San Francisco—Alarmed by declining numbers of African American students at UCLA and other campuses, University of California regents on Wednesday decided to study the effect of the state’s 10-year-old ban on affirmative action on UC admissions and student enrollment.
The inquiry, officials emphasized, will not focus on ways to overturn or subvert Proposition 209, the 1996 voter approved-measure that forbids consideration of race and gender in admissions and hiring decisions at the state’s public colleges and other institutions.
But by examining the initiative’s effects, UC may be able to figure out legal ways to recruit and admit more black and Latino students, the officials said.
“As we plan for the future, we must know if we are doing everything we can, within the legal parameters, to advance the excellence and diversity of the university,” said student regent Maria Ledesma, a UCLA graduate student in education who, along with regent Frederick Ruiz, proposed the study.
Regent Eddie Island was forceful in his support for the study. “African Americans are deserting from UC at an alarming and precipitous rate,” he said. Blacks on campus, he asserted, have told him of feeling “a palpable degree of hostility.”
“If 209 brought about that result, we ought to know about it,” Island said.
Race has been a hot-button issue at UC since at least the mid-’90s, when the university barred racial preferences in admissions and hiring, even before voters approved Proposition 209.
Following the ban, the proportion of admitted African American, Latino and Native American students, who are considered underrepresented at UC, dropped significantly across the campuses, and most sharply at the system’s most competitive campuses, UC Berkeley and UCLA. For the UC system as a whole, that percentage has slowly recovered in the years since then and has met or surpassed the pre-209 figure consistently since 2002.
But the picture has been more complex at individual campuses, especially those that receive the most applications. Figures released this spring showed that the percentage of black, Latino and Native American students admitted for the fall freshman class slipped at several campuses, including UCLA and UC San Diego.
At UCLA, administrators, students and others have been especially concerned by the dwindling numbers of African American students on campus, with a recent report showing that only 96 black freshmen—or 2% of the incoming class—are expected to enroll in the fall, the lowest number in decades.