Friday, January 13, 2023






        From the moment Asian-Americans and other students brought lawsuits against affirmative action admission policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, it was clear that even if they prevailed, not much would change in California.


        For this state’s mostly-liberal electorate has been anything but liberal when voting on affirmative action, the practice of favoring some minority groups over whites and Asians in college admissions and contracting, giving them a boost to make up for past discrimination.


        Every sign in the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the combined Harvard/North Carolina cases was that the conservative-oriented court would vote at least 6-3 against affirmative action.


        California voters were decades ahead of them on this. Already in 1996, voters here disapproved affirmative action, passing Proposition 209 by a 54-46 percent margin. They doubled down on it four years later, when state legislators offered a ballot measure to repeal Prop. 209. This one, known as Prop. 16, lost by 57-43 percent and the issue was supposedly settled here.


        But things have never really been settled. No sooner was race removed as a potential factor in admissions to both University of California and California State University campuses than university officials substituted other factors like income and parental education levels as proxies for race and ethnicity. For without doubt lower family economic status and parental education levels puts students at a disadvantage in both earning top high school grades and performing well on standardized tests.


        The minority groups best known for stressing their children’s education over other investments always have objected to affirmative action, steadily arguing academic merit should be the sole consideration in admissions. Those groups include Asian Americans and Jewish Americans. Many Jews in particular have long favored merit as the sole admission criterion because for most of American history, they were systematically discriminated against in employment practices, housing and university admissions.


Such bigotry also was long a factor in private club memberships, including beach clubs and country clubs. But over the last 50 years, new laws have banned that kind of discrimination when it can be proved.


But the effects of California’s voter-approved ban on affirmative action were immediate, obvious and have been continuous since passage of Prop. 209.


The measure drastically reduced diversity at the most competitive UC campuses. In 1998, the first admissions year affected by the ban, the number of Black and Latino first-year students plunged by nearly half at UCLA and UC Berkeley. At Berkeley Law School, Black admits were down three-quarters from their pre-209 levels.


While minority admissions at Cal State campuses were not as heavily impacted as at UC, they are still far lower than population proportions at the CSU campus with the most competitive admissions.


That’s Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where only 31% of applicants were admitted in fall 2021. On that campus, 53% of undergraduates are white, 19% Latino, 14% Asian and just 1% Black. By contrast, at Cal State Los Angeles — with an 80% admission rate — 72% of students are Latino, 11% Asian, 4% Black and 4% white.


At Cal Poly SLO, only 0.7 percent of undergraduates are currently Black. And the word has gotten around – since 2011, that campus has had the lowest rate of Black applicants of any California public university. It also educates the smallest proportion of students from low-income families and has since 2008.


No matter what the Supreme Court rules, UC and the most competitive Cal State campuses will continue seeing far fewer Black students than population figures appear to merit – about 1 percent of UC students, compared with 4 percent of population. But the same impact will not be felt among Latinos, as they apply in large numbers to campuses in areas with strongly Latino population.


        All this means that if the Supreme Court rules as expected, banning affirmative action at universities that receive federal funds, very little will change in California.


        But hundreds of universities in other states where affirmative action has long been a legal practice will likely to adopt practices like UC’s, making family wealth and education negative factors in admissions. Essentially, the harder parents work and the more successful they are, the more roadblocks their children will face.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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