University of California marks decade of race-blind admissions

Associated Press • May 6, 2007 at 8:42 AM

BERKELEY, Calif. - A fit of spring-cleaning led Eric Brooks to a box of old newspaper clips from 1997. That's when he was the lone black student enrolled in the incoming law school class at the University of California, Berkeley, following the end of affirmative action admissions.

He didn't read them. That box doesn't hold pleasant memories.

"I felt bad for myself at the time because of my situation, but worse for the people who were denied admission," said Brooks.

Ten years later, the numbers of underrepresented minorities at UC have rebounded at the undergraduate level, although they haven't kept pace with high school graduation rates. But more blacks and Hispanics are also going to lesser-known branches of the 10-campus system and fewer to the flagships of Berkeley and UCLA.

Meanwhile, the movement toward race-blind admissions is spreading. Florida, Texas and Michigan have rewritten their admissions rules.

Ward Connerly, the UC regent who started it all, is taking his campaign for race-blind admissions to as many as five more states next year, including Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona. "If things unfold the way I am predicting they will unfold," Connerly said, "I think we are witnessing the end of an era."

The debate over affirmative action begins with how you define affirmative action.

To Connerly, it's a system of "racial preferences" that drive a wedge between people. To his opponents, it's a way to recognize that not everyone starts with the same advantages.

The debate came to UC in 1995 when, in a 14-10 vote, the system's governing board voted to stop looking at applicants' race, effective for graduate students in 1997 and for undergrads in 1998.

In 1996, Connerly took the movement statewide with Proposition 209, which banned consideration of race in public hiring, contracting and education.

A similar measure passed in Washington state in 1998, and Texas affirmative action policies fell in 1996 with a federal appeals court ruling.

In Florida, Connerly launched a campaign similar to Proposition 209. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush opposed the measure as divisive but implemented his own "One Florida" plan eliminating the use of race or gender in higher education and government hiring.

What has it all meant?

Florida figures released last fall showed black students made up 13.7 percent of enrollment in state universities, compared to 14.2 percent when One Florida was implemented in 1999.

At the University of Texas at Austin, minority enrollment dropped after the 1996 federal court ruling, but has since rebounded. Last fall, 1,914 black students enrolled compared to 1,911 in 1996.

University of Michigan officials say they won't defy the ban on race-based admissions, but they won't give up on diversity.

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