Memo to universities: The public dislikes collegiate racial preferences

By: | November 17, 2020

Two stories in the last few weeks lead me to return to the topic of race on college campuses. On Election Day, the people of California soundly voted (56.8%) against Proposition 16, a measure that would have repealed Proposition 209 passed by California voters in 1996. Prop 209, in turn, used language taken from landmark 1960s federal civil rights legislation, essentially banning any preferences or negative assessments of individuals in college admissions, employment, or contracting based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

The California vote is remarkable in many regards, as recounted at a National Association of Scholars webinar recently by Gail Heriot, professor of law at the University of San Diego, also the co-chair of both the groups opposing Prop 16 as well as that promoting the original Prop 209. She is also a longtime member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

The highly progressive California Assembly approved putting Prop 16 on the ballot by a lopsided 60 to 14 vote. The California Senate strongly assented, 30 to 10. Governor Gavin Newsom endorsed it. The Regents of the University of California urged passage, as did the huge California State University System, not to mention virtually all prominent newspapers. To assure victory, the proponents of the measure spent a stunning $22 million promoting Proposition 16, vastly more than the opponents, running scare ads claiming that opponents were white racial extremists.

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