Posted on September 26, 2008

The Effects of Proposition 209 on California: Higher Education, Public Employment, and Contracting

Charles L. Geshekter, National Association of Scholars, September 25, 2008


In 1996, Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 209 that prohibited all state agencies from using anyone’s race, ethnicity, or gender to discriminate against them or give them preference in university admissions, public employment, or competition for a state contract.

Those who opposed Proposition 209 predicted that ending racial or gender favoritism would result in sharp declines in black and Hispanic college enrollments, setbacks for women in public employment, reduced funds for cancer detection centers and domestic violence shelters, or other alarmingly negative effects.

This article compares such dire predictions with documentary evidence provided by the State Personnel Board, the Department of Finance, the University of California (UC), and California State University (CSU). It relies on data concerning admissions, retention, and graduation of undergraduates from the CSU system and the UC and reviews faculty hiring patterns within both systems. Other tables compare the numbers of white, black, Hispanic, males and females employed in a variety of California state agencies in 1997, after Proposition 209 was approved, and then in 2006, nine years later.

These statistics document the progress made towards social justice under Proposition 209 and may encourage voters in other states who want to assure that preferential treatment (regardless of whatever else it may euphemistically be called) becomes a thing of the past in the operation of their respective state governments.

These data offer many uncomfortable truths to defenders of racial preferences and gender double standards whose unscrupulous attacks on voter initiatives are likely to persist, regardless of the facts from California. Defenders of double standards and group preferences insinuate that American voters in 2008 cannot understand the simple, straightforward language of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. So immersed in the doubletalk of diversity and obsessed with achieving proportional representation in all walks of life, diversity crusaders ignore or dismiss any good news, repeating their tiresome mantra that without racial preferences or gender double standards a chilly climate for diversity will envelope the workplace and campuses.

This article demonstrates the dishonesty of such claims. The UC and CSU systems continue to accelerate higher education success for all students by promoting educational practices that support everyone’s academic achievement. The CSU and UC data show that blacks, Hispanics, and other underrepresented groups have suffered no harm, but have steadily increased in the statistically significant areas of high school graduates and university baccalaureate holders across the state.

Despite the constant refrain about needing an “even playing field,” the fact is that getting admitted to a university or starting an academic career or landing a construction contract is not some game. When playing “the diversity game,” the defenders of racial preferences or gender double standards prefer to play by no rules. They ignore the fact that disparities in any social category are not proof of discrimination, and that social scientists and geneticists have long recognized that variations within any group are far greater than any variations between such groups.

Proposition 209 in no way hindered the progress of minorities and women in public employment. Predictions about a future deterioration of labor market positions for women and minorities proved utterly unfounded.

In the construction industry, the end of racial preferences and gender set-asides resulted in a decline in the number of certified female- and minority-led businesses that had previously relied on favoritism (Women’s Business Enterprises [WBE] and Minority Business Enterprises [MBE]). This was not a surprising development. Meticulous investigations by the Discrimination Research Center, led by researchers who opposed Proposition 209, confirmed that many of the firms that went out of business after 1997 were not competitive to begin with, a fact that the successful women and ethnic minority business owners seemed easily to grasp when interviewed. By banning quotas and double standards in awarding state construction contracts, the implementation of Proposition 209 saved California millions of dollars (as demonstrated in studies by economist Justin Marion cited below).

The available evidence offers no support for ominous predictions made by opponents of Proposition 209 that the measure would “turn back the clock” on women’s progress or undermine equal opportunities for ethnic minorities.[1] A study from Michigan nonetheless claimed in 2005 that Proposition 209 had “eroded access to services, education, job training and other opportunities for women.”[2] Defenders of gender preferences and set-asides, such as One United Michigan, warned that ending such policies would, in Michigan as in California, “hurt women and girls.” But nothing of the sort ever happened in California.[3]

The hiring and promotion of women as faculty at the CSU and UC systems continued to increase. Women enrolled and graduated in greater numbers than men at the UC and CSU, and majored in a broad cross section of fields including natural sciences, computer science, mathematics, and technology studies.

While none of this data may ever convince those who still staunchly oppose Proposition 209, it does rebut their predictions that initiatives like Proposition 209 jeopardize women and ethnic minorities. Shanta Driver, the national spokesperson for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) recently alleged that “the initiatives had a ‘devastating impact’ on ‘under-represented’ groups.”[4]

One searches in vain for such evidence. Allegations like Driver’s rely on abusive terms like “resegregation” or outright fabrications to allege that damage is caused by eliminating racial and gender preferences. Such unsubstantiated claims often receive the uncritical attention of the media that treat them as “moral statistics” requiring no verification. This report corrects these erroneous impressions by reviewing actual statistical information available on California.

[Editor’s Note: The remainder of this article—with tables and footnotes—can be read here.]