So here’s the promised piece on Proposition 209
. For those of you who don’t know what it is, here’s a brief summary. Around 10 years, a measure was put on the ballot to end discrimination in CA public schools based mainly on ethnicity. Sounds good, you might think, to prohibit discrimination. Except the intended target was the UC system and to bar affirmative action in admissions. Everyone should be judged on their merits, went the argument. The proposition passed, and the UC system has since been prohibited from using affirmative action for admissions purposes. (UCLAW professor Eugene Volokh
served as legal advisor to the drafters of 209.)
The result: minority enrollment in the UC system has gone down significantly and the majority of the students in the UC system are 1) Asians and 2) Whites. And law school at UCLA, the great majority of students look and act like me. (Last year, there was one black female in the entire law entering class.)
I have both positive and negative opinions about Prop. 209.
Proposition 209 was democracy in action. A group of people saw something they didn’t like and worked to put the measure on the ballot. A subsequent majority of the voting population passed the bill, and hence democracy in action. I support 209 in so much as it fosters democratic principles.
The UC system is a public institution, and it should serve and reflect the public. (DUH!) Except the public in the State of California is 55% minority
, and the UC system does not reflect the racial diversity of the people it serves.
Personally, my biggest problem with UCLAW is the lack of ethnic diversity. Most students here are white and come from (upper) middle-class families. I understand the argument that law school is in many ways self-selecting, and simply more white students apply to law schools. Fine. But, 209 has done the disservice of causing UCLAW to be way too homogeneous. Think about it: diversity (racial, political, social, etc) is inherently a good thing, and would you want to go to a school where everyone looked, acted, and thought like you? [BigNameUndergrad] was much more diverse, and I miss that component very much.
So, we are in law school and what do lawyers do when they see a law they don’t like? They either seek (1) to overturn it, or if not (2) to find loopholes around it, while still following the letter of the law. Berkeley and UCLA are the UC’s flagship campuses, and what we do, others follow. Boalt, instead of using race, has begun to use “socioeconomic” factors as an element in its admissions process, under the assumption that the poorer area you are from, the higher the chances of you being a minority. If your application states that you live in zip 90220 (South Central LA) and/or you went to high school with sub-50% graduation rate, chances are you are an underrepresented minority. And if your application states that you live in zip 90272 (Pacific Palisades) and/or went to a high school where 95+% went on to four-year colleges, you are most likely not an underrepresented minority. Through using this process, Boalt has become much more diverse while at the same time following the letter of 209. As much as 209’s writers hate it, there’s really nothing they can do (there are some
whites in South Central LA), and a law prohibiting discrimination on socioeconomic factors would never pass.
UCLA has resisted doing that for a couple of reasons. The most cynical: UCLAW has jumped in the ratings, and eliminating the use of affirmative action has caused the overall GPA and LSATs to increase, and subsequently raising its all-important US News Ranking, in its futile quest to catch up to Boalt. But luckily, there has been enough outrage and protest
at UCLAW recently that chances are, it will soon move towards the “comprehensive review” of Boalt.
One more bit of criticism of proponents of 209: They don’t like affirmative action, yet argue something strangely similar to affirmative action with regards to Asians. The undergrad populations at UCLA and Berkeley are both 50+% Asian, even though they represent only 12% of the general CA population. There are arguments that meritocracy should not be the only admissions factor for Asians, that there should be limits on Asian enrollments to avoid overrepresentation, and for the need of the UC system to reflect the CA population. Hypocritical argument, anyone? I'll give you a gold star if you spot it.
[Update: Based on some inside info, apparently 60% of applicants to UCLAW are admitted on numbers alone (LSAT+GPA) and only 40% actally gets sent to readers]