Affirmative action on university campuses has been a hot-button social and political issue for decades, a slow-burning flame that occasionally explodes and has never truly flickered out.
California has long been an epicenter of these incendiary discussions about a policy that divides casual observers and academics alike, between those who view it as conducive to racial justice and as a racial injustice. Despite the state’s supposedly liberal track record, voters in the state passed the first statewide ban on race and gender preferences for university admissions, public employment and contracting in 1996 by way of Proposition 209.
In a month, the Supreme Court of the United States is slated to rehear the 2013 affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, that may culminate in the end to such policies nationwide. The University of California was one of a long list of parties that filed amicus briefs Monday in support of affirmative action, citing that the University and the state have suffered from a decline in diversity post-Proposition 209.
For the 2000 Daily Bruin Registration Issue, UC Student Regent Justin Fong took aim at a similar policy widely considered to be a precursor to Proposition 209: Special Policies 1 and 2, which were passed by the UC Regents to ban the aforementioned considerations within the UC system. His column appeared alongside former UC Chancellor Albert Carnesale’s, which carefully avoided any topic of racial or social justice by way of an abundance of empty platitudes.
Both SP 1 and 2 and Proposition 209 were championed by Ward Connerly, a UC Regent from 1993 to 2005 best known for being a sworn archenemy of affirmative action. It was a strangely conservative time at the UC.
Fong, then a first-year UCLA graduate student studying public policy, had his own dramatic run-ins with affirmative action – he was arrested in 1997 for attempting to storm the regents after they refused to reverse SP 1 and 2. The Daily Californian noted how this could thwart his appointment to the “coveted” position. Incredibly, the very regents that he rushed at in protest – which included Ward Connerly – selected him for the student regent position three years later.
More incredible, perhaps, was what happened during Fong’s tenure as student regent. In May of 2001, the regents unanimously voted to rescind SP 1 and 2. University officials proclaimed the decision as a reaffirmation of the UC’s commitment of diversity. Still, realistically speaking, the damage had already been done and the rescission largely symbolic, since Proposition 209 superseded UC policy anyway.
I suspect Fong is as anxious as I am in awaiting the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision on affirmative action at universities nationwide. Unfortunately, storming the Court, whose activities are largely closed to the public, is not as straightforward nor productive an affair.