Affirmative Action Under Review
California set to revisit university diversity quotas
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Sunday, May 6, 2012 19:05
Santa Clara currently retains the right to consider an applicant’s race during the admissions process under the California law, which only extends to public institutions. Richard Toomey, dean of university financial aid services, enrollment management, addressed concerns that affirmative action might lead to less-qualified students receiving preferential admission status because of their race, sex or ethnicity.
“When we evaluate admissions applications here, we evaluate each one on its own merits,” said Toomey. “Students have to qualify to come to Santa Clara.” Though he could not go into detail, he added that, although other institutions may have “very specific (admissions) quotas,” Santa Clara employs a much less strict approach.
Gustavo Magana, director of the Multicultural Center, stressed the historical importance of Affirmative Action. “Affirmative Action was brought about because there was a need for it in our country, in our communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, because of generations of discrimination and marginalization of communities of color and women as well,” he said. “It was important to allow us to get into these spaces and become leaders.”
Fifteen years ago voters made California the first state to ban the use of race and ethnicity in public university admissions, as well as hiring and contracting.
Universities around the country could soon face the same challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to revisit the issue of affirmative action after it endorsed the use of race as a factor in college admissions.
The high court agreed in February to take up the case of a white woman who claims she was rejected by the University of Texas because of its race-conscious admissions policy. The justices are expected to hear arguments this fall.
The nation’s college officials are worried today’s more conservative court could limit or even ban the consideration of race in admissions decisions. A broad ruling could affect both public and private universities that practice affirmative action, a powerful tool for increasing campus diversity.
The effects of California’s Affirmative Action ban, known as Proposition 209, are particularly evident at the University of California, Berkeley campus, where the student body is highly diverse but hardly resembles the ethnic and racial fabric of the state. With affirmative action outlawed, Asian American students have dominated admissions. The freshman class admitted to UC Berkeley this coming fall is 30 percent white and 46 percent Asian, according to newly released data. The share of admitted Asians is four times higher than their percentage in the state’s K-12 public schools.
Magana refuted claims that the of Asian students represents a lack of diversity. “I think that type of statement can be problematic,” said Magana. “That’s generalizing an entire community. There are some groups within the Asian community who have done very well in college, but there are also many groups that are very much underrepresented.”
Magana pointed to low college graduation rates among Vietnamese and Hmong communities as evidence that a high degree of diversity exists even among demographics that seem successful at higher education institutions.
Junior Michelle Tang, incoming director for the MCC, echoed Magana’s sentiments, but remained skeptical of Affirmative Action’s ability to make fine distinctions within broad ethnic groups. “I’m Vietnamese, and (when applying for schools), I’ve been told, ‘don’t always put down that you’re Asian’, because you might be grouped into this group of generalized Asians. I think Affirmative Action could be flawed, depending on how you’re trying to classify people.”
Nevertheless, Tang praised Santa Clara’s campus diversity for the opportunities it has given her to experience new cultures. “Being part of the MCC, I’ve been able to learn more about the Hawaiian population, for example,” said Tang. “There are a lot of different groups on campus that you’re able to interact with and learn more about.”
Magana was more cautious, warning that maintaining the campus’s diversity should be an urgent concern for the school. “Diversity is important at Santa Clara because it should reflect the community around it. If you keep Santa Clara with just one predominant group, the school doesn’t grow. It becomes stagnant. You don’t have any cultural expression.”
At present, Santa Clara’s campus diversity roughly mirrors that of surrounding San Jose. Demographic data for the class of 2014 indicates that 41.2 percent of students identify as Causasian, 18.2 percent as Hispanic, 16.5 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander, 4.2 percent as African-American, 4.2 percent as multi-ethnic, while 15.2 percent are “not specified.” US Census data from 2010 casts San Jose as 42.8 percent White, 32 percent Asian, 3.2 percent African-American, 0.4 percent Pacific Islander, 15.7 percent from other races.
Terence Chea of the Associated Press contributed to this article. Contact Joseph Forte at Jforte@scu.edu or (408) 554-4849.