UC.
The chancellors said that their efforts to increase diversity at UC campuses through “race-neutral initiatives,” were not enough to increase enrollment of underrepresented minorities up to percentages reflecting the general California population.
“The University of California belongs to the people of California, and race-blind admissions have curbed our ability to fully engage the learning potential found among this state’s diverse population,” Napolitano said in a press release. “We are committed to serving California’s educational needs. Ensuring campuses enable meaningful interactions among students of different backgrounds is key to this mission.”
“The University of California belongs to the people of California, and race-blind admissions have curbed our ability to fully engage the learning potential found among this state’s diverse population.”
UC president Janet Napolitano
The Moreno Report—produced in 2013 to show that UCLA had “lacked adequate policies and procedures” in preventing racial biases on campus between 2007 to 2013—alleged that the low enrollment numbers of underrepresented minorities in proportion to the California population reflected “racial discrimination” against black and Hispanic students in the admissions process. Interestingly, however, data in the report indicates a progressive 5.1% increase of black, Hispanic, and Native American student enrollment since 2007 and an 8.4% increase of international student enrollment.
The data also shows a consistent 4.9% decrease in Asian student enrollment and a sharp 7.1% decrease in Caucasian student enrollment at UCLA. In fact, a current UCLA campus report says that only 27.1% of enrolled UCLA students are Caucasian.
While no affirmative action initiative has been enforced to legally favor underrepresented minority students over Caucasian and Asian students in the UC admissions process, school administrators have still managed to use loopholes, such as mandated personal statements and varied application questions, to include factors other than academic competency to determine a eligibility of prospective applicants.
In other words, the UC admissions system does not need affirmative action in order to discriminate against student applicants based on race. Highly selective UC admissions committees will still accept underrepresented minorities over Caucasians solely based on demographics. But it would make it so much easier to do so, the UC amicus brief makes clear, if there were a legal premise such as affirmative action to mandate such racially discriminatory practices.