The veto of SB 185 disappointed advocates who wanted to facilitate greater access for underrepresented minorities in our state’s public universities. From the start, however, this bill was not the answer to increase diversity and was in fact counter to the state’s constitutional procedures.
SB 185 sought to allow the University of California and California State University systems to “consider race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin, along with other relevant factors” in their admissions processes. But as Gov. Jerry Brown noted in his veto message, this would also serve to re-interpret a 15-year-old voter initiative — Proposition 209. This initiative barred public institutions from granting preferential treatment in admissions on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.
Because Proposition 209 was an initiative passed by citizens, it is therefore the duty of the courts to interpret its meaning — not the state Legislature or the governor. In fact, Brown points out that there is already a court case pending against the state and the University of California on this very topic. The bill is therefore pushing the limits of the separation of powers within the state and undermining the legitimacy of the vote of the people and the word of the courts.
Additionally, though discussion of SB 185 brings to light the enduring problem of sparse diversity on our state’s campuses, it was never the solution. The bill would only serve as a Band-Aid to the much larger problem within our state. Affirmative action alone cannot solve the ongoing disparity. A transformation must happen not only within our higher education systems but also within our K-12 education.
We fully acknowledge that there is an enormous discrepancy between the proportion of minority students on our state’s campuses and the proportion of minorities in the state population. Of those enrolled in fall 2010 at UC Berkeley, black students and Latino or Chicano students made up about 3.4 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively. But 2010 federal census data showed that of the entire population of the state of California, 6.2 percent were black while 37.6 percent were of Hispanic or Latino origin.
Such under-representation has persisted for years, and though the provisions under SB 185 would have served as a temporary booster for this problem, they would not fully close the current gap.
We wholeheartedly support the governor’s veto and hope to see further steps taken to continue the push for more diverse campuses.