Last week Arizona voters passed into law the measure known as Proposition 107, which will disallow considerations of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or nation of origin in public positions, the awarding of public contracts, and in admission to public schools. According to the official language of the recently-passed law, “This state shall not grant preferential treatment to or discriminate against any individual or group on the bases of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” Yet despite the measure passing by with a 3/5 majority, debate still rages as to the implications of the measure on the state, especially in regards to higher education.
Vocal opponents of the measure, including University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, maintain opposition to the ethos of the law. During his annual State of the University Address Wednesday, President Shelton reiterated his disapproval with the measure and his organization’s commitment to continued support for students from traditionally underrepresented segments of the population.
“At the risk of offending some who may have voted for it – and I sincerely mean no personal disrespect – I want to take just a moment to comment on one of the measures from this election, Proposition 107, because it is symbolic of a bigger challenge that we face at the University in this difficult political age. We have been anticipating its passage for some time, and have been working to address a range of issues it will impact,” Shelton said to an audience of several hundred administrators, university staff, and alumni.
According to Dr. Raji Rhys, a Special Adviser to the President on Diversity and Inclusion, the University of Arizona’s status as a premier university could be affected by the passage of Proposition 107. “To remain a world-class public research institution we need the talent and inspiration that comes from a diverse faculty, staff, and student body,” Dr. Rhys said in an email message Friday. He continued, “The diversity of our academic community is key to quality — enriching our research, teaching, and community engagement.”
Diversity has long been a commitment of the University of Arizona. In a July interview with Arizona Public Media, President Shelton stated explicitly that his administration “will continue to increase our diversity,” a goal that some claim will be undermined by the passage of Proposition 107. Statistical analysis of data provided by the UA’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning Support reveals that even with President Shelton’s stated commitment to diversity, the relative portion of the undergraduate population who belong to an ethnic minority group has increased by only 2.9% since 2000.
In contrast, the percentage of students in the University of California system who are ethnic minorities has increased by a much greater margin since the state passed their own measure banning affirmative action and race-based preference in 1996. According to data analysis by Dr. Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine, the percentage of Latino students has risen by nearly 8% since the passage of the California law.
Those critical of the new law fear the measure will limit the accessibility of a college education for Arizona student who are members of ethnic minority groups. “The most influence that we’ll see or the profound impact is probably in the area of graduate and professional education,” said Jeff Millen, associate dean in the College of Education, in an interview with UA News before the election. “At the undergraduate level essentially we admit anyone who is qualified for admission to the U of A, but at the graduate level we have a more competitive, highly selective admissions process. And I do know that in many programs they take race or gender as one of many factors in making decisions.”
Dr. Rhys echoed Dean Millem’s concerns, but did not grant what the influence of ethnicity or gender in UA admissions may have been prior to the passage of this measure. “The UA will abide by the law and within this context, we will maintain our active pursuit of diversity,” Dr. Rhys said, continuing, “The UA does not consider race or gender in admissions.”
President Shelton also denied that the factors outlawed by Proposition 107 have had any affect on admissions considerations. “Indeed, we have never used race or gender as a criterion for admission to the U of A,” Shelton said in his address. However, according to the UA’s most recent Common Data Set[pdf], racial/ethnic status is among nonacademic factors admissions officers consider in admissions decisions.
He continued, “This proposition was just one example of a great challenge that was on display in almost every race in this year’s election, where we saw campaign after campaign designed to divide people, rather than unite them; to play on their fears, rather than inspire their hope.”
“I don’t know where he’s getting that,” said Jen Gratz, Director of Research at the American Civil Rights Institute. “I think it’s interesting given that there is concrete evidence that they use race in admissions, they’re admitted to using race in law school admissions,” Ms. Gratz said, citing a 2008 study [pdf] by the Center for Equal Opportunity that revealed black and Hispanic applicants to the James E Rogers College of Law were more likely to be admitted with lower LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs than other applicants. “It’s policies that give preference to some based on race and discriminate against others that are dividing people,” Gratz said.
“I understand that an employment, contracting, or educational program might be designed to help disadvantaged individuals or new companies or first-generation college students,” said Roger Clegg, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. “But those folks come in all colors and both sexes, so these programs should be open without regard to race, ethnicity, or sex. Proposition 107 would not end these programs, but it would require that they be open without regard to skin color, what country your ancestors came from, or your gender.” In response to President Shelton’s claims, Clegg said, “The supporters of Prop 107 want to stop division according to race, ethnicity, and sex. It is its opponents who want to continue such division and, fortunately, they lost.”
The above is piece is also featured by the Student Free Press Association.