The Trump administration is looking into discrimination at universities. According to documents obtained last week by the New York Times, President Trump is poised to redirect Department of Justice resources into investigating universities for discriminatory enrollment practices guided by affirmative action.
In light of this and following media reports on the internal directive, UC President Janet Napolitano issued a statement calling the plan a “misguided Justice Department initiative.”
The UC system, however, as it is funded by California tax dollars, has not adhered to affirmative action policies since 1996 when Proposition 209 passed about 55 percent to 45 percent. The proposition amended the California State Constitution to prohibit public institutions from discriminating students on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity when evaluating their application.
Instead, the UC system “looks at students’ academic achievements in light of the opportunities that were available to them,” said UCOP spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez in an email.
Proposition 209 has been followed by a string of legal challenges, most recently in 2012.
Following its adoption, minority admissions to the state’s most prestigious universities, including UC Berkeley, have declined. On campus, this decline was most immediately evident for Hispanic students, whose percentage of fall enrollment dropped more than 5 percent in the first several years, but has since recovered to 1996 numbers.
The effect of Proposition 209 was both immediate and long-lasting for Black campus students. Since 1996, enrollment of Black students has steadily dropped, now making up the lowest percentage of undergraduates at 3 percent.
Asian students were 36 percent of the undergraduate class, and white students were 26 percent.
In 2016 Latinx students made up about 52 percent of California high school graduates, but only about one-third of enrolled UC freshmen last year identified as Latinx.
The university has been working to bridge this gap, noting the group’s enrollment growth in the past decade, but admitted that “there remains a lot of work to be done to close the eligibility gap of Latinos and other underrepresented minorities graduating from California high schools,” according to Vazquez.
Under the university’s Eligibility in the Local Context program, students in the top 9 percent of their high school class are guaranteed admission to at least one UC campus. Vazquez added that the university also works on outreach with K-12 schools and community colleges to help students become competitive in the admissions process.
On campus, similar programs are run through the Center for Educational Partnerships, according to Division of Equity & Inclusion spokesperson Sandra Messick.
“Over the years public universities have been the one tried and true tactic for addressing issues of inequality in our country,” Napolitano said in her statement. “Thus, UC has been increasing its outreach efforts to historically underrepresented groups like Latinos and African Americans, while still bound to the strictures of Proposition 209.”