By Pamela Burdman
Provocative suggestions come naturally to Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who led the successful drive to rid the nine-campus system of its thirty-year-old affirmative action policies.
Connerly wasn't kidding when he said the university should go colorblind, and so even after his triumph in passing the regents' resolution that ended affirmative action in admissions, he continued hunting down all vestiges of race-conscious decision-making in the university. This mission recently led him to advocate anonymous applications. The only way to guarantee a race-neutral regime, he insisted, was to blot out applicants' names--lest admissions officers give in to the temptation to sneak in a Pablo Diaz or a Willie Washington ahead of a better qualified Suzie Wong or George O'Leary, to cite his own examples.
"For someone who wants to use race through the back door, these names would tell us this person is in an underrepresented group," Connerly explained. Instead, he urged, UC should follow the example of state bar exams and real estate licenses, relying on social security numbers to avoid "contaminating" the selection process.
"There are some admissions officers who have been fighting SP-1 from the very day it was passed," Connerly charged, explaining that he issued his proposal because he distrusted the intentions of university employees. "Why should we now think they've got religion and they're going to comply with the resolution? If you have a culture of resistance, which we have at many of our campuses, where people are going to defy the will of the regents, we're well-advised to eliminate that one overriding indicator of a person's ethnicity--the name."
Not surprisingly, admissions officers took umbrage at the suggestion of a conspiracy afoot to evade SP-1. "I'd like to see him say it in a way that would make it slander,'' huffed UCLA director of undergraduate admissions Rae Lee Siporin. "I've been a professional in higher education for twenty-nine years, and I resent having my credibility and integrity impugned in that way." Administrators like Siporin further argued that the effort to remove indicators of ethnicity from applications was self-defeating. To eliminate names from the picture, all test reports and transcripts would have to be sanitized. But to purge an application of racial hints means students would have to omit from their essays that English is their second language, for example, or that they grew up in Watts or Chinatown. This appeared to violate Connerly's own instruction that campuses should give individual applicants a closer look, reading every personal essay in search of diamonds in the rough.
Connerly's suggestion ended up going nowhere. But that it could be made at all testifies to the considerable animosity and suspicion that surround the University of California system as it embarks on an unprecedented experiment in the abolition of affirmative action. A tour of the University of California today reveals an academic world in turmoil. Regents mistrust administrators. Administrators busily try to placate intrusive politicians and angry professors. Faculty members speak out loudly against the regents' decision, even as they also confront divisions within their own ranks over the virtues of affirmative action. In short, the California system has been plunged into what feminist theorist Judith Butler terms nothing less than an "epistemic crisis." As advocates of affirmative action find themselves on the defensive across the country, it's a scenario that could play itself out in many other states as well.
NONE OF THAT was predicted back in late 1994, when Connerly and the board of regents embarked on their six-month review of affirmative action programs in the nation's most ethnically diverse state. Connerly is a Sacramento land-use consultant and longtime friend of Pete Wilson, the Republican governor who appointed him to the board in 1993. Like Wilson, he is no right-wing extremist: He defends women's right to choose, and within UC he has emerged as both a fierce opponent of student fee hikes and a vigorous advocate of domestic-partner benefits. But when it comes to affirmative action, his views have enraged many on California's campuses. A lightning rod in the statewide debate, Connerly holds forth on the subject with an eloquence and passion that look like charismatic conviction to his supporters and brash opportunism to his detractors. Argu-mentative and thin-skinned, he has tangled with fellow African Americans like Berkeley sociologist Troy Duster over whether he himself is a product of affirmative action. In fact, he says it was his lifelong reluctance to live under the cloud of affirmative action that shaped his views about race--though critics say his championing of the issue at UC was well-timed to dovetail with Governor Wilson's own campaign about affirmative action.
It was Connerly who authored SP-1's groundbreaking statement that "the University of California shall not use race, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin as criteria for admission to the University or to any program of study." Toting along SP-1, and a companion measure, SP-2, which forbade the use of race and gender in hiring and contracting, Connerly brought the affirmative action issue to a boil at the Regents board in a packed meeting on July 20, 1995. The politically charged atmosphere surrounding the meeting was accentuated by the presence of Jesse Jackson, who had come to articulate the case for affirmative action, and Governor Wilson, who came in his capacity as ex-officio regent and an outspokenly antiaffirmative action presidential candidate. Wilson also had a certain sway over the board: All eighteen appointed regents on the twenty-six-member board owed their seats to Wilson or the previous Republican governor.
After twelve hours, countless speeches by members of the university community, several disruptions by noisy demonstrators, and one bomb threat, the regents held their historic vote. They split fourteen to nine with one abstention in favor of SP-1 and fifteen to ten for SP-2. Within months, Connerly became chairman of the campaign for the state's anti-preference ballot initiative, Proposition 209, which California voters approved in November 1996. Connerly has since gone on to start an organization devoted to rooting out preferences nationwide. Meanwhile, Proposition 209 has cleared its first legal hurdle, and the University of California has become a national test case for the dismantling of affirmative action.
Several prongs of the regents' resolution are already the law at UC. New hiring and contracting policies took effect more than a year ago but with little immediate impact, because they are largely overridden by federal affirmative action statutes. Graduate and professional school applicants are already confronting the new rules--this fall, students will enter classes chosen under the regents' rules. But at the moment, all eyes are on the undergraduate admissions offices as they prepare to read applications next January for the first freshman class of the postaffirmative action era.
IT'S SPRING break, one week after the last acceptance letters have gone out for the fall's freshman class, and Richard Backer is staring at a stack of sixty letters from angry parents whose children weren't admitted. Among them are students who graduated from California high schools with 4.0 averages. It's still early in the season, and Backer expects another 400 or so appeals.
As UC-San Diego's assistant vice-chancellor for enrollment management, Backer already knows that few of his responses will carry good news. He says, "The most difficult part is responding to parents who come to you saying 'We're Caucasian, and my son or daughter didn't get in, and they had a classmate who's from an underrepresented population who's not nearly as strong academically, and they got in, and that's not fair.' It's the toughest part of the job." Not having to deal with such letters is a small benefit to what he sees as a regrettable new situation.
Then again, the change won't prevent thousands of aspirants to UC's top schools from being turned away. Under the state's longtime master plan, the top one-eighth of the state's graduating seniors are guaranteed a UC education. But since 1973, when Berkeley started turning away eligible students, followed by UCLA in 1980, the state's best students have not been assured of going to the campus of their choice. This year only Riverside and Santa Cruz accepted all applicants whose grades put them in the top eighth. Meanwhile, Berkeley officials say they turned away more applications this spring than any college in history.
SP-1 mandates that race and ethnicity not be factors in the allocation of these precious places. But the resolution does not require campuses to select students on the basis of academics alone. Under the new rules, schools can choose 25 to 50 percent of their freshmen on the basis of criteria that include special talents, disabilities, geographic location, and evidence of overcoming economic or social disadvantages. The latter, as codified in SP-1, includes "an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional home or a neighborhood of unwholesome or antisocial influences"--language that became the butt of jokes and the subject of academic exegesis.
Following these provisions, each campus has tried to come up with selection criteria that maintain substantial levels of diversity while jibing with the new rules. At San Diego, an admissions committee of professors, administrators, and students thought it had found a clever new criterion--but the plan backfired.
While abandoning its practice of assigning an extra three hundred points to black, Latino, and Native American applicants, the committee decided to add a sliding scale worth zero to nine hundred points for something called "Academic Potential and Promise in a Limited Educational and Social Environment." The category relied on a complicated index that evaluated California high schools not only on academic measures, such as graduation rate, college-attendance rate, and the percentage of students taking geometry, but also on socioeconomic factors, such as the number of students who speak English as a second language or whose families are on welfare.
Only one San Diego high school earned nine hundred points--tiny Borrego Springs. But to students at Torrey Pines and La Jolla, in San Diego's toniest neighborhoods, the scale allotted a disappointing zero points. The thinking went that students at those schools would have plenty of other ways to score points: Honors, awards, and special talents could net six hundred points and leadership or community service another four hundred.
But the proposal incited an angry reaction from some San Diego residents. "My wife and I have worked for almost twenty years to purchase a home in a top-performing school district--for which we paid a premium price," wrote one man in a letter to the local board of supervisors, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Sunday real estate section. "The proposal would penalize my three children's opportunity to attend UCSD solely because their parents moved them to a residence in the Torrey Pines High School enrollment area." In response to such complaints, the county assessor's office analyzed the likely effect on property values in exclusive neighborhoods--it found none.
Still, the outcry presented no small public relations problem. No matter how administrators explained the strategy, parents saw that UCSD was ranking high schools--and instead of rewarding graduates of the best schools, it seemed in effect to be punishing them. As word of the plan got out, Connerly conceded that it followed the guidelines of SP-1 but savaged the plan's architects anyway: "These folks have been working overtime trying to come up with surrogates for race. The taxpayers ought to be marching over the hill with pitchforks." It wasn't long before UCSD's new chancellor Robert C. Dynes nudged the committee to reconsider its approach. "The fact that there was such an uproar meant it was a bad idea," said Dynes.
Determined to provide some boost for those students who succeeded at schools offering few honors courses or those with no counselors, the UCSD committee shelved the point system in favor of a binary system. A student can get credit for each of eight supplemental criteria including "social environment" and "educational environment"--for kids from low-income families or whose parents didn't go to college.
At San Diego, these criteria may open doors for underrepresented minority students. But Berkeley and UCLA have already been using such criteria, say admissions officers there, and have no new admissions guidelines to offer. Only now, they say, white and Asian students who don't get admitted will have no one to blame. "There are going to be eighteen thousand parents who are not going to get their kids in," said Siporin. "We could eliminate all underrepresented minorities in the freshman class, and I would still be turning down 4.0 students."
IN THE ENTIRE debate over affirmative action, neither side has stated that diversity is unimportant. But in the zero-sum game of admissions, how much diversity UC can preserve is still unknown.
Foes of preferences often argue that it's racist to insist that a diverse student body requires affirmative action; after all, couldn't minorities make it into UC on their own steam? During the historic regents meeting of July 20, 1995, Governor Wilson himself scrawled out a "Diversity Rider," which was added to SP-1. It reads: "Believing California's diversity to be an asset, we adopt this statement: Because individual members of all of California's diverse races have the intelligence and capacity to succeed at the University of California, this policy will achieve a UC population that reflects this state's diversity through the preparation and empowerment of all students in this state to succeed rather than through a system of artificial preferences."
Wilson's words might have sounded heartening. But veterans of the admissions office argue that the successful "empowerment of all students in this state" is a goal that's unlikely be attained for a long time. According to UC's outreach task force, only 5.1 percent of African Americans and 3.9 percent of Latinos who graduate from the state's public high schools are eligible to attend UC--compared with 12.7 percent of whites and 32.2 percent of Asians.
"The regents' policy is inherently and profoundly self-contradictory. It asks the university to achieve a 'population that reflects the state's diversity' while depriving it of an instrument indispensable to the attainment of that diversity," said Jerome Karabel, a UC-Berkeley sociologist who has spent much of his career studying university admissions.
Though Berkeley and UCLA's impact reports projected only a thousand or so more seats opening up to whites and Asian Americans, such a shift would still cut the number of underrepresented minorities on those campuses by half or more. (In 1995, Asians constituted 40 percent of Berkeley students, while whites were 31 percent, Latinos 14 percent, blacks 6 percent, and Native Americans 1 percent.) Other unknowns make the overall effect on the UC system impossible to predict. For example, most of the students who would not make the cut at the most selective campuses would still be eligible at another UC campus. This so-called "cascade effect" could keep the overall ethnic balance of the California system roughly the same. Administrators are not counting on that, however. Siporin and her counterparts at Berkeley suspect that many of the thousand or so minority kids who might be turned away from their campuses will wind up at one of the elite private schools that tend to dangle attractive financial aid packages before them.
Unless private schools also move to lift preferences, the competition among schools for top-scoring minority students ensures those kids a quality education. But even so, the California policy raises serious questions about the responsibility of selective public colleges to serve all sectors of society. In a yet-to-be-published paper, Thomas J. Kane of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government concludes that a nationwide end to affirmative action would eliminate opportunities for minorities only at elite colleges. But for those schools, Kane predicts, the effects would be dramatic. "Selective colleges are likely to have to choose between race-blindness in admissions and a semblance of racial diversity on campus," writes Kane, echoing the predictions of UC administrators and professors.
THE CONSEQUENCES of California's choice are already beginning to trouble some state leaders. In late March, Democratic state senators held a hearing to examine an unprecedented 22 percent drop in the number of non-Asian minorities applying to UC's five medical schools.
The decline in applications for next fall comes on top of a 24 percent drop in
minorities in UC's current first-year medical class. All this confirms admissions
officers' worst fears--that they will have a harder time recruiting minority whiz kids
simply because those students may find UC's climate less hospitable than that of a
school with more minorities. It's a prospect that seems ironic to some medical school
administrators, who note that the need for more minority doctors was an original
impetus behind affirmative action in higher education.
At the senate hearing in California's statehouse, UC-Berkeley senior Dustin Paz told the senators what less hospitable means: Though the molecular biology student's 3.78 average--and score of thirty-eight points out of forty-five on the MCAT--have already won him places at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, he has been wait-listed at UCSF, and his UC-Davis application is on hold. Berkeley graduates at the East Coast schools tell him they prefer being away from the politics in California, and he is leaning that way, too.
Michael Drake, a UCSF professor of ophthalmology and associate dean of admissions who has spent years recruiting some of the nation's most talented underrepresented minorities to the school, says SP-1 and Proposition 209 are making his job harder. "The contentiousness of the debate really does make us look like a less welcoming place," he said. Connerly, who grew up in Louisiana and still recalls the humiliation of drinking from a coloreds only fountain, doesn't buy it. And he says so with typical gusto. "These kids are going to tell us at the beginning of the twenty-first century that they don't feel welcome? We have people in the sixties who had to be escorted to school with guards and bayonets."
IF THE AFFIRMATIVE action decision has turned admissions offices upside down, it hasn't been much kinder to the UC system's conflicted top officials or to its often confused faculty. At Berkeley, a group of prominent left-leaning professors has been especially outspoken in its opposition to the regents' decision. But discussions of SP-1 have also revealed strong misgivings about affirmative action throughout UC. The debate has only been exacerbated by the fact that it concerns the persnickety question of who runs the university, as well as the contested legitimacy of affirmative action itself.
Richard C. Atkinson squirms whenever the question of affirmative action comes up. As UC president, he is responsible for turning the affirmative action battleship, yet it's no secret that he dislikes the idea. In July 1995, while still chancellor at UCSD, Atkinson joined with the other eight UC chancellors, then-president Jack Peltason, and all nine of UC's academic senates in a public statement urging the regents not to mess with affirmative action.
Despite his stand, Atkinson was appointed president of the system three months later. It wasn't long, however, before the regents showed him that on the subject of SP-1 he had little breathing room. When he tried to extend the measure's implementation date, which some considered an administrative decision, Connerly cried insubordination. So did Governor Wilson, who summoned the president to the statehouse, making no bones about the fact that Atkinson's was a firing offense. Only after Atkinson penned a public statement bowing to the regents' authority did they back off, canceling a special meeting called for the purpose of reviewing his performance.
Conservatives were relieved. "The regents are in control of the asylum," squawked regent Glenn Campbell, a seventy-year-old scholar at the Hoover Institution. But some faculty were displeased by Atkinson's concessions. Ethnic studies professor Ronald Takaki says, "I wish Atkinson had stood up to the regents and said 'we need to rethink this.' He should have had the regents fire him." Had that happened, Takaki speculates, "There would have been a faculty rebellion up and down California."
In any case, the ensuing months brought considerable turmoil to the administration. In particular, they saw the resignations of a longtime UC vice president and the system's two most senior chancellors--Chang-Lin Tien, the much-beloved engineer who had run the Berkeley campus since 1990 and Charles Young, UCLA's leader for twenty-seven years. Neither hid his distaste for the regents' policy. And both had had their run-ins with Connerly: Tien in 1996 for instituting an outreach program for disadvantaged students that Connerly labeled a "sneaky" end run around SP-1, and Young a year earlier after he called Connerly a "mouthpiece" for Governor Wilson. "Sometimes you have to be very careful," Tien said in an interview last fall. "People are watching you very carefully."
THE POLARIZATION at UC's highest echelons paralleled divisions among students and faculty below. In the early days after the regents' vote, protests were loud and frequent. Students disrupted several regents meetings, and penned numerous columns in the student-run Daily Californian attacking the regents' decision. More recently, a group of forty demonstrators occupied Berkeley's Sproul Hall for several hours, demanding that the university refuse to comply with Proposition 209. But most students have not gotten involved in the protests. In a clear sign that scaling back affirmative action was not unpopular among all students, the Daily Californian editorialized in favor of both SP-1 and Proposition 209.
From the time of the regents' vote, many faculty were incensed by what they perceived as interference. If the regents were willing to play politics with admissions policy, they wondered, what was next?
Faculty senates on all nine campuses expressed their dissatisfaction not just with the outcome, but with the regents' apparent disrespect for the faculty's concerns on a core educational question and the insertion of Governor Wilson's presidential grandstanding into the academy. They voted overwhelmingly to demand the regents reverse their decision.
Leading a seemingly futile charge, several left-liberal faculty members at Berkeley banded together to try to save affirmative action. In a paper they were allowed to present, after much negotiation, at a regents' meeting, Jerome Karabel, fellow sociologists Troy Duster and Kristin Luker, anthropologist Margaret Conkey, and others took issue with the regents for violating the tradition of shared governance by overriding the expressed will of their senior executives and faculty senates.
"It constituted the worst breach of prevailing norms of governance at a major American university in over a quarter of a century," read the paper. Karabel, who wrote most of the document, had as much at stake as any professor: He was the chief architect of the Berkeley undergraduate admissions procedures that the regents had scrapped. But as a sociologist specializing in higher education, he also believed strongly that the arguments for the new policy were downright wrong. "This disingenuous ideology of color blindness is totally willing to acknowledge that social class is consequential in America at the same time that it insists against all evidence that race is inconsequential," he said in an interview. "This is blatantly false, and it is unhealthy for a major institution of society to deny the reality that both race and class matter in society."
Karabel said the regents' vote had caught him by surprise while he was deep into writing a book on Eastern European intellectuals. That book remains unfinished, as he shifted his attention back to the study of college admissions.
Around the Berkeley campus, likeminded faculty responded in other ways to the vote. "The regents' vote had a very demoralizing effect on the progressive faculty at UC-Berkeley," said Judith Butler. "For many of us, it's changed the nature of our research and the writing we're doing. A lot of my recent work has been trying to come to terms with this event, which for many of us seemed radically unthinkable--that there could be a repeal of affirmative action at the University of California." Speaking of Connerly's no-name proposal, Butler doesn't mince words: "It resonated disturbingly with the idea of ethnic cleansing and this effort to purify the student."
In the summer of 1996, Representations, a journal published on campus that typically focuses on the humanities and interpretive social sciences, produced an affirmative action issue. The editors, law professor Robert Post and political scientist Michael Rogin, made it clear that the effort was motivated by the regents' new policy. "It was a wake-up call, it was a shock, and we thought we needed to have a response," said Post. He said an expanded version of the issue will be published later this year by Zone Books.
The volume's contributors battled foes of affirmative action on a number of fronts. Duster issued a bold attack on the notion of fairness that had come to dominate the affirmative action debate. "Are two individuals and their test scores ever the whole story of fairness in any society?" he asked. "'Fairness to the individual' must always have a social and historical context--ignoring that context is a cheap political trick in the service of the ideology of those in power." A piece by Butler assailed the "morally sanctified individualism" under which "the institution seeks to reward those who expect no compensation from the institution for their suffering." But the vigor of the contributors' arguments was matched by a sense of resignation over losing a battle. In a thoughtful essay, historian David Hollinger noted that, in contrast to the singular message of color blindness propagated by affirmative action opponents, supporters of the policy lacked a unifying theory of what affirmative action is and why it is needed.
The absence of a coherent theoretical argument for affirmative action was also reflected in the debate over Proposition 209, which too often consisted of the ad hominem claim that opponents of affirmative action must be racist. "It was rhetorical, it was unilluminating, and it was very disappointing," said Post, who adds that the issue of Representations he edited did not have the elevating impact on the Proposition 209 discussion he had hoped for.
Hollinger, author of Post-Ethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (Basic, 1995), also faults the left for failing to approach the issue rigorously: "Affirmative action survived on the basis of a tacit agreement of most of the parties not to ask hard questions about it," he said. "When the opposition came, increasingly ferociously, you couldn't avoid asking those hard questions. And when you asked the hard questions, you discovered that you disagreed among yourselves."
Ronald Takaki, author of A Different Mirror: A History of Multi-cultural America (Little, Brown, 1993), as long been a proponent of affirmative action, but he agrees that the usual defenses are weak. "There isn't a theory to challenge the idea that discrimination is past," he said. Still, he notes that it is possible to win converts to his cause. Over the last several years, he has participated in four public debates with Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer, whose 1980 study Affirmative Discrimination is a staple of anti-preference thinking. Takaki takes heart from Glazer's recent change of mind: Glazer now defends the continuation of affirmative action policies, though only for blacks.
WHILE AFFIRMATIVE action supporters like Takaki may have spoken the loudest in campus debates, the regents' vote revealed that a large number of faculty members had grown strongly impatient with affirmative action. "People who have grave doubts about affirmative action are speaking more openly," said Butler. "I didn't realize how many people were keeping their opposition to affirmative action quiet."
These silent supporters of the regents made their presence known at three campuses--UCSD, UCLA, and UCSB--where they organized secret ballots on the question of the regents' vote, arguing that many faculty members would hesitate to air their views publicly for fear of being branded racists. Though all three schools still voted for rescinding SP-1 and SP-2, the lopsided margins of the earlier faculty senate votes disappeared and a divide emerged: The votes were 52 to 47 percent at Santa Barbara, 57 to 43 percent at San Diego, and 59 to 41 percent at UCLA.
A San Diego social scientist who helped organize the mailed ballots called the senate votes "memorably totalitarian." Though he says he has faced no retaliation on his own campus for his opposition to the old regime, he is loath to air his views outside San Diego. "If I was considered for a job at some other place, it could easily happen that one or two other people would try to blackball me," he said. "People on the left on these issues feel it's flat-out immoral not to agree with them and alien to what a university should be."
Berkeley philosopher John Searle is among the UC system's more prominent critics of affirmative action. Though he doesn't place himself anywhere on the conventional political spectrum, his 1971 book The Campus Wars argues that faculty senates are typically co-opted by left-wingers. Like many faculty members who came to equate affirmative action with reverse discrimination, he says his feelings originated with his own experiences on faculty search committees.
"The definition of affirmative action was changed on us,'' he said. "The original definition was we were going to see that people who had not previously attempted to compete in the university be encouraged to compete, and I thought that was terrific. In real life, however, it came to mean that, if you have two people in for a job, one of whom is a member of a 'targeted minority,' and the white male is clearly superior but they both meet minimal qualifications like having a Ph.D., you have to take the minority person, and that's not acceptable. That's racism. The regents proceeded in a ham-fisted fashion, but they probably did the right thing."
Indeed, affirmative action had become so entrenched in university culture, says Martin Trow, an emeritus professor of public policy at Berkeley, that only the regents could have challenged it. Trow, whose books include the 1973 Problems in the Transition from Elite to Mass Higher Education, is one of the only faculty members who has given public speeches defending the regents. "I hated the idea of discriminating for or against people because of their skin color or ethnicity," he said in an interview. "The passionate hatred for racism comes down at least as hard on the side of Ward Connerly and myself as it does on the other side."
An expert in national systems of education and former chairman of the systemwide Academic Council, Trow agrees that university governance suffered a breakdown. But he puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of university administrators, who, he says, violated their roles as civil servants by taking a public political stand against the regents.
"It tells every faculty member that the top brass of this university feels passionately that to be a civilized human being you'd better favor affirmative action," he said. "So if you don't, keep it under your hat. That's the nature of intimidation. It's known as a chilling effect. What you see is not a nefarious plot by the regents to get this done but the nature of the war against the regents."
WHEN TROW and others speak of intimidation, they refer not to overt threats but to their own perceived need for self-censorship--to protect a research institute or a campus grant, for example. Meanwhile, affirmative action supporters issue their own charges of intimidation: They contend that it's Connerly and the regents' antagonistic attitude toward administrators that has sent a chilling message about political speech.
That advocates on both sides should cast themselves in such beleaguered terms is a good indication of how far the affirmative action debate has divided the university. If anyone can restore some peace, it may have to be the new chancellors who will take office at Berkeley and UCLA this fall: Robert Berdahl (the president of the University of Texas, Austin) and Albert Carnesale (the provost of Harvard). Both men have a history of supporting affirmative action but have promised to carry out the new policies.
As university president at Austin, Berdahl was particularly attractive to the Berkeley committee because he has more experience in eliminating affirmative action than any college president in the country: UT-Austin was the site of the 1996 Hopwood decision, in which a federal circuit court effectively rejected the justifications for affirmative action embodied in the 1978 Bakke decision. When the decision first came out, Berdahl denounced it as leading to "the resegregation of higher education."
Berdahl didn't hide his feelings from the search committee, but he also told them he recognized that racial preferences were out of favor and the university would have to find new ways to achieve diversity. "He's willing to work with us," noted regent Meredith Khachigian. And Berdahl, for one, may find the UC environment less intimidating than UT. That's because the Hopwood decision stated explicitly that individual administrators can be held personally liable and required to pay actual and punitive damages to any individuals who are unfairly denied entry.
Regents say that Berdahl's selection is proof that affirmative action has not become a litmus test. But privately they also concede that there was no ready pool of anti-preference college presidents on the job market. In fact, they say there was not a large pool of desirable candidates who were interested in the once-illustrious post at all. At Berkeley, two of the four finalists--former White House economic adviser and Berkeley economist Laura D'Andrea Tyson and University of Maryland at College Park president William E. Kirwan--said they did not want the job. Both the Berkeley and UCLA committees were also eager to recruit Condoleezza Rice, the African American Stanford provost who is well-known for her scholarship on the former Soviet Union and her work on George Bush's National Security Council, but she wasn't interested.
AS BERDAHL AND other administrators look to the future, they realize that the short-term prospects for maintaining current levels of diversity are limited--at least at Berkeley and UCLA. When SP-1 first passed, many in the university had hoped that new programs to recruit and prepare students for college would provide a channel into the university for minorities. A task force established by SP-1 has spent more than a year drafting a plan for strengthening and coordinating UC's work with K12 schools to help level the playing field among students of all races. The task force is recommending a regional approach that teams faculty at each
UC campus with primary and secondary schools with a high disadvantaged population and a history of low student performance. By 2002, the aim is to double the number of UC-eligible graduates from targeted high schools--or raise the eligibility rate by four percentage points, whichever is greater.
Given the mixed results of UC's many such programs in the past, it is a wildly ambitious goal. And that's especially so since, under Connerly's scrutiny and after the passage of Proposition 209, even those outreach programs won't be able to operate in a race-conscious fashion. "The problem is really the pipeline," said Berdahl during his first visit to the Berkeley campus. "How do we prepare more students early on to be competitive? I don't have any new genius to add. If there were easy and obvious answers to these problems, we all would have come to them sooner."
Still, one thing that all participants agree on is the desire to see strong academic performances by all ethnic groups in the state. If that goal is achieved, the divisions over affirmative action will cease to be relevant, but to get there the university--and society--will have to travel uncharted territory. In the heyday of affirmative action, it often seemed that California's universities were being asked to shoulder the state's own considerable social problems. Now it seems the larger society is being asked to meet the university's needs. It may be an equally difficult demand to satisfy.
Pamela Burdman is The San Francisco Chronicle's higher education reporter.