Editorial, Issue 7: Affirmative action slipping away


The end of May is a time of pride and accomplishment. Many Santa Rosa Junior College students will graduate May 24, ready to move on, whether to pursue careers with their associate’s degree or transfer to another university.

There’s another landmark occasion just a week prior to graduation: the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. This Supreme Court decision is widely credited with giving underrepresented minorities an opportunity to receive a quality state-school education, and May 17 should be a proud day for civil rights.

Too bad Brown v. Board hasn’t had any legal standing in California for nearly a decade.

Ever at the forefront of pushing the legal envelope, Californians voted Proposition 209 into effect in November 1996, amending the state’s constitution so that state institutions can no longer consider factors like gender, race or ethnicity. This law applies to both student admissions and faculty hirings at the University of California.
Laws like Prop 209 have noble intentions; in a fair world, people should get in to college on their own academic merit, disregarding anything else.

On April 22, another Supreme Court decision upheld a Michigan ballot initiative that created the same effect at Michigan’s state-run colleges. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, cited the UC system and Prop 209 as a story of how these kinds of anti-affirmative action laws still allow for a diverse learning environment. Schuette claimed that in the years after the proposition passed, GPAs rose and graduation rates increased for the black and Latino students.

Schuette’s interpretation of the numbers rather aggravated the University of California’s president and board of chancellors. They filed a brief refuting his assertions with data showing an even greater increase in minority graduation rates prior Schuette’s narrow timeframe. Likewise, the data shows that while black and Latino GPAs have risen, it’s as part of a larger trend across the student body – and they’re still at a lower average than the GPAs of white and Asian-American students.

The Oak Leaf cannot help but echo the bafflement and regret evident in Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s dissent against the six-member majority ruling in the Michigan case when she wrote that the Supreme Court’s decision “eviscerates an important strand of our equal protection jurisprudence.”

Yes, in a fair world, people will be weighed on their own merit.

But the American education system has historically created inferior learning environments for minority students through segregation, resulting in a world where the overwhelming predictor of SAT success is parental income, and black prisoners make up 37.2 percent of the U.S. prison population while black students make up 15 percent of U.S. college students.

Schools in the 1950s had to be forced into providing minority students equal opportunities for quality education through Brown v. Board.

Actions like Prop 209 and the Supreme Court’s ruling undo that work. If this continues, we’ll find ourselves with a two-tiered educational system split between the haves and have-nots.