This week’s UC Board of Regents meeting will be Regent Ward Connerly’s last as a member of the Board.
After 12 years of service to this state and our great university, Connerly’s term will come to an end on March 1.
Despite Connerly’s very public image, I contend that he continues to remain an enigma.
I have immense respect for Connerly’s idealism vis-a-vis equality.
I say this despite the fact that I vehemently disagree with the means he believes are necessary to achieve this important and necessary societal goal.
What makes Connerly such a fascinating and intriguing figure is not the fact that he is a man of mixed-race who advocates the end to Affirmative Action.
Rather, it is that he is one of the few truly intellectually honest ideologues to occupy the public sphere.
Connerly genuinely believes that the government has no right to classify or distinguish any individuals based on their race, gender or sexual orientation.
I find it interesting that while many students can point to Connerly’s crusade against Affirmative Action in the mid-1990s, few students are aware of the extent of his advocacy.
For example, Connerly also led the campaign to grant the domestic partners of gay and lesbian UC employees the same rights as heterosexuals.
To pigeonhole Connerly as a right-wing fanatic is a complete mischaracterization.
Perhaps a more fitting description is that he is a ‘fundamentalist equalist.’
I had hoped that in his final meeting, his most vociferous foes would finally see that Connerly is truly a sum of all his parts.
I hoped that I could tell those students who have made it their modus operandi over the past 10 years to berate him that he is neither evil nor mad, but rather a bona fide idealist.
Unfortunately, this will be difficult for me to do, for true to form, on his final lap around the Regent’s table, Connerly has once again sparked a debate regarding the sensitive issue of race and Affirmative Action in higher education.
Connerly has invited Professor Richard Sander of the UCLA School of Law to speak to the Regents.
Like Connerly, Sander is no stranger to controversy.
This past November, Sander published a law review article in which he argues that law schools which practice Affirmative Action, particularly in accepting African-American students whose grades and LSAT scores are below the class average, end up doing a disservice to those very students and to the legal profession as a whole.
Sander posits that students who are admitted under the aegis of Affirmative Action are more likely to be at the bottom of their law school classes, and as a result less likely to pass the bar examination.
Furthermore, Sander argues that if law schools no longer practiced Affirmative Action, more African-Americans would attend law school and enter the legal profession.
There are several problems with Sander’s research.
For example, Sander assumes that every African-American who is rejected from an elite law school will automatically attend a less selective institution.
This is despite the fact that the total cost to attend most law schools (no matter how selective) hovers around $150,000.
Also, Sander bases his findings on 2001 data, which, according to many law school admissions officers was an atypical year.
If Sander had used more recent and historically reflective data from 2003 to 2004, he would have found that without Affirmative Action there would be a dramatic 25- to 30-percent decrease in the number of African-American lawyers entering the profession.
The larger problem with Sander’s work does not lie in statistical wrangling; rather, it is the fact that that he ignores the bigger and much more difficult question of why our nation’s most prominent law schools continue to fail students of color.
Of more serious concern to Californians is that after almost 10 years without Affirmative Action our four public law schools continue to rank among the lowest in the nation in the number of unrepresented students of color.
If Sander’s findings are correct, how long do we have to wait until the California legal community better represents our state’s diversity?
I fear that if Sander’s research were to be implemented, whole generations of underrepresented students will be locked out of the legal profession.
Only the future will tell whether Connerly’s efforts to end Affirmative Action were executed far too early in the course of our nation’s history or at the right time.
Nevertheless, if we have learned anything from the past 10 years, it has been that as a university we have an obligation to prepare underrepresented students from a young age for the challenges of attending our outstanding public professional schools.
This is certainly a plan which I know Connerly has always believed to be integral to the UC’s mission.
Adam Rosenthal is the Student-Regent-Designate for the 2005-2006 term. The views expressed are solely the views of Adam Rosenthal, and do not reflect the opinions of the University of California or the Board of Regents.