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Prop. 16, Which Would Bring Affirmative Action To California, Continues To Lag At Polls

Students at Gompers Preparatory Academy in San Diego work on a class project....

Credit: Courtesy of National University

Above: Students at Gompers Preparatory Academy in San Diego work on a class project. National University came to Gompers to announced its new initiative called The Teacher Pathway Inclusion Program. April 24, 2019.

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UPDATE: 9:25 p.m., Nov. 3, 2020

Proposition 16, which would affirmative action to public schools and government work, is falling farther behind.

Original Story

California voters are saying no to bringing affirmative action to public schools and government work. In early tabulations, Proposition 16 is behind by 51.5% to 48.5%.

Proposition 16 asks California voters to bring affirmative action back to public schools and government work. The initiative would strike Proposition 209 from the California constitution.

California banned the policy in 1996 by passing Prop. 209, which said public institutions and government work should grant no preferential treatment based on race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

Supporters of Prop. 16 say Prop. 209 made it difficult for public institutions like universities to create programs that were specifically targeted toward recruiting people of color and others from disadvantaged communities.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is the sponsor of Proposition 16.

“I went to grad school because I was a Black student. It was a gap program at UC Los Angeles, and I had one Black professor who nominated me for a Woodrow Wilson fellow,” Weber said.

“I was a struggling student as a freshman and sophomore, but I figured it out and I became an excellent student," Weber said. "They took my race and gender in consideration because they felt they needed more folks of my color in grad school and in universities teaching. That was an affirmative action program for a poor kid like me.”

But while supporters say it would help balance the scales, some critics say it could hurt.

“You can't give preferential treatment to one group without discriminating against another group. What's fair is everyone is treated the same regardless of race,” said Gail Heriot, a professor of law at the University of San Diego and one of the lead donors on the No on Prop. 16 campaign.

“The legislature wants to be able to grant preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. I oppose that. I think that's a dangerous power to give the state government or the universities,' she said.

The University of California system has seen an increase in undergraduate students of color. Since 1999 the percent of Latinos has doubled and the Black population has gone up by just under 1 percentage point.

While it’s true there has been progress for people of color in California, there are still a lot of disparities. For example, while Latinos and Blacks are around 46% of California’s population, they only make up about one-third of the undergrad system.

Opponents of Prop. 16 say affirmative action isn’t necessary, because the work to level the playing field is already happening. In other words, discrimination is not getting worse, it’s been alleviated and continues to go away.

But backers of Prop. 16, such as Weber, say that’s not the case. And while passing the proposition doesn’t mean the work is done, it’s certainly a start.

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