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What Comes Next after Race-based Admissions Dropped in California?

July 22, 1995

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ A few years ago, University of California biology professor Richard Steinhardt noticed an affirmative action graduate student who was doing poorly.

The student, an American Indian, would do a great job on the first question of his tests, but leave the rest blank.

The problem _ and solution _ turned out to be simple. The student came from a culture that had no word for time. Coaching and slower paced tests resulted in A’s, a Ph.D. and a burgeoning career in research.

``That kind of a person will not be present in the future among our professions if we abandon affirmative action,″ Steinhardt said Friday.

After a bitterly divided UC Board of Regents voted Thursday night to scrap affirmative action, Steinhardt and others wondered what was next.

Elizabeth Murillo, a 16-year-old Hispanic from Sacramento, saw her hopes for the future dim.

``Ever since I was little, I wanted to go to UCLA. That’s my goal,″ she said.

Despite good grades, she plans to make contingency plans to apply to private schools or even attend a community college for the first two years.

The policy, approved Thursday by the UC Board of Regents, eliminates race and gender as a factor in hiring and contracting as of 1996 and in admissions as of 1997, when it also raises from 40 percent to 50 percent the minimum percentage of students admitted to the system’s nine campuses on grades alone.

``It is an unfortunate step backward. I hope it proves not to be a disastrous step backward for higher education,″ said C. Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who has made repealing affirmative action a key issue of his presidential campaign, said those fears are groundless.

``I think that there are talented people in every race, every ethnic group in California. One of the things that most of us have found wrong with affirmative action is that it is based on a false and demeaning assumption that the bar has to be lowered for members of certain ethnic groups,″ he said.

It’s hard to predict the results of the new policies. Some fear the changes could cut off opportunities for those whose brilliance has been hidden by circumstance.

But the new policy also directs UC officials to draft supplemental criteria that can be considered when admitting students, such as whether they triumphed over such disadvantages as an abusive home or a bad neighborhood.

The admissions policy leaves intact consideration of socioeconomic factors.

As of fall 1994, the UC freshman class was 36 percent white, 31 percent Asian, 15.6 percent Hispanic, 4.4 percent black, 4.4 percent Filipino American, 1 percent American Indian and 8 percent unknown.

In May, UC administrators studied the effect of using socioeconomic factors without race and found that black enrollment could plunge 40 percent to 50 percent while Hispanic enrollment could decrease 5 percent to 15 percent.

On the other hand, enrollment of Asians, who are not considered under-represented at UC, would increase 15 percent to 25 percent. Enrollment of white students was projected to increase no more than 5 percent.

UC admissions administrator Dennis Galligani cautioned that the study cannot be used as a direct projection of the new policies because it does not include the yet-to-be-drafted supplemental criteria.

Sanford Lakoff, founding chairman of the political science department at UC-San Diego, believes the Board of Regents’ vote will mean ``incremental change.″

``If it means more blacks and Hispanics go to the community colleges and then transfer in, is that so terrible?″ he said.

Those most affected by the change also had mixed reactions.

Cruz Castanon, 42, a Hispanic psychology doctoral candidate at UCLA, said it was unfair because ``minorities lack the opportunity to put themselves in the ball game.″

But Patricia Pina, 21, a Hispanic senior at UC-San Diego, supported it.

``I feel people take advantage of affirmative action,″ she said. ``I’m a minority, but I don’t think people should get special treatment for it. Not everybody who’s a minority has suffered because of it.″

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