Race shouldn’t be an issue with hiring

Dawson Bell MCT

BERKELEY, Calif. – Michigan has a question for California: Was it a good idea to prohibit, as your voters did in 1996, the use of race- and gender-based affirmative action by public schools and government agencies for hiring, contracting and admissions decisions?

Ten years ago, the issue raged in California just as it does now in Michigan in the run-up to the Nov. 7 election and a vote on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, or MCRI.

Like backers of the MCRI, proponents of the nearly identical California Civil Rights Initiative, known as Proposition 209, promised a pathway to a colorblind society. Its opponents forecast an end to opportunity for women and minorities.

A decade later, some results are tangible: fewer African Americans at elite state universities and an apparent reduction in cost for road contracts awarded without consideration of race and gender.

But would California do it again?

“In a heartbeat,” said Ward Connerly, the former University of California regent who led the campaign to pass 209. Connerly is also a principal organizer of the MCRI campaign.

Even opponents agree that Californians aren’t ready to repeal the proposition.

But Eva Paterson, who heads a coalition dedicated to doing away with 209, said she thinks that California voters someday will realize their mistake.

“There are fewer opportunities for minorities and women,” Paterson said. “California is worse off.”

Hard evidence about the effect of 209 is fragmentary and hard to interpret.

After its enactment, black and Hispanic enrollment declined sharply at the University of California system’s elite schools – Berkeley and UCLA.

At UCLA, this fall’s freshman class includes just 96 African Americans (about 2 percent) – a 30-year low. Other reports have documented drops in minority and female faculty on some campuses and suggested a decline in the number of government contracts awarded to minority- and female-owned businesses.

But other research shows that overall minority enrollment at the elite schools has stabilized at lower levels, that overall minority enrollment is at or above pre-209 levels and that system-wide, California was among the national leaders in degrees awarded to nonwhite students.

Still, African Americans, 6 percent of California’s population, did not keep pace with the increases in the attainment of college degrees by white, Asian or Hispanic Californians during the last 10 years.