LOS ANGELES - Proposition 16 to restore affirmative action is on the ballot in California for November 3, 2020. Affirmative action would allow universities and government offices to factor in someone's race, gender, or ethnicity into hiring, spending and admissions decisions.
Affirmative action was made illegal in California in 1996 when voters approved Proposition 209, which stated the government and public insitutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, introduced the bill that put the issue on the November ballot, citing racial disparities and inequities from the coronavirus pandemic.
Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley from California Community Colleges is in favor of Proposition 16 and spoke with FOX 11.
"Proposition 16 would allow our colleges to engage directly in finding ways to not only attract more diverse students, but provide them the support they need in order to successfully complete college, whether that's a certificate, career certificate, whether that's an associates degree or whether that's a transfer. It's very important to the future of California, the students in the California Community Colleges, the diverse students in the California Community Colleges finish their education and get into the workforce. That's a good thing for all Californians," said Oakley.
Betty Tom Chu, the Honorary Co-Chair for Californians for Equal Rights opposes Proposition 16.
"Californians for Equal Rights does not believe that race is a proper basis for a factor to be used in public education, public contracting and public employment. I, myself have joined "No on Proposition 16" because I'm an octogenarian now and prior to Proposition 209 [from 1996], I not only have observed racism and sexism but I, myself have been a participant in that I was a target, not the doer. That does have a devastating effect when they [students] feel that the color of their skin makes a difference as to who gets in. They are discouraged. They don't work as hard and when we use race as a basis for public college admissions, many of the students then feel that it is unfair and why try," said Chu.
Supporters of Proposition 16 say it would expand equal opportunities to "all Californians and increase access to fair wages, good jobs and quality schools."
"I think this state is very different than it was back then [in 1996 when affirmative action was banned]. I think we've learned that Proposition 209 did not improve the situation for diverse students. It made it more difficult for them and for institutions to reach out to them so I think we've learned a lot. We've come a long way and it is important that we specifically target not just students but also think about how we diversify the classroom, how we diversify our faculty, our staff and how that's important to the learning that occurs at our colleges. This is not about reducing the pie for individuals in California or denying access to one part of California over another. This is about growing the pie. This is about a growing opportunity for students of all backgrounds," said Oakley.
Opponents of Proposition 16 say it would create its own kind of prejudice and the state has already made strides in diversity over the years.
"I think it [California] has changed absolutely in a positive way. There are more women in law school because when I was in law school there were only four women out of 225 students and now the women in law school either are close to 50 percent or in some law schools, exceed 50 percent. Diversity is already being seen in our public education and in our public employment. We do want the minorities to be able to successfully compete to get into the public universities and colleges and it has been shown that under Proposition 209 that it is working particularly among the Asians who are overpopulated, but I don't know of those numbers because sometimes the numbers include the overseas students where their parents pay four years in advance and are donors," said Chu.
Oakley and other supporters say Proposition 16 would help "dismantle systemic racism."
"Proposition 16 will not solve all of the challenges we face with systemic racism but it does allow us tools to begin to deal with the systemic racism that we have seen so clearly displayed on our television screens and we've seen in person in society particularly this year when we've had to deal with the multiple crises that we face as a state and a country. We've clearly seen a spotlight on inequality in California. We've seen for example back in 1996, the University of California admissions, the student population of Black and African Americans was 4 percent. In 2020, it is about 4 percent so we can see a clear spotlight on inequalities that existed," said Oakley.
Chu and other opponents of Proposition 16 believe America is not systematically racist.
"I do see cases of racism here and there, but it is not systemic because I had been a product of racism in my younger days, in not only in college, but also in elementary school and I don't believe that exists now when you go into a school setting and you see the children that are out there playing. If it was systemic racism, the numbers would not have shown any kind of improvement. What is so dangerous is that we are giving this power to California government officials where right now we are essentially a one party state. The Democrats have a majority in power so it would be dependent on the race of the government officials that are in power," said Chu.
Oakley had a message for voters who are undecided on Proposition 16.
"I say vote yes on Proposition 16. This is an opporutnity to engage directly to beginning to tear down the systems of discrimination and the systems of inequality that have existed and that we know exist in California's higher education systems. I'm a native Californian. I was here in this state when we had the debate about Proposition 209 and as a Mexican American, it was a very confusing time being a native of California but also feeling like maybe California didn't really want me and my family to be successful in this state. A lot has happened since then. I've been able to become the Chancellor of California Community Colleges, my kids have attended the UC or the CSU but it's not enough. We need to create better opportunities for all Californians because we have left so many of them behind," said Oakley.
Chu had a message for voters who are undecided on Proposition 16.
"I think that this really affects across racial lines. It affects so many people because it puts the power in the hands of government officials that are currently in office so when you start looking at the numbers of the population then I think that one can assume that really only the Whites either remain in power with giving racial preferences of their own group or it's the Latinos. The Latinos' population has increased beyond that of the Black communities and certainly of the Asian communities. It affects people from preschool because public education starts with preschool all the way through college and then you have public employment which takes on the next phase of their life from public employment all the way through. It can affect retirement benefits. I think that it is very dangerous to start dividing people from the color of their skin to create more hatred in the community, to create a lack of self esteem of individuals in their own racial communities and also more than anything else, it places the power that the government who's in power will grant the racial preference to their own group and leave others out. There's nothing to prevent that," said Chu.
Proposition 16 would not create racial quotas in university admissions because the US Supreme Court banned quotas in 1978.
Supporters of Proposition 16 include California Community Colleges and the California State University, Governor Gavin Newsom, University of California, and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents of Proposition 16 include Californians for Equal Rights, Chinese American Civic Action Alliance, Students for Fair Admissions, and the California Republican Party.
For more information visit CalMatters.