The 1978 landmark Supreme Court decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
marked the beginning of a widespread and ongoing constriction in the use of affirmative action either to redress past racial and ethnic discrimination or to promote diversity. Specifically, California’s Proposition 209, which barred the use of preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, sex, color, or national origin in public employment, education, and contracting in the state, is just one of many ballot initiatives or court rulings in the last thirty years that has limited the use of race and ethnicity in admitting students to public institutions of higher education. Nearly a decade following the enactment of Proposition 209, a group of scholars gathered for a conference at the University of California, Berkeley, to discuss the implications of discontinuing the use of race and/or ethnicity in admissions at public institutions in California. This book
, whose cover bears the same title as the conference, contains many of the papers presented at this conference as well as selected papers solicited in follow-up to the conference discussions. In this edited volume, Eric Grodsky and Michal Kurlaender have thoughtfully gathered a series of articles and essays speaking to the effects that Proposition 209 has had on higher education institutions in California and the future of racial and ethnic diversity among the student bodies at these institutions.
The book begins with an examination of the legal landscape in California as it pertains to affirmative action. In the chapter “Interpreting Proposition 209 and California’s Developing Case Law on Affirmative Action,” Jeffrey L. Bleich and Mark R. Conrad argue that the meaning of Proposition 209, in terms of practices permissible by the courts, is far from ambiguous. In a useful exercise for those who seek to promote racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, the authors categorize court rulings on affirmative action practices based on two salient characteristics: their functions, or whether they allocate benefits, promote outreach, or involve record keeping; and their reliance, or the extent to which the selected practices are race conscious or race neutral. They argue that it is only race-conscious programs designed to allocate benefits that have most frequently been ruled unconstitutional in the state, thus undermining the widely held belief that all programs to promote diversity are impermissible under the law.
In a further challenge to conventional thinking, the next two chapters of the volume examine the unintended consequences of Proposition 209 on underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment at colleges and universities in the state. URM enrollment at California’s most selective institutions has declined in the wake of Proposition 209, argue Grodsky and Kurlaender in “The Demography of Higher Education in the Wake of Affirmative Action,” but the more interesting patterns lie in the way that URM enrollment has shifted at different types of four-year institutions in the state. URM students have shifted from more to less selective institutions at both the University of California (UC) institutions and the California State University (CSU) institutions. Furthermore, in “Investigating College Destinations of University of California Applicants,” Susan A. Wilbur demonstrates that URM students are more likely than other students to decline their admission to a UC institution and attend a selective private institution, though not necessarily because of Proposition 209. This finding gives fodder to the speculation that the scaleback of affirmative action at public institutions has funneled high-achieving URMs away from the public sphere and toward the private sphere, in education as well as other areas.
The book also seeks to grapple with alternatives to race-conscious admissions practices to promote diversity in higher education. In “The Role of Community Colleges in Promoting Diversity in California,” Josipa Roksa, Eric Grodsky, and Willard C. Hom ask whether, since Proposition 209, transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions in California have increased as an alternative pathway to a baccalaureate degree among URM students. They analyze data on all students who enrolled in California’s 110 community colleges for the first time between 1993 and 2001 and find that, largely, they have not. Similarly, in “The Effectiveness of California Standards Tests as Alternatives to the SAT in Predicting Freshman Grades,” Samuel J. Agronow and Catherine Horn ask whether or not California Standards Tests (CSTs), a series of statewide exams taken by virtually all high school students that test their knowledge of California’s academic content standards, could be used in place of the SAT in the admissions process, arguing that these tests would not disadvantage URM students in the admissions process to the same extent as the SAT does. While they do not discuss the psychometric soundness of using a test for an unintended and high-stakes purpose, they do find that the CST, for the most part, has just as much predictive validity as the SAT in determining how well students perform academically in their first year of college.
Although the authors dedicate a chapter to exploring how university-led community-based initiatives for high school students can better prepare URMs for admission to selective UC institutions and describe students’ precollegiate classroom experiences in doing so, a robust discussion of how the classroom and campus experiences of URM students at UC or CSU institutions have changed following Proposition 209 is noticeably absent from this book. Despite this omission, the book stands as a comprehensive and useful guide to the policy implications of limiting the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions, both for California and for other states that have more recently enacted laws similar to Proposition 209. If one accepts that race and ethnicity do continue to deeply affect the lives and livelihoods of all Americans, as the authors argue in the final chapter, then the discussions and findings of this book should continue to be relevant as California and other states debate, rethink, and alter the nature of affirmative action in the United States.