Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee
April 27, 2011
Emeritus Professor of History
California State University, Chico
Chairman, Board of Directors
California Association of Scholars
Senator Hernandez claims this bill is needed to remedy a serious decline in black and Hispanic enrollments at the CSU and UC systems that have occurred since the passage of Proposition 209.
No such drop has occurred. Three years ago, I investigated the impact of Proposition 209 on higher education between 1999-2007.[i]
In the nine years after Prop 209 was enacted, the numbers of black and Hispanic college students who earned degrees rose significantly as more entered and more graduated from the California universities for which they were fully qualified.
For instance, Hispanic baccalaureate degrees from the UC and the CSU systems combined rose from 10,346 in 1999 to 14,483 in 2006, a 38% increase. Black baccalaureate degrees from the two systems rose from 3,856 in 1999 to 4,610 in 2006, a 19% increase.
Over the same period in the University of California system, new Latino enrollees jumped 80%, from 1,046 to 1,879; new Chicano enrollees rose 83%, from 3,034 to 5,551.
The data demonstrate that no decline occurred, thereby negating the need for this bill.
On the pretext of being progressive, SB185 instead perpetuates an illiberal belief by encouraging racial groupthink among students, outreach programs and admissions officers.
If university admissions officers are required to “consider” an applicant’s race, they will either discriminate or give preference based on race. If either occurs, it will violate Article 1, Section 31 (Proposition 209).
If neither occurs, then the whole exercise of considering race is pointless and time-consuming, providing another reason to reject this bill.
It is a grave error to assume that racial diversity begets greater intellectual diversity. That idea accepts that members of a group, because of their race or ethnicity, share certain qualities collectively.
In that sense, SB185 helps to sustain, not diminish race-consciousness. Humans are not divisible biologically into any number of “races.” Each person is unique and hence contributes something to overall diversity.
The university’s core function is to educate students and that is the faculty’s job. Students are there to learn, not to be role models or race exemplars for other students.
As an African history professor for 40 years, I can attest that the racial, ethnic, or gender composition of my classes had no bearing whatsoever on how well students paid attention, participated in class discussions, turned in exemplary work, or evidently learned.
A growing cross-section of Americans refuses to be pigeonholed. The Census Bureau now recognizes 63 possible racial labels, an appalling taxonomy as artificial as those 100 years ago that sorted Americans into categories of "white," "Japanese," "Chinese," "Negroes," "mulattoes," "civilized Indians," and so forth.
Will SB185 consider Korean, Chinese and Filipino students as separate groups, then collapse them into one race, “Asians”?
Will it lump Scandinavians, Syrians and Slavs together as "whites"?
Will it cluster Cubans, Mexicans and Brazilians and call them all “Hispanic”?
Millions of young Americans date, love and marry across the “color” line and maintain multiple identities.
As today’s population of blended Californians continues to grow, this bill looks backwards. It obliges admissions officers to sort students into “races” that have no objective genetic meaning. SB185 enables identity group politics to continue infecting university life. It helps turn every issue into a dispute over inclusion or exclusion.
SB185 should be defeated because it is unnecessary and counter productive. It will aid and abet illegal discrimination in university admissions and invite costly litigation, the very last thing California needs.
I urge the Senate Education Committee to reject SB185.
[i] Charles Geshekter, “The Effects of Proposition 209 on California: Higher Education, Public Employment and Contracting,” Academic Questions, Vol. 21, #3 (Summer 2008), pp. 296-319.