UC may challenge ban

BERKELEY, Calif. – If the University of California challenges the state ban on affirmative action, the timing will need to be right, UC President Robert Dynes said Friday.

Speaking at a daylong conference on the effects and future of Proposition 209, Dynes and others said California’s demographics eventually will change enough to overturn the 1996 voter-approved ban.

“I surely want to win the first [lawsuit], because if we lose the first one, we will take two to three steps back,” Dynes said. “We should be pushing sensibly with a reasonable probability of our winning.”

Enrollment of black and Hispanic students dipped precipitously across the UC system after Prop. 209 took effect, especially at the most selective campuses, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA.

The numbers have slowly rebounded, but university leaders have pushed for more reforms.

At the Berkeley conference, educators and administrators said the admissions process in particular needs to change to prevent minority students from being affected unfairly by grade-point average and test-score requirements. The system’s nine undergraduate campuses admit the top 12.5 percent of high school seniors, based on grades, SAT scores and other factors.

Before Prop. 209, public universities also used race among admissions criteria.

“I think 209 is profoundly wrong, morally wrong,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, a frequent critic of the affirmative-action ban in the two years since he arrived in California.

“We can’t have a truly fair system until 209 is reversed,” he said to applause.

Participants in the conference, including several hundred leaders and scholars from across the state, were decidedly against Prop. 209. The event was organized by UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school, where Dean Christopher Edley often has expressed his displeasure with the ban.