10 percent admissions plan allows equality

UC Berkeley should adopt affirmative action plan similar to University of Texas

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BAMN agrees with UC President Mark Yudof, the other UC chancellors and other university administrations nationwide who have taken a stand in defense of the University of Texas affirmative action plan.

The Daily Californian editorial from Aug. 20 ignores the entire reality of the resegregation of the UC Berkeley campus over the past 14 years in favor of the dishonest and cynical arguments of the white plaintiffs in this case who seek to create a separate white privilege track at the expense of meritorious and deserving black, Latina/o and Native American students. This is a step backward for the Daily Cal’s editorial board and signals the need for students to demand a student newspaper that stands on the truth and speaks for the progressive and anti-racist sentiments of the vast majority of UC students.

The effect of ending affirmative action is clearer in California than anywhere else. An entire generation of talented Latino, black, and other underrepresented minority youth have been denied entrance to California’s flagship universities. Affirmative action measures are desegregation programs for higher education. Without them, the resegregation of the finest universities are rapid and deep as administrations hide behind racist standardized tests to justify a new Jim Crow admissions policy.

If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down UT Austin’s modest and necessary affirmative action plan, it will effect a substantial blow to the progress toward integration and equal opportunity that UT has achieved. It would convert the 14th Amendment, this nation’s pledge to eradicate racial caste, into the opposite of what it was intended to be.

If the U.S. Supreme Court bans UT Austin’s affirmative action plan, it will have banned the only measure effectively countering the privilege inherent in this holistic-admissions track. The court will convert it into a blatant white-privilege track for those wealthy, white Texas students who expressly do not qualify under UT Austin’s primary admissions system.

BAMN agrees with the UC administration in defending the UT affirmative action plan, but BAMN additionally defends the Top Ten Percent Plan and calls for its expansion within Texas and across the nation. The success Texas has achieved with the Ten Percent plan makes it a model for the kind of plan that should be used now throughout the UC system to counter the devastating effects of Proposition 209.

Unlike any other party that is defending UT, BAMN wholeheartedly defends both admissions policies that the university currently uses. UT Austin, UT’s flagship campus, incorporates two complementary admissions tracks. Seventy-five percent of its students are admitted through the Ten Percent plan. Twenty-five percent of its students are admitted through a holistic review process, similar to that used by UC Berkeley and other UC campuses. However, in addition to the host of factors such as GPA, standardized test scores, essays and educational disadvantage, UT Austin’s holistic plan also takes into account race in order to counteract the white preference inherent in such a plan in the absence of affirmative action.

BAMN understands that, whatever the outcome of the present case before the Supreme Court, the right-wing organizations that are currently challenging UT Austin’s affirmative plan are using this case to attack Texas’ Ten Percent plan, which is even more egalitarian, successful and popular.

UT Austin’s Ten Percent plan is its primary admission plan and accounts for 75 percent of its admissions. This plan guarantees admission to the top 10 percent of each high school’s graduating class. This determination is made entirely on the basis of grades and disregards standardized test scores. The Ten Percent plan is, by far, the most democratic, equal, fair and transparent admissions system of any elite university in the country. The traditional methods used by university administrations give white, wealthy applicants and those who attend privileged majority-white high schools a huge unearned advantage. The Ten Percent plan has broadened educational opportunity in Texas.

Because of the Ten Percent plan, large numbers of gifted and hard-working students from poor and Latina/o, black, Native American and immigrant communities, as well as  from poor, rural white communities, who never even would have applied to UT Austin under a conventional admissions system even with affirmative action have been able to utilize the educational opportunities UT Austin provides to develop themselves, let their talents shine and uplift the dignity and pride of their embattled and struggling communities.

The Ten Percent plan has led to an increase in Latina/o and black student enrollment. It also has meant that schools that had sent no students to UT Austin before can be represented: Between 1996 and 2004, the number of high schools represented in UT Austin’s freshman class rose from 616 to 815.

The academic performance of UT Austin’s students has increased. A 2003 UT report showed that “Ten Percent” students had higher GPAs at UT Austin than non-Ten Percent students whose SAT scores were 200 to 300 points higher.

The Ten Percent plan has challenged and proven wrong all the degrading and false stereotypes of black and brown inferiority still far too prevalent in this society. The pervasive wrong and false assumption that students who attend more academically rigorous or better resourced schools are a priori more gifted, talented or meritorious than the top-performing students who go to poor, overcrowded and dangerous segregated inner-city high schools or their largely white rural equivalents in East Texas is being stripped of legitimacy every day in a multitude of classrooms at UT Austin.

Another positive outcome is that, for the first time in Texas’ history, East Texas, predominantly rural, poor and white and infamous for its Ku Klux Klan activities into the 1980s, has formed an alliance with Texas’ black and Latina/o communities in defending the continued use of the Ten Percent plan.

California and Texas point the way for the future of America. In this affirmative action case and in the upcoming more crucial struggle that will soon develop in Texas over its Ten Percent plan, it is incumbent that UC Berkeley students continue giving leadership to the new national student movement that we have helped give birth to. We must continue to take mass, collective action to defend public education and its promise of equality, integration and democracy. This means, centrally and most immediately, fighting to double underrepresented minority student enrollment and to make the DREAM Act and citizenship real for undocumented immigrant students on our campus. We can set the tone for progress so that California and Texas do not become the strongholds of the new Jim Crow. We can ensure that our states become birthplaces for a new phase in the emerging global struggle for equality and freedom.

Ronald Cruz is a UC Berkeley School of Law alum and, as an attorney for BAMN, submitted an amicus brief in Fisher v. Texas.

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