Last week the University of California”s Board of Regents unanimously voted to rescind their ban on affirmative action. This victory, after six long years, reiterates that affirmative action is necessary for maintaining diversity in our universities. While this move is largely symbolic, it is the correct step in the ongoing battle over admission policies.
The lifting of the ban paves the way for the return of affirmative action and racial equality at all UC schools. Now all that stands in the way is California Proposition 209, which outlaws race- and gender-based preferential treatment in hiring and school admissions policies and was passed in 1996. The schools had first banned affirmative action in 1995, and immediately saw a sharp decline in minority enrollment. According to the Los Angeles Times, African-American enrollment dropped by 13 percent by 1998.
The California Regents realized that decreasing the amount of minorities in their schools was hurtful to all. When school regents vote 22-0 to reintroduce affirmative action as they did last Wednesday it should send a message to people. It seems to be a pattern that it is the schools themselves that see a need for affirmative action, only to see a campaign waged against it by those unfamiliar with the importance of diversity.
The University and UC schools are currently the most heated battlegrounds in the fight for affirmative action. While UC fights to have it reintroduced, the University continues to face challenges to its long-standing support of it. The victory in California should be seen as an affirmation that the academic community is in favor of affirmative action.
It is important to remember that the purpose of admissions is to create the best class available, not necessarily the class with the highest SAT scores.
There are many ways to evaluate the contributions a student can bring to a university, and factored into this contribution are things that go beyond test scores. Everyone, regardless of his or her background, benefits from interacting with members of other races and ethnic origins. Diversity is vital to a university without it, universities lack the necessary ingredients to promote the learning, questioning atmosphere which defines a good school.
A long road lies ahead of the forces lining up to continue the fight for affirmative action. The California Regents have made the right move but the populace needs to be convinced that affirmative action is beneficial to all students.
The variety of viewpoints and the open communication between students with different cultures and different backgrounds increases with the enrollment of minorities. When universities discourage diversity through admissions, they send a message that differing opinions no longer matter. In our increasingly global and interactive world, tolerance and acceptance are two things that every university must stress by employing affirmative action in admissions, universities can better teach these lessons.
Regent Ward Connerly (R-Calif.) a long-time opponent of affirmative action added his vote to the order to rescind the ban. He cited the need to show the world that the UC schools are not unwilling to accept minorities. While his vote is the right one, his motives are questionable. The vote should not be perceived as a purely symbolic gesture designed to appease minorities. Instead, it should be seen as the first step away from six years of homogeneity in California.