In 1996 a ballot measure was put before California voters asking them to make it illegal to consider race in awarding contracts, in hiring for public jobs, and in deciding who is admitted to state schools. Proposition 209 successfully passed with 55% of the vote. The ballot measure was the brainchild of Ward Connerly, who sat on the UC Board of Regents.
Enacted in 1996, Proposition 209 — which was marketed to voters as a civil rights initiative, removed essential tools to fight discrimination against women and people of color. Far from leveling the playing field, it set up obstacles to success for millions.
Asm. Shirley Weber is leading the charge to repeal Proposition 209, and restore Affirmative Action, with Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 5 (ACA 5). Weber believes divisions are driven by inequality and the coronavirus crisis has made it clear that there is an urgent need to address this law that perpetuates inequality.
“The fate of Prop. 209 will now be in the hands of voters on November 3rd,” said Assemblymember Weber. “While it was sold as a civil rights law when it passed in 1996, Proposition 209 has cost women- and minority-owned businesses $1.1 billion each year, perpetuated a wage gap wherein women make 80 cents on every dollar made by men, and allowed discriminatory hiring and contracting practices to continue unhindered. Far from being colorblind, the bill has set up barriers to women and minorities to share in the economic life of California. Proposition 209 has hindered public policy, thwarted opportunity and maintained economic disparity long enough. It’s time to give voters a chance to right this wrong.”
The inequalities in education are profound and makes it difficult to obtain entrance into the states top colleges and universities, particularly in the UC System.
People from underrepresented groups who applied to UC Berkeley after Prop 209 were 31% less likely to get accepted, according to a report issued by the UC Office of the President. UC Berkeley witnessed a “marked drop in the percentage of Black students” following Prop 209, said Chancellor Carol Christ, who was working as a campus provost when 209 passed.
Berkeley’s Black student enrollment among incoming freshmen fell from roughly 7% to 3% and has hovered around that figure ever since. In the fall of 2019, 2.8% of admitted first-year students identified as Black. Many say that figure drops significantly lower if athletes are not included. The number of African American freshmen enrolled at UCLA fell by nearly half – from 264 in 1995 to 144 in 1998, the first year the ban took effect. At Berkeley, over the same period, it dropped from 215 to 126.
Both schools have a large Asian Pacific Islander population of which members of the Asian-American and Chinese-American communities have teamed up with Connerly to ensure Prop 209 stays in place.
Wenyuan Wu, whose organization, the Asian-American Coalition for Education, is part of a broader alliance of Asian-American groups trying to stop ACA 5.
“If it passes,” Ms. Wu says, “Asian-American students will be further scapegoated and penalized in college admissions.”
On May 21, 2020, the University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024.
“The decision by the Board marks a significant change for the University’s undergraduate admissions,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”
Last month the UC Board of Regents unanimously endorsed the repeal of Proposition 209.
“There is amazing momentum for righting the wrongs caused by centuries of systemic racism in our country. The UC Board of Regents’ votes to endorse ACA 5 and to repeal Proposition 209 plays a part in that effort,” said Board Chair John A. Pérez. “As we continue to explore all the University’s opportunities for action, I am proud UC endorsed giving California voters the chance to erase a stain, support opportunity and equality, and repeal Proposition 209.”
In awarding contracts the playing field will allow minorities and women the right to compete for contracts typically awarded to Asians and Whites.
In the six years that followed Proposition 209’s passage, contract awards to women business enterprises dropped significantly from 6.7% to 3.8%. In the following two decades, California’s minority and women business enterprises lost the potential equivalent of $1 billion annually in public contracts.
This reversal will make the playing field more level in education, hiring and the awarding of contracts that ensure the economic stability of minorities throughout the State of California, especially in South L.A. which boasts a large minority population. According to 2010 Census Data Assembly District 59 is 75% Latino and 19% African-American, and stretches from the University of Southern California, through South Central and into parts of Southeast Los Angeles. The repeal is supported by both current Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer and his opponent Efren Martinez, who will be on the November ballot along with ACA 5.