Finally, A Way to Diversify Cal Universities? Or “The Most Racist Bill” in State History?

By Ben Christopher

Shien Biau Woo is a self-professed liberal. As a Democrat, he was lieutenant governor of Delaware and was once the party’s nominee for the U.S.  Senate. The organization he co-founded, the 80-20 Initiative, advocates for equal rights and opportunity for Asian Americans and twice endorsed Barack Obama.

And yet, says Woo: “Some liberals—and I classify myself as a liberal—they’re crazy. They have crazy theories.”

He is referring specifically to liberals like California state Sen.Ed Hernandez, the author a proposed measure that would repeal the statewide ban on affirmative action programs within public college admissions offices. In late January, Hernandez’s Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 was passed by that chamber in a party-line vote (with three abstentions). If it passes the Assembly, it will be placed on this year’s November ballot.

As might be expected of any law pertaining to affirmative action, the political response to SCA 5 has been vociferous. But so far, the most vocal opposition to the proposal has not come from the traditional foes of race-preference laws—that is, white conservatives—but from organizations like the 80-20 Initiative.

“Politicians think that Asian Americans can always be stepped on,” says Woo. “If SCA 5 fails, it’s lucky for (those politicians). If it passes—and I don’t think it will—the Asian Americans will be coming out and voting like crazy.”

Such resistance already is coming fast and furious from certain sectors of the Asian American community. While traditional Democratic allies such as the nurses union, the teachers union, Equality California and the UC Students Association have lined up in support of Hernandez’s bill, the bulk of the opposition has come from organizations such as Chinese Americans for Progress and Equality, the Chinese Alliance for Equality, and the Chinese-American Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The outrage isn’t just local. Aside from the East Coast-based 80-20 Initiative, heated opinion pieces have been published in China Daily (“California’s new racial discrimination”) and the Bangalore-based business and tech new site SiliconIndia (“SCA 5 – The Most Racist Bill in the History of California”).

A 2013 National Asian American Survey found that affirmative action is still supported within that community by a 3 to 1 margin. Yet the fact that opposition to such programs might itself be much more diverse than it was in 1996 (when Prop 209 blocked the state from “granting preferential treatment to individuals or groups on the basis of race”) should not surprise anyone, says Laura Stoker, a UC Berkeley political science professor who has studied opposition to affirmative action.

“The more highly educated a person is, the more liberal they tend to be with regard to racial equality issue—with the exception of affirmative action,” says Stoker. “With affirmative action, the pattern reverses. It flips.”

The explanation for this is fairly straightforward, she says. Since the passage of Prop 209, the percentage of Asian applicants to campuses within the University of California system has edged up from under 83 to 85 percent, according to a report published by The Campaign for College Opportunity late last year.

But the post-209 admission rates have fallen for Latino applicants (from 82 to 76 percent) and black applicants (from 75 to 58 percent).

Of course, the aggregate “Asian” category conceals a great variability. One recent report found that 74 percent of Taiwanese Americans, 71 percent of Indian Americans and 52 percent of mainland Chinese Americans have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. It may not be surprising that the organizations rallying against SCA 5 have been Chinese American and Indian American rather than, say, Cambodian American.

“Those who are most highly achieving with respect to higher ed tend not to be supportive of anything that they might worry would undermine their place,” Stoker says. “It might have nothing to do with ethnicity itself, per se, but educational attainment.”

Now that affirmative action has been tossed back into the Californian political fray, the 80-20 Initiative’s Woo predicts it will help mobilize large swaths of the Asian American community. He points to a town hall meeting in Cupertino on March 2, which reportedly drew hundreds of Asian Americans, most strongly opposed to SCA 5—or as some protesters put it, “Skin Color Act 5.”

Like the Tea Party, this wave of grass­roots fury could play in­to the hands of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. Asi­an Amer­ic­ans are of­ten thought of as pre­dict­able Demo­crat­ic al­lies. But they poll as polit­ic­ally ‘un­de­cided’ three times high­er than the av­er­age.

“The Democratic Party truly should be careful,” says Woo, who is now a registered Independent. If SCA 5 makes it to the November ballot, he says, the party “will be taught a lesson.”

“This might indeed snowball into something bigger,” says Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at UC Riverside and the director of the National Asian American Survey. Up until recently, he explains, most of the political activism in the Asian American community has taken place on the left through groups such as Asian American Advancing Justice, which push for equal access for those in underserved communities. “These civil rights organizations are not as connected to Asian Americans who are wealthier and that leaves a potential opening.”

Ramakrishnan says organizations like the 80-20 Initiative have riled up a great deal of enthusiasm among upwardly mobile Asian Americans, many of whom see access to higher education as a vital stepping stone to economic prosperity and political clout.

“They’re an insurgent group very much like the Tea Party,” he says. “In emphasizing the role of education, they’re speaking to a population that has not been particularly involved or engaged politically, who, generally speaking, feel like education is the ticket upwards, and many of whom are first generation immigrants who have experienced discrimination. And now here come organizations that are shouting: ‘They’re taking away our freedom!’ “

And like the Tea Party, this wave of grassroots fury could play into the hands of the Republican Party. Asian Americans are often thought of as predictable Democratic allies. But that ignores the fact that this demographic polls as politically “undecided” at three times higher than the average. Ramakrishnan says it underscores this population’s “potential flexibility.”

Outrage over SCA 5 has coursed through social media, generating online petitions and Facebook groups and hashtags of dissent. Ramakrishnan points to a letter that recently made the rounds on Twitter: It is ostensibly written by an 8 year old who, under the banner of smiley faces and hearts, tells her Congressman: “I don’t think it’s fair if I can’t go to college in California just because I am Asian American.”

Certain ethnic media outlets have also played a vital role in mobilizing readers over SCA 5, says Ramakrishnan. He points to the SiliconIndia headline, calling SCA 5 “the most racist bill in the history of California.”

UC Berke­ley Law pro­fess­or Jesse Chop­er says even if the state’s af­firm­at­ive ac­tion ban were to be re­pealed, times have changed—and so has the Su­preme Court of the United States.

“With no sense of irony!” he says. “Most of these stories do not provide any critical evaluation for the claims being made by activist groups—that the law will impose racial quotas, that it is unconstitutional. These are both patently false claims.”

Indeed, SCA 5 probably poses little threat to potential Asian American applicants to California’s public universities—primarily because it still faces such a steep uphill battle. Before becoming law, the bill must first to be approved by two-thirds of the Assembly and then by state voters.

Beyond that, says UC Berkeley Law professor Jesse Choper, even if the state’s affirmative action ban were to be repealed, times have changed since 1996—and so has the Supreme Court of the United States.

“There’s a big hurdle now,” he says. Unlike previous courts, which granted institutions a bit more leeway in crafting diversity-boosting programs, the philosophy of this court is clear: “Race based programs are a bad thing and we can only use them in extremis.”

This new legal order was laid out last year with the Fisher v. University of Texas decision, in which the court ruled, 7-1, that while affirmative action programs were permissible, it is the school’s responsibility to prove that “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” (The 80-20 Initiative filed an amicus brief against the university). And those benefits must be significant. “Merely trying to get something closer to the population at large is not a legitimate reason to increase diversity,” says Choper, paraphrasing the court’s ruling.

That decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Choper calls “the be-all, end-all, for the future of the validity of affirmative action on this court.” And that makes the prospect of California schools reinstituting aggressive affirmative action programs exceedingly dim.

“If 15 percent of the students on campus were Hispanic and you had a program that brought it up to 20 percent, I don’t have much question that Kennedy would say, ‘aw, come on, it’s race based. You’re doing pretty well to begin with. The program doesn’t add much to it,’ ” he says. (In 2012, 13 percent of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate population was Latino.)

For proponents of affirmative action then, says Choper, “it’s tough sledding with this U.S. Supreme Court.”

Even so, as activist groups continue to rally support against SCA 5, the political perception may be more important than the legal reality. Organizations like the 80-20 Initiative were founded to prove that Asian Americans are a political force. The backlash against SCA 5 is making that point loud and clear.

“You might just think this is a California issue, but California accounts for one-third of the national Asian American population, so what happens here is going to have a very strong influence on the national story,” says Ramakrishnan “It’s a constituency that is too important to ignore anymore.”

This story has been updated.

Filed under: Law + Policy
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Dear Ben: A reporter may have a theme in his/her mind for an article BEFORE he/she interviews anyone. The reporter will then only report those parts of interviews that fit his/her chosen theme, although that is poor journalism. You did that in your interview with me. Your quotes were accurate, but you completely ignored my statements on why we oppose SCA 5 — research findings of Princeton prof. Espenshade and UCLA prof. Richard Sander which pointed to the the complete lack of merit for SC 5. Calling Asian American’s anger against SCA 5 as the “Tea Party” movement on the left may be catchy, but it is poor journalism. You are NOT reporting on the cause of the strong movement which, if reported, could be helpful to your readers to understand the situation. Instead, you callously type the spontaneous groundswell of emotion, backed by the principle that Dr. Martin Luther King has strongly advocated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content. ” How disappointing. S. B. Woo
A 2013 National Asian American Survey found that affirmative action is still supported within that community by a 3 to 1 margin. - Did this survey define AA as Equal Opportunity or Preferential Treatment? I will definitely give different answers based on how questions are asked. To me, Equal Opportunity is exactly opposite of Preferential Treatment. It seems to me people switch context under AA. I learned a lesson from SCA5 discussion, I better ask what is exactly in the bill instead of just a name.
“Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…” ― Albert Einstein Please use above quote to encourage and inspire students. People need to work hard, instead of using race, gender etc. as excuse.
What surprised me was that all democratic state senators have voted for SCA5. Using the color of skin as preferential treatment for one race at the expense of the other, what is so democratic about it? This is the beginning of Asian American’s political weakening. I, for the first time, have donated money to a Republican senator. And for the first time, I will vote for Republican all the way this November.
I am glad that I was born and raised, and raised my own family, in California. I have been around the world and never wanted to live anywhere else because I have learned to believe that California diversity is one of our most important and wonderful cultural strengths. My most wonderful granddaughters, that my classmate wife and I toddlersit weekly are part Asian (my wife was born in Nanking), their mother’s parents were raised in San Felipe, and I am a descendent of British barbarians (about as culturally diverse as you could get until Californians took it to a higher level). I hope and pray our hatreds do not destroy the human race.
While we believe this story provided a fair and accurate account of various sides in this debate, we recognize that no single article can be comprehensive. We encourage Mr. Woo and all of our readers to use this comments feature to offer any additional relevant information. The Tea Party comparison was made by (and attributed to) the director of the National Asian American Survey, who was raising the possibility that this grassroots insurgency ultimately could benefit the Republican Party. Editor, CALIFORNIA Online
The only thing we ask is “Equal Opportunity without regard to RACE”, no more, no less. Isn’t this MLK’s dream? Please give me a reference from MLK that “he wants preferential treatment based on race”. I’m serious in asking because I cannot find myself. Maybe some more knowledge people can help.
I have a proposal if we pass SCA5, we should add following checkbox to college application – Religion, Ethnicity (list of all countries), social status (need to attach 1040), Conservative/Liberal plus tons of others for the importance of diversity. All those factors cannot be overlooked because people already talked about them in diversity discussion. They need to reflect CA’s state population. How do you define ‘Reflect’? Since we cannot use quota, let’s use control limit. If Asian is 13%, then maybe 13%+- 2% before we get a true 3 sigma limit from university-wide. If any college is outside of that range for Asian, then Diversity is out of control . We need to maintain diversity not only at each college, but also for every major – you heard somebody said female is underrepresented in engineering, right? I will argue, engineering is not good enough, we need to have good diversity in all kinds of engineering – chemical, mechanical etc. Now admission officers are overwhelmed, they just cannot handle this. Don’t worry, let’s write a software to do this. With best computer science program, Berkeley can definitely implement this. Admission officers just need to enter all qualified students, the program will give them the list of students with perfect diversity. Here is the best part, everybody can use a dashboard to find out any diversity factors at any colleges/majors. Do you want to know what percentage of 1/32 Lation+31/32 white is represented in UCLA computer science major? Click 1 button. We should extend this to work place too. If any companies/organizations are out of control on diversity, they will be fined. It will help our national debt. See how wonderful SCA5 is? I already start to think about how much NBA should be fined.
Here is a research paper on SCA5 - http://www.zhenzhubay.com/zzw/upload/up/2/da297a1.pdf. Everybody in STEM field knows the importance to include reference/source. This paper has all references from UC/CSU and public high schools to back up his analysis. It is an eye opening analysis for root cause of Lation/Black’s low Berkeley/UCLA enrollment rate - hight high school drop out and low A-G completion rates.
Let’s be honest. Mr. Hernandez, in his own words said that he wanted UC student body to reflect the demographics of the state. His message seems to be, “Everyone should be treated fairly, some should be treated fairer than others”. (ode to Animal Farm by H.G. Wells) The goal is pretty clear. To accomplish this, lower Asian enrollment by 50,000, lower women enrollment by 10,000. Then the student body will ‘reflect the demographics of the state. But there’s a more sinister game afoot here. Mr. Hernandez has ambition and agenda. Rally 40% of the base, fool 20% of the others, by demonizing 14% of the population. Very very good math. This kind of electoral calculus was used in California in 1994, and blatantly utilized and carried out in Germany in 1930s. We have not heard the last of Mr. Hernandez. Too strong you say? Exaggeration you say? Study California history I say: - Asian, along with Blacks,Native Americans cannot testify in court against Whites (btw, Mexican American were considered “white”) - Chinese Police Tax paid monthly amounting to roughly 10% of their wage - Chinese Children were not allowed to attend public school in San Francisco until 1885 - Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibiting Chinese immigration - Foreign Miner’s Tax targeting Chinese Miners. This tax was nearly 50% of all taxes collected in California in 1852. - Chinese were prohibited from owning land in California until 1930s - California Civil Code 60. Which prohibit marriage between white and Asians, Black. - Special tax on all Chinese owned laundries - Bingham Ordiance, which prohibit Asians from living and working in most of San Francisco - The immigration act of 1917 bans immigrants that are drunkards, mentally ill, beggars, and all Asians. - Japanese-American internment in WWII. By 1900 there were numerous Chinese towns and settlements through California. Numerous Chinese were lynching, their homes and businesses burned, looted, in order to drive them away. There are documented incidents involving hundreds of deaths, tens of thousands displaced throughout California by these acts, often sanctioned by local authorities. California has successfully glossed over its incredibly racist history against Asians. Asians have abetted this by wanted to forget, turn the other cheek, not play the victim forever game. Jews, despite being highly educated, relatively affluent, and highly integrated into German society, could not stop the tide of manufactured hatred in the 1930s. I still hope that sense of equality, decency, and fair-mindedness will prevail in California in the year 2014. Let us all rally together to oppose hate-mongering, manufactured race-divisions and race-baiting. Mr. Hernandez: we are watching and waiting.
Let there be NO DISCRIMINATION based on race or ANY other factor. Let there be a UNIFORM UC student body. Let there be a system of top-x [varies by year and number of graduating HS seniors] of each HS’s students be accepted to UC or CSU systems based on applicant preference. Let there be NO costs difference across UC campuses. Let there be either a ALL-UC admission system, and then a RANDOM assignment of campus. Don’t need any other policy of admissions. Some very high performing high school seniors will not get in, some poor performing seniors will. The system conversion process can be gradually implemented … so it is not a shock to the system.
Many of the discriminatory acts that PROUD84UC lays at the feet of the State of California are actually Federal actions. Every Old Blue should recognize that the Japanese-American internment during World War II came from Washington, for instance. By the way, Animal Farm was not by H.G. Wells. It was written by Eric Blair under his famous pen name, George Orwell.
Except for the random assignment of school, this is the system already in place. But this did not produce the diversity targets some are seeking.
I suggest that all supporters of racial quotas line up to be the patients of doctors who got into med school because of their race. No one should get a reward or a punishment because of their parent’s race. I am of mixed heritage with Hispanic. My wife is Asian. Should our son get preferred admission because I am Hispanic? Should he be discriminated against because my wife is Asian? You should be ashamed.
Yes. Some of the legislation referenced were on Federal Level. Those were heavily influenced by California; the center of Asian-American population back then and today. Japanese-American internment was limited to those along the west coast; primarily California. Only 1200/150,000 Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii were interned. Aside from a handful of Unitarians, there was little opposition to this internment. Let me take this opportunity to relate another shameful event of California history. The Chinatown (Los Angeles) massacre of 1871, where 18 Chinese were killed by a mob of 500 angry white men for the shooting death (apparently accidental) of a white rancher. Some have referred to this as the largest mass lynching in US History. Eventually 8 white men were convicted on manslaughter over this incident. Here’s a list of their names: Alvarado, Esteban Austin, Charles Botello, Refugio Crenshaw, L. F. Johnson, A. R. Martinez, Jesus McDonald, Patrick M. Mendel, Louis I show these names to highlight the definition of “white” back in 1871. Interesting….
“Vote for Republicans” is the one thing that people should have learned from this SCA 5 madness. Voting records clearly show that our politicians are very partisan. By putting Republicans in CA Senate and Assembly, we will regain a balanced government.
Wendy, the Golden Rule for all of our social, political and economic systems is “Never bite the hand that feeds you.” The greatest fact of life as a result of this is that far too many politicians in both political parties, and far too many intellectuals have sold out their integrity to the power of money. American voters must find a way to take control of our Democracy or the failure rates of our social, political and economic systems shall continue to destroy our quality of life as current events keep proving because we never learn from the lessons of history.

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