The recent state audit finding that unqualified students were admitted to the UC system through personal connections and influence is disturbing. Californians are rightfully outraged. A return to affirmative action (Prop 16) should be similarly disturbing. Admitting students to our Universities on any other basis than merit is unjust and wrong.
When I was admitted to UC Berkeley, I was the first in my family to ever attend a UC. My mother never attended college and neither did her parents. Though my maternal grandmother was an extremely gifted student in high school, a world war, life and economics put higher education out of reach. My father’s parents similarly were unable to obtain a higher education, though my grandfather always emphasized its importance. My father attended Chapman College in Orange on a baseball scholarship. Sports opened the door for him.
I only knew one other kid from my town that went to Berkeley. Other than that, I didn’t “know” anyone. It might as well have been on another planet from East Nicolaus, California, where I grew up. If you know Berkeley, it actually is another planet.
There was no affirmative action but my class (‘03) was racially diverse and included people from every background and socio-economic level. The fact of the matter is there were no decreases in the percentages of minority students admitted after Proposition 209 ended race-based admissions in California.
A merit determination ensures equal opportunity and takes into account many different things including grades, SATs, community involvement, and extracurricular activities. I didn’t have the best SAT score, but I had a strong application in other areas. It was enough for a farm boy from rural Northern California to be admitted. I still remember the awe and amazement upon receiving that letter. And I know my story is not the only one. It includes first time Hispanic students who are the children of farm workers. African American students from impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. Southeast Asian students who never heard English spoken at home.
To hear UC Regent Richard Blum dismiss the allegations as “boring” while he was writing letters of support to influence admission for his family members and wealthy colleagues is infuriating to alumni like myself. It also shows how completely out of touch liberal elites at UC have become. Equality of opportunity is a political talking point to be revered in public but not applied to them in private.
To game the admissions system, whether discreetly behind the scenes by the wealthy and connected or more overtly through government sponsored affirmative action, fundamentally robs all Californians of what our university system is supposed to be. It means that someone like me won’t be in that seat in Wheeler Hall because the process was unfairly biased against them.
Together we can send a message to the privileged elites and big government know-betters who seek to manipulate admissions at our California universities. By holding UC to account, from the admissions office all the way to the Board of Regents and voting No on Prop 16, we can restore and preserve our great legacy of educational opportunity for all Californians.
The author is a state assemblyman representing the 3rd District, which encompasses all of Glenn, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba counties as well as portions of Butte and Colusa counties.