- BY Charles Geshekter
- Oct 6, 2020
I am a lifelong Democrat and before retirement, I had taught modern African history at California State University Chico for 40 years. I believe Proposition 16, on California’s November ballot, perpetuates ethnic and gender divisions under the guise of diversity and fairness. I urge my fellow Californians — of all political persuasions — to reject it.
If passed, Proposition 16 would repeal Proposition 209, which prohibits discrimination and preferences in public university admissions, state contracting and public employment. Supporters insist that ethnic minorities and women were harmed by this 1996 amendment to California’s state Constitution, and dismiss data that disprove this fallacy.
Public university officials maintain — falsely — that since Proposition 209 was enacted, admissions and graduation numbers of underrepresented “minorities” (which still include Latinos, who have constituted the state’s largest racial group since 2014) have declined.
In reality, the number of Black and Hispanic students at the University of California and CSU rose significantly between 2000 and 2018. The elimination of racial preferences in admissions drew underrepresented minority students away, only from the two most competitive campuses (Berkeley and UCLA) and into other campuses of the UC system.
The increased success of non-white students graduating with a baccalaureate degree occurred when they attended a university that matched their academic background. To encourage students to matriculate into universities for which they are unprepared is a disservice to them. Ironically, that is the exact goal of Proposition 16 supporters, who think that admissions should be granted based on racial status instead of scholastic achievement.
Diverse statistics show the progression of UC and CSU enrollment and graduation numbers over the past 22 years:
- The number of Black baccalaureate graduates from the UC system rose from 1,152 in 2007 to 2,061 in 2018, a 79 percent jump.
- The number of Black graduates from Berkeley rose by 46 percent over that same period, from 185 to 271. The increase at UCLA was 63 percent, from 239 to 390.
- The number of Hispanic graduates from the UC system spiked from 3,984 in 1999 to 12,692 in 2018, a jump of 219 percent.
- Across the CSU system, 15,775 Latino students were admitted in 1998; 10 years later that number had increased to 58,389, a 270 percent increase.
The top research institutions are not the only places to receive a sound education. Prop 16 attempts to remedy a problem that doesn’t exist.
The 23-campus CSU system is crucial to California’s public higher education system. It enrolls 482,000 students each year, with more than 130,000 annual graduates reflecting a broad cross-section of ethnic, racial and gender cohorts. The UC and CSU systems promote educational practices that support everyone’s academic achievement. Data from both university systems show that the numbers of baccalaureate graduates from historically underrepresented ethnicities increased significantly since the implementation of Proposition 209.
The data may never persuade the aggressive supporters of backward-looking Proposition 16, but they refute the false claim that the current California Constitution, with Proposition 209’s race neutrality, jeopardizes the academic and career paths of Latinos and ethnic minorities.
Proposition 16 promotes a return to a racial and ethnic spoils system that teaches students to label themselves and others as the oppressed or the oppressors. In this realm, no competition is fiercer than the struggle over oppression credentials. Proposition 16 accepts and promotes this disturbing ideology and would entrench skin color and ethnicity as decisive factors throughout university life.
Proposition 16 reverses Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s American dream. It suggests that one’s skin color does matter more than achievement. This regressive mentality assumes that Black, Asian, Latino or white students’ merit rewards or penalties based on surnames or racial categories.
California education under Proposition 209 has been a success story. Ours is a state of enterprise and equality among all colors and creeds. Until the Prop 16 promoters can accept this, they will remain stubbornly unable to join the celebration of success, or to offer realistic reforms to address existing flaws.
This backward-looking attitude has no place in our state, nor should it have a place in our state’s constitution. I urge my fellow Californians of all backgrounds and political persuasions to join me in voting No on Proposition 16.
Charles Geshekter, Ph.D., is emeritus professor of history at California State University, Chico. He earned his PhD. from UCLA and his master’s degree from Howard University.