Proposition 107: Arizona’s Students Under Attack!

California, Washington, Michigan and Nebraska: what do all of these states have in common?

Each of these states have been the victim of the American Civil Rights Initiative (ACRI) — a deceptively named national campaign founded by Ward Connerly to work state-by-state to eliminate affirmative action programs. In each state, a seemingly benign ballot initiative is put up to popular vote that would eliminate “preferential treatment” or “discrimination” in public institutions based on race or sex. However, upon passage, the measure is used to outlaw affirmative action programs, particularly in state universities.

The most obvious consequences of  ACRI’s efforts can be seen in California, which passed Proposition 209 in 1996. In the following graph, the percentage growth of White, Black, Latino/Chicano and Asian students into UC schools was plotted for every year between 1993 and 2009. The arrow indicates when Prop. 209 was passed preventing racial information from being used in admission decisions. We can see that in the early nineties, admissions for Blacks and Latinos was growing steadily. However, after 1996, admission of Blacks and Latinos actually decreased in rate (compared to 1993). Only recently have admission rates for Black and Latino applicants to California schools started to return to (and, in the case of Latinos, surpass) pre-Proposition 209 levels, perhaps because UC schools have adopted a more careful review of applications which incorporates use of personal essays to attempt to glean racial information about applicants.  

(As for why the numbers of White students are falling over the entire period, I can only hazard a guess. One possibility is that White applicants were less inclined to provide racial data in their applications throughout this time period, which leads to an underestimation of the number of White students enrolled in UC schools. In addition, California’s minority populations have been experiencing profound growth in the last fifteen years, further contributing to the rise in minority enrollment in UC schools).

In 2008, more than 30% of students in the UC school system were White (and another 40% were Asian), while less than 4% are Black or Latino. Yet, compare these numbers to California’s demographics by race: Asians — who make up about 12.5% of the state’s population — are overrepresented by a factor of three in UC schools. Blacks make up 6.5% of California’s population, yet they are only 3% of UC students. Clearly, race-based barriers are preventing Blacks and Latino students from making it into the state’s higher education system, even with affirmative action policies in place.

If we compare these numbers to 1993, prior to the passage of Proposition 209, we see that while Whites and Asians were still the most populous racial groups on college campuses, Proposition 209 has only served to diminish diversity on California college campuses by reducing the percentages of Whites, Blacks and Latinos admitted into UC schools while elevating the number of Asian students. In short, UC students are becoming more and more homogenized.

While the increased admission of Asian students into UC schools (before and, particularly, after passage of Proposition 209) seem like a justification for Asian Americans to oppose affirmative action, in fact these data should be alarming to all college-aged students, regardless of race. Asian American students, like all students, benefit from a diverse student body that helps foster academic debate and disagreement. Furthermore, even with affirmative action policies in place, Asian American students in UC schools (and, indeed, in preeminent schools around the country) were vastly better represented than in national demographics; clearly, affirmative action (and associated improvements in student diversity) does not prevent Asian American students from getting into college. 

In fact, ACRI’s national efforts to introduce ballot measures that attack race- and gender-based affirmative action policies only serve to white-wash college campuses by reducing the numbers of already underrepresented minority students. Not only are Black and Latino students turned away in the admissions process, but underrepresented minorities who are admitted feel disinclined to attend California schools when faced with the diminishing number of other students who will share their race, ethnicity or culture — what UCLA chancellor Thomas Lifka terms a loss in “critical mass” of underrepresented minorities — which ordinarily help new students integrate into the college community and create social and support networks.

Despite these dismal statistics, ACRI counts the marginalization of Black and Latino students in higher education as a victory, and has pressed forward with ballot measures similar to Proposition 209 in a variety of states. Such ballot measures have passed in Washington, Michigan and Nebraska.

In 2008, ACRI attempted to introduce a similar ballot measure in Arizona (Proposition 104) that would have amended the Arizona Constitution to ban discrimination or “preferential treatment… on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in public institutions, but were unable to collect enough valid signatures to add the motion to the ballot. Instead, ACRI and its supporters decided to reintroduce the ballot measure this year after it was approved for inclusion on the November ballot by both the State House and the State Senate, and will appear as Proposition 107 (click here for the full text of Proposition 107).

California has already set the precedent for what might happen if 107 gets passed in the state of Arizona, not just to our state universities, but to our businesses and economy. In addition to what I discuss above, Susan Kaufmann, the Associate Director for the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, wrote this summary of the far-reaching effects of Proposition 209 in California:  


Prop. 209 has resulted in the elimination of services such as college preparation programs for students of color, summer science programs for girls, outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses to notify them of government contracting opportunities, and funding for training of minority professionals in fields where they are underrepresented. It has ended the requirement that state boards reflect the population of the state and also ended numerous voluntary K-12 school integration efforts. It has led to significant decreases in government contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, hiring of minority and female university professors, and the percentages of women and minorities working in the construction trades. In addition, it has led to decreases in the percentages of African Americans and Native Americans enrolled in the University of California system and apparently to similar decreases in the California State University system.


Based on this history, we can expect the passage of Proposition 107 to have lasting negative effects in our state. The diversity of our state schools will evaporate. Our state universities, which are responsible for a significant fraction of our state economy, will experience a sharp reduction in applications from in-state and out-of-state students, particularly from students fearing a racially intolerant atmosphere in Arizona (as we have already seen happen to The University of Arizona in response to the passage of SB 1070). Federal dollars (in the form of scholarships and grants) awarded to the state specifically for the purposes of raising racial diversity in public schools and the private sector may evaporate. Gender and ethnic studies programs at our universities — such as African American Studies, Chicano Studies and Asian Pacific American Studies — may cease to exist. Businesses that rely on skilled labourers  (and who are already discouraged from moving to Arizona by our abysmal educational system rankings) — and that have private hiring policies that include raising diversity amongst their employees — may be less likely to move to Arizona without a pool of promising minority college graduates to recruit and hire.

In short, Arizona stands to lose a lot of state money — not to mention, national respect —  if Proposition 107 is passed. And these days, we haven’t got much of either to spare.

Sadly, the supporters of Arizona’s Proposition 107 will not reveal any of those truths to the voting public. The website established by the ACRI to support the 2008 effort to put this ballot measure to a vote openly lies to the Arizona constituency by arguing that the ballot measure would not affect affirmative action practices, when (as seen in California) the ballot measure is specifically designed to abolish affirmative action.

Most alarmingly, ACRI has had a two-year head-start in lobbying for funds and political support to help pass Proposition 107. State Senator Russel Pearce and State Representive Steve Montenegro have already indicated their willingness to go to bat for this ballot measure. A group registered in support of Proposition 107 on May 24, 2010 (calling themselves “Compassion for All”) has already raised $1025, as reported in their June 30th Campaign Finance Report (although, to be fair, that money consists entirely of personal contributions from the group’s treasurer). Ward Connerly has announced that he will dedicate substantial funds to getting Proposition 107 passed in Arizona. By comparison, a group in opposition of Proposition 107 was only registered six days ago, and still seems to be trying to figure out how to punctuate its name (note the three separate entries for this group on the Secretary of State website).

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to state the following: Arizona’s students and schools are under attack by anti-affirmative action fanatics who are determined to undermine racial and gender diversity in our classrooms. Supporters of equal opportunity must mobilize in opposition of Proposition 107 in order to protect equality for all Arizonans.

Act Now! A press release issued yesterday from the Tucson Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce (TSABCC) indicates that a coalition of groups (including the NAACP and the Tucson Urban League) are meeting today at 4:30pm at the TSABCC to discuss how to defeat this initiatve. I know this is short notice, but all interested parties hoping to participate in these efforts are invited to this meeting at the TSABCC . Here’s the info:

WHEN:           Tuesday June 29, 2010

WHERE:         Northwest Center, 2160 North 6th Avenue,  Tucson, AZ. 85705

TIME:              4:30pm – 6:30pm  (RSVP) your attendance (520) 623-0099

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:   Every individual, group, or organization wanting to participate in this effort to defeat  this initiative.  Everyone who want to send a message “NOT IN OUR STATE’

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