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No on Proposition 54, Part 2

Editor's note: Clinton Parks continues his commentary on the defeat of Proposition 54, the controversial racial privacy initiative in California, with comments and a look at the initiative's future.

We ended Part 1 of No on Proposition 54 with Ward Connerly condemning the University of California (UC), Berkeley, for its decision to admit over 400 mostly minority students with below average SAT scores, but according to other proponents of Proposition 54, Connerly was justified in his stance. John Moores, chair of the UC Board of Regents, also condemned the admissions by saying, "They don't have any business going to Berkeley." It seems these two conservatives think that admission to this elite academic institution should overwhelmingly be based on GPA and SAT scores, but others have a different view.

UC Regent Velma Montoya says, "Looking at one part of academic criteria, the SAT I, isn't enough to conclude the process is flawed." Richard Black, assistant vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment at UC Berkeley, agreed and gave examples of other admissions criteria. He said, "The students demonstrated excellence in some other way ? rank in high school class, it might be athletics, the way that the student approached hardship, not the fact the student had hardship, but how he or she overcame it ? leadership or possibly a very strong participation in one of our outreach programs." UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl also weighed in on the debate and listed other factors that played a role:

  • Many other students with high SAT I scores had withdrawn their applications.

  • Most of the applications were from out-of-state (and therefore held to a higher standard).

  • Their GPAs and other academic factors were deficient.

  • They applied to extremely competitive majors in the College of Engineering.1

  • Critics of this questionable move by UC Berkeley charged that students who were granted special access were less likely to graduate from the institution than those who were fully qualified to enter, but a 1998 study of African-American students with varying SAT scores suggested no difference in graduation rates. Derek Bok and William Bowen, authors of The Shape of the River, found that among the 32,491 African-American students enrolled in 28 highly selective schools, the graduation rates among those with SAT scores below 1000 were equivalent to those with higher SAT scores (including those with 1300+ scores).2 The public will have to wait until these UC Berkeley students graduate to determine if the school was justified in its decision, but Chancellor Berdahl underscored the debate by citing their first-year information. Although they had low SAT scores, school data indicated that the pool of 400 students were doing well scholastically.1

    Despite the use of SAT scores as an indicator for student success, graduation rates for African-American students still lag behind that of Caucasians. According to Bok and Bowen, nonacademic factors are involved in this phenomenon. "Inability to do the academic work is often much less important than loss of motivation, dissatisfaction with campus life, changing career interests, family problems, financial difficulties, and poor health." 2

    Public Opinions

    With all of the wrangling about affirmative action and Proposition 54, one may ask, on which side of the fence does the new governor of California fall, or other national organizations? Well, governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger opposed Proposition 54 along with all of the major gubernatorial candidates, except Republican Senator Tom McClintock.3 The governing boards for California's three public college systems, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund opposed Proposition 54.

    After the measure was defeated, the American Sociological Association issued a press release saying that the initiative's defeat "preserves the ability of scientists to continue to contribute to our society through basic and applied research that utilizes data on race, ethnicity, and national origin."4 According to Carl Gutiérrez-Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle, "such a constitutional amendment can only be justified where equality between the races has been achieved."5

    MiSciNet advisor and columnist Dr. Sonya Summerour Clemmons says, "I am sure that Ward Connerly believes that his intentions are noble as far as creating a color-blind society goes, but what he must realize is his measures take the wrong aim. In order to achieve a truly color blind society, he must first try and help craft enforceable initiatives and laws that will rid America of its shameful legacy of discrimination based on race. Racism has been institutionalized in this country and that is what Ward Connerly must first rally against. He must approach the people in power who are perpetuating the current systems, which deny people of color equal opportunity. Otherwise, Ward Connerly simply aims to cripple the very people he is purporting to help."

    Is Proposition 54 Really Dead?

    Some of Connerly's critics are hopeful that "the defeat of Proposition 54 could put to rest a wide range of racially divisive initiatives and legislation," but state leaders and the legislature will consider a new initiative that will modify Proposition 209.3 Convinced that Proposition 54 was rebuffed due to voter fears about health care issues, Connerly plans to reintroduce the racial privacy initiative after reworking the language to ensure it would protect health care.6 The terms of this new pro-diversity initiative are not yet clear, but the initiative, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's recent affirmative action decisions, would continue to bar preferences based on race, ethnicity, and gender, but would encourage the outreach the UC system is already doing. Connerly's opponents are hopeful that this embracing of diversity will benefit the California business community with enhanced international trade opportunities with Asia, South America, and Africa.3


  • Tanya Schevitz, "UC admissions under fire again," San Francisco Chronicle (10 October 2003)

  • William G. Bowen and Derek Bok, The Shape of the River (Princeton University Press, 1998)

  • Marry Ann Mitchell (chairwoman of the board of directors of the National Black Business Council), John C. Gamboa (executive director of the Greenlining Institute), "Next Steps After the Recall: No on Prop. 54 enhances prosperity," San Francisco Chronicle (9 October 2003)

  • From the American Sociological Association Web site []

  • Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, "Irrelevance of Race," San Francisco Chronicle (20 April 2002)

  • Tanya Schevitz, "Prop. 54 defeated soundly: State initiative on racial privacy raised issues about health, education," San Francisco Chronicle (8 October 2003)

  • Clinton Parks is a contributing writer for MiSciNet and can be reached at