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Published Oct 1, 2006 12:00 AM


Probing Prop. 209: A devastating impact, but is it used as an excuse?

Taylor: The University of California in general suffers from a very serious case of Prop. 209 phobia. Any idea, no matter how creative, innocent or minor, immediately gets put through a Prop. 209 filter. Furthermore, those ideas are often rejected for fear that the second big University of California phobia, litigation phobia, will envelop us. But UCLA wouldn't be the university it is today without some risk-taking, entrepreneurial administrative types who bucked the status quo to found the university in the first place.

Parker: Is Prop. 209 used as an excuse?

Taylor: It is, and it's systemwide. Just to get our biases on the table, when I was on the Board of Regents, I felt that the Office of the President bureaucracy was often a hindrance to trying to think creatively about our problems. The Office of the President often served to squash good ideas in an effort to homogenize the campuses so that they were all the same. A crazy thing to do in a state this big and diverse. Often, that's where the problem lies. You need to tell the administrators that when they take those risks, they won't be career-threatening. If an idea fails, if you've done your due diligence, OK.

Parker: Tom, maybe you can talk about how 209 does, in fact, constrain your efforts to recruit, admit and enroll African-American students and other students of color.

Lifka: It has had a devastating impact. Prior to 209, we led the system consistently, year after year, in the percentage of African-American students we enrolled, and under-represented students in general. The year after it became law, our African-American admission and enrollment dropped by 40 percent. There is no surrogate for [using race as an admission factor], particularly for the African-American UC-eligible population. They are spread evenly through the socioeconomic spectrum. So using something like low income or low parental education levels doesn't necessarily help large numbers of African-American students. It helps some. But other than our prime competitor, Berkeley, we're competing against schools like Stanford, USC and the Ivy League schools, all of whom still use race and affirmative action in their admission processes. Many also take that into account in how they award financial aid and scholarships. Then, as the lawyers looked at it after 209, it began to permeate more broadly. You couldn't set up race-based outreach programs. You couldn't set up race-based recruitment programs.

Parker: What do we mean by "UC-eligible"?

Lifka: UC-eligible is the standard established by the state's education master plan, which is that the UC schools can only admit from the top 12.5 percent of the high school graduating population in California. There's a small group admitted by exception, but it's very small.

O'Brien: Tom, isn't it true that we have put in place some of these screens or requirements — a point system — that really were intended to be a surrogate for race, but don't exactly conform to the African-American community?

Lifka: Yes.

O'Brien: And doesn't that work against what we're trying to accomplish?

Lifka: Again, we're supposed to be serving all of the students in the state. So it is proper to put in factors like low income and English as a second language.

O'Brien: First person in the family to go to college. Hardship.

Lifka: But the reality is that those criteria significantly benefit Latino students and Asian students who are recent immigrants. It does not work well to the benefit of the African-American UC-eligible pool.

Montero: It goes back to how students experience the institution. The USCs and the Ivies and so forth really put an effort into talking [to] and going after African-American students in a very welcoming, very personal way that we cannot do.

Parker: Cannot do, or will not do?

Montero: Cannot spend state money on it.

Taylor: But to what extent have we looked to try and raise private money to engage in that kind of activity?

Montero: Certainly, we have to find other ways, and there have been efforts, but the fact that we can't use state money is important. Remember, we can't even solicit outside money for this purpose.

Taylor: Says who?

Montero: Based on 209.

Taylor: That's how far the lawyers have taken the interpretation?

Montero: Yes, absolutely.

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