Our View: Affirmative action ignores students’ academic qualifications


Nearly 15 years after banning affirmative action in California public universities, Gov. Jerry Brown faces a controversial bill that would allow schools to consider race, gender and household income in the admissions process.  The bill’s author, Sen. Ed Hernandez, says SB 185 will give minority students an “equal stake in our state” and will ban preference based on gender and race. 

No matter how you slice it, considering those factors in college admissions is giving certain students an unfair advantage over others. Students should be admitted into universities based on their qualifications, not their gender or race.

In 1996, California voters passed Prop. 209, banning public universities from giving minority students preferential treatment in the admissions process. Hernandez says his bill is not meant to undermine 209 and will only encourage universities to diversify their campuses.

Despite Hernandez’s vague wording, it’s clear the bill was drafted to give minority students a better chance at gaining admission to universities solely based on the fact that they are minority students. It’s nearly impossible to just “consider” race and gender in college admissions without acting on those considerations. Hernandez’s wish to create more diverse student bodies is admirable, but admitting unqualified students into universities isn’t the way to do it.

Brown — who has long been an opponent of Prop. 209 — argues that California public universities should allow “narrow affirmative action,” which would only consider race and gender case-by-case and without the need to meet quotas. 

In the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case, the Supreme Court ruled that University of Michigan Law School could consider race and gender under those criteria. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that allowing affirmative action benefitted the university by creating a diverse community and helped undo the effects of past discrimination. Brown hopes California can apply the same logic to SB 185.

But, allowing even narrowly tailored affirmative action still offers some students a greater advantage over others and creates a diverse student body simply for the sake of having diversity. Students should only be admitted into universities based on whether or not they have the right qualifications to meet the challenges of the curriculum. If you admit unqualified students in order to have a few more minorities, you’re doing the campus a disservice, instead of creating a level playing field.

Furthermore, Californians have already expressed their disapproval of SB 185. Republican students at UC Berkeley held a satirical “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” on Sept. 27, which offered discounted prices of baked goods for Asian, black, Native American and Latino students. Female students were given an additional 25-cent discount. Supporters of Proposition 209 are already announcing plans to sue to overturn SB 185 if Brown signs it into effect. 

Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2009. However, today’s SB 185 earned support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of California Student Association, and passed in the Legislature in August. Now, Gov. Brown has until Oct. 9 to pass or veto the bill. It’s likely that Brown will sign, even though it faces wide disapproval from California voters. 

Even California universities seem unwilling to abide by the bill. University of California representative David M. Birnbaum stated admissions will “comply with the Constitution whether or not SB 185 is signed into law.”

Gender and race have no bearing on a student’s merit. The affirmative action bill flies in the face of California voters and will potentially put qualified students at a disadvantage. 

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