SCA-5: A step for­ward or back­ward?

To its sup­port­ers, Cal­i­for­nia Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment No 5 — SCA-5 — would pro­vide a level play­ing field for ad­mis­sion to the state’s higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, but to many op­po­nents, it sim­ply smacks of racism, June Chang re­ports from San Fr

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

Sun­day af­ter­noons are usu­ally a hec­tic time for Zhang Ling. The soft­ware en­gi­neer who lives in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area shut­tles her two high school sons, 16 and 18, to tu­to­ri­als for the SAT col­lege ad­mis­sions test and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. Last Sun­day, March 2, was an ex­cep­tion.

She spent the en­tire af­ter­noon at a town hall meet­ing lis­ten­ing to a panel dis­cus­sion on a sub­ject that many Asian-Amer­i­can fam­i­lies re­gard as pro­mot­ing racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and an un­fair game for ev­ery stu­dent in Cal­i­for­nia: Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment No 5 or SCA-5.

She was joined by about 300 other people in the au­di­to­rium of the com­mu­nity cen­ter in Cu­per­tino, home of Ap­ple com­puter, and late com­ers packed in three hall­ways, to learn about the pos­si­ble im­pact of the re­cently passed bill that would ba­si­cally use af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to de­ter­mine ad­mis­sion to state schools.

“We’ve never seen a turnout like this in the 14-year his­tory of APAPA,” said Al­bert Wang, mod­er­a­tor of the panel dis­cus­sion and the Bay Area chair­man of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Pub­lic Af­fairs As­so­ci­a­tion (APAPA), one of the main or­ga­niz­ers of the dis­cus­sion.

The pro­posed amend­ment was passed by the state Se­nate on Jan 30 with a two-thirds vote. Among the 27 Democrats voting yes were three Chi­nese Amer­i­cans (Sen­a­tors Ted Lieu, Le­land Yee and Carol Liu); 11 Repub­li­cans voted no. Now it awaits ac­tion by the Demo­crat-con­trolled state As­sem­bly. If ap­proved, SCA-5 will be pre­sented to Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers as a ref­er­en­dum at the statewide elec­tion on Nov 4.

Writ­ten by Se­na­tor Ed Her­nan­dez, the bill pro­poses “amend­ing Sec­tion 31 of Ar­ti­cle 1 thereof, re­lat­ing to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion”— specif­i­cally elim­i­nat­ing pub­lic higher ed­u­ca­tion from the re­quire­ments of Propo­si­tion 209.

Dubbed the Cal­i­for­nia Civil Rights Ini­tia­tive, Prop 209 was ap­proved by vot­ers in Novem­ber 1996. It amended the state con­sti­tu­tion to pro­hibit state-sup­ported in­sti­tu­tions from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against, or grant­ing pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to, any in­di­vid­ual or group on the ba­sis of race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity, or na­tional ori­gin in the oper­a­tion of pub­lic em­ploy­ment, pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion or pub­lic con­tract­ing.

SCA-5 would re­move all anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions in Prop 209.

It would al­low such pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions as the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) and the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity (CSU) sys­tems — and even K-12 schools — to use race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin as a con­sid­er­a­tion for en­rolling stu­dents or hir­ing em­ploy­ees. Third at­tempt

This is the third time Her­nan­dez has sought to push the bill through the state leg­is­la­ture. His two pre­vi­ous at­tempts were ap­proved by the Se­nate and the As­sem­bly but were ve­toed by then-Gover­nor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger in 2010 and by cur­rent Gover­nor Jerry Brown in 2011. To take away any chance of an­other Brown veto, Her­nan­dez of­fered it as an amend­ment to the state con­sti­tu­tion.

Her­nan­dez was in­vited to the town hall meet­ing, but he did not show up.

In­stead he sent a state­ment say­ing that he is “con­tin­u­ing to meet and hear the con­cerns from many groups on this is­sue and hopes to con­tinue a pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sion that is based on facts de­spite much of the mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion that has cir­cu­lated.’’

To its sup­port­ers, SCA-5 would level the play­ing field for ev­ery­one and com­pen­sate mi­nori­ties for what they con­sider past wrongs. They be­lieve that re­vers­ing Prop 209 and us­ing race as a fac­tor for ad­mis­sion to schools helps un­der­rep­re­sented racial groups, makes col­lege cam­puses more di­verse and brings more fair­ness to so­ci­ety.

With his as­ser­tion that “there has been a pre­cip­i­tous drop in the per­cent­age of Latino, African Amer­i­can and Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents at Cal­i­for­nia pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties,” and “... cam­puses be­com­ing less di­verse and qual­i­fied high school grad­u­ates be­ing over­looked and ig­nored un­der Prop 209,” Her­nan­dez main­tains that pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges should have all the tools needed to en­sure their cam­puses re­flect Cal­i­for­nia’s de­mo­graph­ics.

Her­nan­dez points to him­self as some­one who has ben­e­fited from the re­cruit­ment and schol­ar­ship as­sis­tance of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion that tar­geted mi­nor­ity stu­dents, say­ing it en­abled him to at­tend an op­tom­e­try school in In­di­ana.

Lin-chi Wang, past chair of the eth­nic stud­ies depart­ment at UC Berke­ley and one of the four pan­elists at the town hall meet­ing, said mea­sures should be taken to change the cur­rent univer­sity ad­mis­sion pol­icy be­cause he said it em­pha­sizes SAT scores and grade -point av­er­ages too much.

“Merit should also in­clude lead­er­ship, vol­un­teer­ing, spe­cial talent,” said the long-time ad­vo­cate for Asian-Amer­i­can im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, adding that he thought there is a lack of di­ver­sity on the UC cam­pus.

“As ben­e­fi­cia­ries of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tions we Asian Amer­i­cans should re­mem­ber to give chances to ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing those from the so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged fam­i­lies. In other words, when drink­ing wa­ter, don’t for­get its source,” said Wang. The op­po­nents

One of the ar­gu­ments put forth by op­po­nents of SCA-5 is that the pur­pose of ed­u­ca­tion is to help build a fair so­ci­ety, and the cur­rent sys­tem of holis­tic, col­or­blind ad­mis­sions with ac­com­mo­da­tion for the so­cio-eco­nomic dis­ad­van­taged on UC and CSU cam­puses is a fair sys­tem.

They also say that SCA-5 will pro­mote racial and eth­nic pref­er­ences on higher ed­u­ca­tion ad­mis­sions that will set so­ci­ety back to when people were judged by their skin color in­stead of merit.

Se­na­tor Bob Huff, who voted against SCA5 and was on the panel at the town hall meet­ing, said SCA-5 is flawed and will largely af­fect the Asian pop­u­la­tion on UC and CSU cam­puses. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said.

David Lehrer, pres­i­dent of Com­mu­nity Ad­vo­cates Inc and also on the panel, echoed Huff ’s com­ments, call­ing the bill “poorly thought out.’’

“In the clear­est and most un­am­bigu­ous lan­guage pos­si­ble, Prop 209 is nei­ther dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand nor to im­ple­ment,’’ Lehrer said in a com­men­tary ar­ti­cle he co-wrote that was pub­lished in the Jewish Jour­nal on Feb 8.

He called it “a step back­ward in higher ed­u­ca­tion’”, and wrote that “at least in terms of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, the state’s uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and com­mu­nity col­leges have to be col­or­blind.’’

Le­herer said at the panel dis­cus­sion that there is prac­ti­cally noth­ing in Her­nan­dez’s state­ment about his pro­posed amend­ment that is ac­cu­rate, but two-thirds of the state Se­nate “bought his line.’’

“It is in­dis­putable that both in ab­so­lute num­bers and per­cent­ages, mi­nori­ties that at­tend UC have in­creased and ex­ceed the lev­els of mi­nor­ity ad­mis­sions from the preProp 209 days,’’ Lehrer said.

At the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in 1996 — the last year be­fore Prop 209’s im­ple­men­ta­tion — African Amer­i­cans ac­counted for 4 per­cent of over­all ad­mis­sions (1,628); in 2013 they were 4.3 per­cent of ad­mis­sions (2,705), while they made up ap­prox­i­mately 6.6 per­cent of the Cal­i­for­nia pop­u­la­tion.

Lati­nos were 14.3 per­cent of ad­mis­sions (5,744) in 1996 at the univer­sity and 27.8 per­cent (17,450) of ad­mis­sions in 2013, and were 38.2 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion.

Asians made up 32 per­cent (12,995) of ad­mis­sions in 1996 and 35.9 per­cent (22,536) in 2013; they make up about 13.9 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion.

Ad­mis­sions for whites have plum­meted to 27.9 per­cent (17,516) in 2013 from 41 per­cent (16,465) in 1996; whites make up about 39.4 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion.

In 1996 in the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity sys­tem, the in­crease in mi­nor­ity en­roll­ment and the de­cline in the white ra­tio gen­er­ally par­al­leled those at UC — Lati­nos up 33.9 per­cent from 21.4 per­cent; Asians up to 18 per­cent from 17.1 per­cent; whites de­clined to 30.4 per­cent from 47.6 per­cent.

The en­roll­ment of blacks has de­clined to 5 per­cent from 7.6 per­cent, al­though the ac­tual num­bers in­creased to 18,175 in 2012 from


our stu­dents do not face a level play­ing field. Some need more as­sis­tance than oth­ers. How­ever, judg­ing them by their color is not the so­lu­tion. It only cre­ates more in­equal­ity than it at­tempts to ad­dress.” CHRIS ZHANG FOUNDER OF UNITED ASIAN AMER­I­CANS FOR AC­TIVISM (UAAFA)

17,539 in 1995, un­like at the UC sys­tem.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est ad­mis­sion data from UC and CSU, the ap­prox­i­mately 72 per­cent of the Latino high school grad­u­ates in Cal­i­for­nia who are UC and CSU-el­i­gi­ble are ad­mit­ted to ei­ther the UC or CSU sys­tem schools. In con­trast, ap­prox­i­mately 52 per­cent of the state’s el­i­gi­ble white stu­dents are ad­mit­ted to UC or CSU schools. Her­nan­dez’s claim that “qual­i­fied high school grad­u­ates (are) be­ing over­looked and ig­nored un­der Prop 209” is “root­less’’, said Lehrer.

The fast-grow­ing Latino pop­u­la­tion will be­come the big­gest plu­ral­ity in mid-2014, and reach 48 per­cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion by 2060, while whites are ex­pected to de­crease to 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fi­nance.

Lehrer said that the UC sys­tem vir­tu­ally

State and federal courts, in­clud­ing the US Supreme Court, have is­sued nu­mer­ous rul­ings on af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in higher ed­u­ca­tion over the years. Some­times they have con­tra­dicted each other, with the le­gal ar­gu­ments re­flect­ing the key com­po­nents of the pub­lic de­bate, said Al­bert Wang, San Fran­cisco Bay Area chair­man of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­ders Amer­i­can Pub­lic Af­fairs As­so­ci­a­tion (APAPA).

Op­po­nents of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, with the ma­jor­ity be­ing Asian fam­i­lies, say it vi­o­lates the Equal Pro­tec­tion Clause of the 14th Amend­ment to the US Con­sti­tu­tion, and col­leges should as­sess ap­pli­cants mainly based on mer­its, with the aca­demic per­for­mance as the fairest and most ob­jec­tive cri­te­ria.

Sup­port­ers of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, such as Se­na­tor Ed Her­nan­dez, who in­tro­duced the pro­posed amend­ment to the Cal­i­for­nia state con­sti­tu­tion, say the higher-ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has over­looked cer­tain mi­nor­ity groups and needs to bet­ter value stu­dents with leads the en­tire coun­try in its ad­mis­sion of tal­ented, so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents — in­de­pen­dent of race or eth­nic­ity — poor kids who need fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. In 2011-2012, 41 per­cent (74,933) of the en­rolled stu­dents at UC and CSU were Pell Grant re­cip­i­ents (i.e. most of­ten un­der­grad­u­ates with fam­ily in­comes un­der $20,000).

“If this is not di­ver­sity, I don’t know what it is,” Huff said dur­ing the panel dis­cus­sion.

“At a time when mi­nori­ties are qual­i­fy­ing for and be­ing ad­mit­ted on their mer­its to the state’s pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges –— in­de­pen­dent of race or eth­nic­ity –— in record num­bers, and dis­ad­van­taged ap­pli­cants are be­ing ad­mit­ted in ex­tra­or­di­nary num­bers, SCA-5 will re-in­ject di­vi­sive con­sid­er­a­tions of race and eth­nic­ity into the mix. There sim­ply are no data that sub­stan­ti­ate ‘grievances’ need­ing such an ex­tra­or­di­nary rem­edy,” said Lehrer. ‘Pref­er­en­tial treat­ment’

“SCA-5 would give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment based on race, and in­still into young minds that we are un­equal. Our chil­dren would have to learn that people have un­equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for no rea­son other than the color of their skin,” said Chris Zhang, a lo­cal at­tor­ney and founder of United Asian Amer­i­cans for Ac­tivism (UAAFA) at the meet­ing.

“Does SCA-5 im­ply that cer­tain groups are in­fe­rior by na­ture that they re­quire spe­cial treat­ment in or­der to suc­ceed?” asked Su­gar Wang, an ac­tivist with UAAFA, in an in­ter­view at the meet­ing.

“Does the Leg­is­la­ture re­ally want to re­turn to al­lo­cat­ing ad­mis­sions on the ba­sis of race and eth­nic­ity? Whose num­bers would be re­duced and whose in­creased, and why?’’ Lehrer asked.

“Yes, our stu­dents do not face a level play­ing field. Some need more as­sis­tance than oth­ers. How­ever, judg­ing them by their color is not the so­lu­tion. It only cre­ates more in­equal­ity than it at­tempts to ad­dress,” said Zhang.

“For ex­am­ple, an Asian-Amer­i­can stu­dent has less than one-third of the chance of get­ting into the same col­lege as a non-Asian stu­dent with the same qual­i­fi­ca­tions, even if that Asian stu­dent came from an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult back­ground. SCA-5 is in­tended to over­look such in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances, and to ex­ac­er­bate the racial in­equal­ity,’’ he said.

Henry Der, for­mer deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic in­struc­tion at the Cal­i­for­nia depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion who also was on the panel, said the bill is good-in­ten­tioned and there is no men­tion of quota to be placed in the col­lege-en­roll­ment process.

“Re­gard­less if they have put quo­tas there, let’s go back to the sim­ple fact that there are only a cer­tain num­ber of slots avail­able at our uni­ver­si­ties,” Huff said.

“As soon as Her­nan­dez and his fol­low­ers want to in­tro­duce race as the cri­te­ria they can make de­ci­sions by, the num­ber of Asian stu­dents on UC and CSU cam­puses will drop tremen­dously given the rel­a­tively mar­ginal Asian pop­u­la­tion in Cal­i­for­nia,” he said.

“This might not be the in­tent of SCA-5, but this will be the con­se­quences,” Huff added. Con­tact the writer at junechang@chi­nadai­ dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds in their pur­suit of col­lege de­grees.

In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in the Re­gents of Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia vs. Bakke case that race was al­lowed for limited use in col­lege ad­mis­sions pol­icy, while the racial quo­tas set aside for mi­nor­ity stu­dents by the UC Davis School of Medicine, were un­con­sti­tu­tional. The court said goals and timetable for di­ver­sity could be set, but the ques­tion of the le­gal­ity of vol­un­tary af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pro­grams ini­ti­ated by uni­ver­si­ties re­mained unan­swered, ac­cord­ing to the Le­gal In­for­ma­tion In­sti­tute at the Cor­nell Univer­sity Law School.

In 2008, the Supreme Court in Fisher vs Univer­sity of Texas voted 7-1 to send the univer­sity’s race-con­scious ad­mis­sions plan back for fur­ther ju­di­cial re­view, rul­ing that courts as­sess­ing col­lege poli­cies must con­sider whether “work­able race-neu­tral al­ter­na­tives would pro­duce the ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits of di­ver­sity.”


Par­ents and their chil­dren staged a peace­ful protest against SCA-5 out­side a town meet­ing on March 2 in Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia.

Pan­elists at the town hall meet­ing in Cu­per­tino dis­cuss the pos­si­ble im­pact of SCA-5. From left: Se­na­tor Bob Huff, David Lehrer, pres­i­dent of Com­mu­nity Ad­vo­cates Inc, Lin-chi Wang, past chair of the eth­nic stud­ies depart­ment at UC Berke­ley, and Henry Der, for­mer deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of pub­lic in­struc­tion at the Cal­i­for­nia depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion.

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