U.C. President Janet Napolitano has been forthright relative to her position on Proposition 209.
In November, 2015, she along with Chancellors from each of the state’s ten UC campuses submitted a “Friend of the Court” brief and weighed-in on behalf of the University of Texas in the recently decided Supreme Court case, Abigal Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al.
The University of California (UC) is the largest, highly selective institution of higher education in the nation with ten campuses located around the state. It provides undergraduate, graduate, and professional education to more than 246,000 students.
In addition, California is the most diverse state in the nation. In 2012, the state’s high-school graduates were 30.5 percent white, 46.2 percent Latino, 13.6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 6.7 percent African American, and 0.7 percent American Indian.
The state’s UC admissions policy seeks to enroll on each of its campuses, a student body that, beyond meeting the University’s eligibility requirements, demonstrates high academic achievement or exceptional personal talent; and, that encompasses the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds characteristic of the state.
According to Napolitano, as expressed in the ‘Friend of the Court’ brief, claimed “It is the policy of UC that there is a compelling interest in making sure that people from all backgrounds perceive that access to the University is possible for talented students, staff, and faculty from all groups.” The brief continued, “The knowledge that the University of California is open to qualified students from all groups, and thus serves all parts of the community equitably, helps sustain the social fabric of the State.”
UC’s policies further recognize the educational importance, not just of having diverse students on campus, but of ensuring meaningful interactions among them. And UC provides a compelling illustration of the broader educational context in which race-neutral and race-conscious policies must be evaluated.
There is little question as expressed by Napolitano and others, “UC is central to the national debate over policies governing admission of underrepresented minority students to public universities.”
Nearly twenty years ago in 1996, Californians passed Proposition 209 and amended its constitution to prohibit race conscious measures in college admissions. As a result, the UC experimented with a variety of alternative ways to promote diversity and ensure access for qualified under-represented minorities; but, those efforts have failed to produce a single effective alternative.
“UC’s experience thus sheds light on the practical obstacles faced by universities that seek to promote diversity, while also furthering other crucial educational objectives, but are barred from any use of race as a factor in admission decisions,” Napolitano and the team surmised in the brief and continued, “The University of California belongs to the people of California and race-blind admissions have curbed our ability to fully engage the learning potential found among this state’s diverse population.”
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently in favor of the University of Texas in the case of Abigal Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al, the U.C. Office of the President stated, “[The] U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the use of race-conscious measures in college admissions will contribute to greater equity and participation in public higher education for all American students.”
“While it is good news on a critical issue for the country,” the statement continued. “The decision does not directly impact the University of California.” This is because Proposition 209 provides a blanket prohibition on preferences based on race, even if there is a compelling government interest to do so and the practice is narrowly defined.
“Nonetheless, the University will continue to do everything possible within the constraints of state law to broaden educational opportunity and increase the diversity of the student populations at all 10 University of California campuses.”