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Race Conscious College Admissions

Publication Date: 
February 16, 2010
Source: 
KCBS All News Radio 740 AM

Professor William Koski discusses the delicate issue of affirmative action in higher education after activists have challenged Prop. 209:

"A coalition of activists students from the University of California are filing a lawsuit to overturn the higher education portion of California's proposition 209 the affirmative action initiative. The group "By Any Means Necessary" says that proposition 209 violates the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution. The students and their lawyers claim that the UC system is segregated and that African American and Latino student enrollment at UC Berkeley has dropped steadily since proposition 209 was passed in 1996. For more we're joined on the KCBS news line by Stanford law professor Bill Koski. We thank you so much for the time today. What does proposition 209 have if anything to do with the equal protection laws in the constitution."

"Proposition 209 was a voter passed initiative that only applies to the state of California. And what it does is it bans the use of racial preferences or racial discrimination in university admissions and other government contracting. In essence, what it says that decision makers in government have to be race neutral in their thinking. And this -- Proposition 209 -- was actually upheld against a court equal protection challenge back in 1997. And so it has survived one challenge but. I understand the folks who are now taking a fresh look at this -- they believe that the times have changed and that within the data showing that there has been this precipitous drop in African American and Latino enrollments at the UCs. They believe that it is now ripe for a new challenge under the equal protection clause."

"Without looking at the lawsuit because I haven't of course seen the lawsuit -- it hasn't been filed yet, to my knowledge. I can imagine that what they're thinking here is that given the numbers of students who are African American Latino in the UC system -- it's largely because the system now uses test scores and grades almost exclusively or to some large extent in making admissions decisions. And what the feeling might be is that in the state of California at least the resources devoted to schools with high percentages of African American and Latino kids in the K -12 system are much lower than more affluent neighborhoods which are perhaps more white and Asian American. And what they're thinking is that if you have access to fewer resources, fewer honors classes, fewer counselors, fewer people that get you prepared for college, that that in effect is discriminating against those students in terms of their preparation for the UC system. And then when the UC system chooses to use just test scores and other kinds of grades for their admissions process it perpetuates that discrimination. Now that might be the theory that they're working under and that might be the changed circumstance that they can point to that in fact there has been this drop and there is this potential fact of resource disparity in the state of California."

"There's no doubt this is a novel claim and I'm sure that they feel very strongly about their position. It will be a difficult case to pursue. One thing that has happened in the interim on the is another -- affirmative action case at the University of Michigan Law School in which the law school itself wanted to use race conscious admissions policies. But it was challenged by a white student who said that that type of affirmative action was essentially reverse discrimination. At the University of Michigan case their admissions policy was upheld because it took an individualized holistic look at each applicant. And it didn't use a quota system for African American and Latinos. So at least when a university chooses to use or is able to use race conscious admissions policies that are very narrowly tailored it will be held up against an equal protection clause challenge but that doesn't mean that there is any obligation on a university to use those race conscious policies especially where Prop. 209 exists. One thing that I will say may happen with the filing of this kind of lawsuit -- the great hope will be that it will change the conversation. How is it that we as a state can tolerate such unequal numbers of African American and Latino students in our flagship UC system and how is it that we can reach out and try to change those numbers given that we have Prop. 209 in existence."