President Janet Napolitano and the University of California chancellors submitted a “friend of the court” brief to the Supreme Court earlier this month in an affirmative action case, revealing UC’s own efforts to achieve student diversity.
In the brief, UC supported the University of Texas (UT) in the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which is scheduled to be heard by the court in December. In the case, petitioner Abigail Fisher, a white resident from Texas who was denied admission to UT Austin, challenges the university’s use of race in its admissions process.
The University of California is the largest institution of higher education in the United States and serves the educational needs of California, the most diverse state in the nation. In the brief, the university discussed both the importance and challenges of achieving diversity on its college campuses.
The University’s Diversity Statement cited in the brief states that diversity teaches “students and faculty [to] learn to interact effectively with each other, preparing them to participate in an increasingly complex and pluralistic society.”
Petitioner Fisher also recognized diversity was important in the college environment, but she held that UT Austin could achieve diversity through race-neutral alternatives. Currently, the University of Texas considers race one of several soft variables in its race-conscious admissions process.
Yet, in the brief, the University of California provided statistics to illustrate that race-neutral alternatives are not effective in achieving diversity.
Since Proposition 209 was passed in California in 1996 (which banned affirmative action in public employment, public education and public contracting), UC campuses are less racially diverse now than they were back in the 1990s, especially in UC Berkeley and UCLA, the University of California’s most selective campuses.
At UC Berkeley, for instance, the admission rate for underrepresented minorities decreased from 54.6 percent to 20.2 percent, according to the brief.
This dramatic decline in minority admissions led the university to begin experimenting with several race-neutral initiatives in the late 1990s, including spending half a billion dollars in outreach programs and changing admissions criteria to be less focused on standardized test scores and to instead include a comprehensive and holistic review process of each student.
The university also expanded its Eligibility in the Local Context program to guarantee admissions to one of nine UC campuses to the top nine percent of each California public high school class. According to the brief, although this program has increased the number of applications, it still has not increased the diversity of the pool of students admitted.
Despite these race-neutral efforts, the brief states that since the passage of Proposition 209, the “enrollment rates for underrepresented minorities still have not rebounded at UC’s most selective campuses, and the overall enrollment figures at UC have not kept pace with the demographic changes in California.”
The brief also referenced the trends of a student survey administered by UC to its undergraduates. The survey showed that the undergraduate experience of underrepresented minority students has been affected by declines in campus diversity, with high percentages of students reporting that students of their race were not respected.
As a result of the ineffective nature of race-neutral alternatives in achieving campus diversity, UC stands with UT’s race-conscious admissions policy. As with most “friend of the court” briefs, the Supreme Court may not consider UC’s brief when delivering its ruling on the constitutionality of UT’s affirmative action policy next month.