Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rise of Asian-Americans at University of California Revives Affirmative Action Debate

Today's San Diego Union Tribune has an interesting article on the emergence of an Asian-American majority at some campuses of the University of California. Asian students have been so successful that civil rights activists are calling for a repeal of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that eliminated racial prefences in state employment, contracting, and university admissions. Here are the details:

Will Asian-Americans one day make up a majority of students at the University of California?

If the trend of the past decade continues, it just might happenThe number of Asian-American students at University of California campuses far outpaces their population increase in the state. These students attended a physics class at UC San Diego.

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the passage of Proposition 209, the state initiative that banned using racial preferences in public university admissions and state hiring and contracting.

At the highly competitive University of California, where grades and test scores drive admissions, the enrollment trend is clear: Asian-American student numbers have grown the most, far outpacing their population increase in the state.

Asian-Americans – 14.1 percent of California's 2005 high school graduating class – make up 41.8 percent of the freshman class at UC campuses, up from 36 percent a decade ago.

Meanwhile, blacks at 3 percent and whites at 32.2 percent make up smaller shares of UC's freshman class than they did previously. Latinos account for 16.3 percent of UC freshmen, up from 13 percent a decade ago, but still less than half their 36.5 percentage of state high school graduates.

The changes to UC's student demographics are definitive, but many continue to debate Proposition 209's merits – and its effects....

As a whole, Asian-American student numbers at UC have grown more than any other ethnic group each year since Proposition 209 passed in 1996. (At California State University's 23 campuses, the ethnicity of its freshman class has remained generally steady over the last decade.)

Asian undergraduates already make up the largest racial group at seven of the nine UC undergraduate campuses. Only University of California Santa Cruz and University of California Santa Barbara have remained majority white in the past decade. At University of California Irvine, Asians make up a majority of undergraduates, or 51 percent.

Many academics agree that one thing driving the student numbers at UC is the growth of the Asian population in California. Another factor is Asians' prioritizing of education and economic ability to choose schools that better prepare students for college, said Robert Teranishi, an assistant professor at New York University, who has studied Asian-American trends in higher education.

So, the success of one previously disadvantaged minority has prompted activists to push for a restoration of racial preferences in admissions, which will obviously discriminate against the most prepared students. Here's the article's take on Propostion 209, including a classic quota-driven comment from an affirmative action suppporter arguing for greater "diversity":

Some say Proposition 209 has done great harm. Mostly notably, they point to the precipitous drop in black student numbers at UC.

There are 96 blacks in the freshman class of about 4,800 at the University of California Los Angeles this year. About 50 black freshmen are enrolled at the University of California San Diego this fall, making up only 1 percent of the class. If Proposition 209 remains in place, critics say, complete ethnic groups will lose access to the state's most prestigious public universities.

“It perpetuates a stratification and racially segmented society, and that's bad for the soul of academia,” said Maria Blanco, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Blanco said it was unfair to judge all students by the same admissions criteria when the high school resources available to them, such as honors class offerings, vary so dramatically across the state.

"Racially segmented society," eh? It's been over forty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the widespread implementation of affirmative action in America's colleges and universities. I see Blanco's remarks as admitting that blacks and hispanics can't cut it in today's competitive, merit based society -- thus, we need to lower standards. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations!

Asian Americans are already claiming that admissions officers at the nation's elite schools are discriminating against them because of their high acceptance rates. We're almost to the point in which liberals would fully discard academic excellence and scholarly merit in favor of "diversity." Diversity's great. I teach at one of the most diverse college campuses in the country. Yet, acceptance to the elite schools should not be determined by the goal of maximizing diversity and its purported benefits in "helping with students' critical thinking and social skills."

I've already suggested that blacks will increase their representation at elite universities when they develop an ethic of academic achievement and overcome the nihilist oppositional culture of many black youth. In any case, with the success of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, Ward Connerly, the original backer of Proposition 209, sees the era of affirmative action coming to an end. I hope he's right.

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