Student coalition, chancellor urge overturn of Prop. 209

A multicultural student coalition that includes students from UC Berkeley is calling for the repeal of Proposition 209, which outlawed affirmative action programs in the state’s public agencies. Chancellor Birgeneau said he is giving his “full personal support” to the group’s initiative to promote racial equality in public higher education in California.

A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals met this morning (Monday, Feb. 13) over the latest challenge to the proposition, which was approved by voters in 1996. No decisions were rendered, and the three judges suggested that the plaintiffs – whose lawsuit contests the part of the measure that bans affirmative action for minority students applying to UC campuses – ask the court to reconsider the case with a larger, 11-judge panel.

But the student coalition, which plans to hold a 3:30 p.m. press conference at the campus’s César E. Chávez Student Center today, said it has only begun its efforts to promote the need for diversity in the UC system. In a press release, the group stated that Prop. 209 “has been the primary contributor toward the dwindling population of students of color in higher education. The lack of diversity has serious implications for the future of this state and current experiences in the life of students…We call for the repeal of Proposition 209.”

Salih Mahammad, president of the Black Student Union at UC Berkeley, said that if the court doesn’t take responsibility for the lack of racial diversity in higher education, “then elected officials and the Board of Regents must come to the table to dialogue and figure out a way to increase diversity in the UC system.”

Muhammad said the coalition also includes students from other UC Berkeley groups, including MEChA and CalSERVE, as well as students from UCLA and Bay Area high schools.

Chancellor Birgeneau issued the following statement that will be read at the press conference:

“I want to give my full personal support to the initiative by the coalition of underrepresented students of color to promote racial equality in public higher education in California. At a time when the California economy is suffering and, ironically, firms in Silicon Valley report that they are unable to hire enough qualified employees, we must be allowed to access the entire talent pool. Prop 209 has made this impossible. At universities like Berkeley, we strive to achieve a student body that is reflective of today’s global society and can best prepare the global leaders of tomorrow. Diversity and excellence go hand in hand in higher education, and a diverse community can also use its strengths to reduce inequality. Prop. 209 hinders this as well.

Whether we like it or not, racial disparities remain a reality in Californian society. While Prop 209 states that the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment, on the basis of race in public education, in my view, it is discriminatory not to be allowed to take into account the effects of racial inequality on individuals of color in evaluating their merit. The playing field will really only be level when Prop. 209 is repealed. I urge you to overturn Prop. 209.”

Said Muhammad, “We are very appreciative to have a chancellor willing to stand on the side of students on such sensitive issues such as diversity in higher education.”