Bill to Restore College Affirmative Action Hits Roadblock
Assembly Speaker John Peréz says the Legislature’s lower house won’t vote on SCA5, a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal the ban on affirmative action in higher education imposed by Proposition 209.
With the proposal drawing protests from many Asian Americans in California concerned about its impact on college admissions, Peréz announced Monday that he was withdrawing the proposal from consideration at the request of state Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who first introduced the amendment in December 2012. That will allow the state Senate to convene a commission to further study the idea.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Hernandez said: “Given the scare tactics and misinformation used by certain groups opposed to SCA 5, we felt it was necessary to have a discussion based on facts and take the time to hear from experts on the challenges our public universities and colleges face with regards to diversity, as well as the implications for California’s workforce and our overall competitiveness in a global economy. Although I have met with, and will continue to meet with, individuals and organizations that have concerns regarding SCA 5, these Commission hearings will be yet another opportunity for people to have their voices heard.”
(Hernandez appeared on “KQED Newsroom” on Friday — see video above — to promote the measure and described it “as about diversity but more important about equal opportunity for every student here in the state of California.”)
Prop. 209, which passed in 1996 with 54.5 percent of the vote, declares: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
Critics of the affirmative action ban say it has made it more difficult for underrepresented minorities — especially African-American students — trying to gain admission to the state’s public colleges. A study last year said the percentage of black applicants admitted to the University of California systemwide had fallen from 75 percent to 58 percent since Prop. 209 became law. The Campaign for College Opportunity Study said that African-American admission rates fell from 51.1 percent percent to 15.4 percent at UC Berkeley and from 57.5 percent to 13.5 percent at UCLA.
Sen. Hernandez’s SCA5 would have repealed Prop. 209′s ban on racial and other admissions preferences in higher education, and the measure received little attention until the state Senate approved it by a vote of 27-9 in late January. Among those voting for SCA5 were Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Southern California Sens. Ted Lieu and Carol Liu. They are all Chinese Americans, and all say they have heard from thousands of people concerned about SCA 5. A Yee aide acknowledged Monday that some supporters had threatened to withhold campaign contributions as the senator runs for California Secretary of State.
The Senate vote triggered a backlash from parts of the state’s Asian-American community. Both parents and political activists have expressed concern that the high degree of success Asian-American students have enjoyed in the state’s public colleges could be reversed.
Here’s how the Sacramento Bee’s Capital Notes blog summarizes the announcement from Peréz and what led to it:
… Pérez said he is sending the measure back to the Senate without taking any action in the lower house.
“It really is driven most by my interest in making sure we come out with the best policy outcomes,” Pérez said.
“And as it’s currently written I don’t think SCA5 gives us that. As it’s currently written it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses, and those votes don’t exist in both houses.”
Pérez said he and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will form a task force to discuss whether California should change the way it admits students to public universities.
The group will include representatives from the University of California, California State University and the community colleges, he said.
The move came a week after three Asian-American state senators — who had previously voted for SCA5 — asked Pérez to put a stop the measure.
“Prior to the vote on SCA5 in the Senate, we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts,” Sens. Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote to Perez on March 11.