Affirmative action drama in California
Asian-Americans in California are in revolt against an attempt to reinstate affirmative action through a new statewide referendum. Democrats in the California state legislature have been attempting to put such a referendum to voters, reionstating racial preferences which had been banned from all state institutions including the University of California and California State University Systems, ever since the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.
The ban has decreased black and Hispanic enrollments in the most competitive institutions, while drastically increasing Asian-American enrollments, particularly at the flagship Berkeley and UCLA campuses. However, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students admitted have increased, reducing the tragedy of students admitted to schools they were ill-equipped to compete in, and dropping out before graduation.
Katy Murphy and Jessica Calefati of the San Jose Mercury-News describe what has happened:
A legislative push to permit California's public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from Asian-American parents who fear it will make it harder for their children to get into good schools.
A planned referendum sailed through the state Senate in January without fanfare on a party-line vote, but three Asian-American Democrats who initially backed the measure are now calling for it to be "tabled" before the state Assembly has a chance to vote on it -- a highly unusual move. And it seems unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly without the support of the five Asian-Americans in the lower house.
Over the last several weeks, the three senators who have had second thoughts about the referendum -- Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; and Carol Liu, D- La Cañada/Flintridge -- said they have received thousands of calls and emails from fearful constituents who believe that any move to favor other ethnic groups could hurt Asian-Americans.
Many established organizations purportedly representing Asian-Americans support affirmative action, and Asian Americans generally support the Democratic Party at the polls by a wide margin. Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at UC Riverside, writes in a Los Angeles Times story blaming "fear" for the revolt:
…most Asian American civil rights and community service organizations maintain that affirmative action is an important way to ensure equity and diversity in higher education, including among disadvantaged Pacific Islanders and Asian groups such as Cambodians and Laotians. Furthermore, most Asian American voters also favor affirmative action programs. In 1996, they opposed the ban on affirmative action by 61% to 39%, and data from the 2012 National Asian American Survey indicate continued strong support for affirmative action.
But a threat to Prop 209 appears to have galvanized (may one say, raised the consciousness of”?) many parents who dream of their children attending Berkeley or another esteemed campus of the University of California. These people are acting outside of the old-line organizations. Ramakrishnan again:
National advocacy groups such as the 80-20 Political Action Committee, editorial writers in Chinese-language newspapers and activists from Chinese-language schools have begun to bombard Assembly members, urging them to vote against restoring affirmative action. (snip)
If Asian-language newspapers and Chinese-language schools inject themselves more fully into the debate and stoke fears of losing admission seats, we may indeed see a significant shift in Asian American opinion. And these opinions will matter more now because the Asian American share of the California electorate has doubled since 1996 to 10%, potentially constituting the margin of victory or defeat.
We have a fascinating drama underway in California. The American dream of a colorblind society is being embraced by members of a minority group that has been a reliable pillar of liberalism. It is very hard to blame residual white racism for the educational ascendancy of Asian-Americans.