SACRAMENTO — Community college authorities scrambled Wednesday to check out the complaint of a student who says she was kicked out of an English class at San Bernardino Valley College solely because she is not an African American, the group for whom the class was designed.
According to a news release issued by a conservative legal foundation, Janice Camarena said: "I couldn't believe my ears when the English instructor asked me to leave the classroom because I was not black." Camarena was not available for comment Wednesday but is scheduled to appear at a news conference today sponsored by opponents of affirmative action programs.
Officials at the college would not comment on the charge, but state Community Colleges Chancellor David Mertes in Sacramento said there are certain remedial classes designed to assist minorities who need special attention that he believes are not open to others. But he said the same instruction is available to everyone in other classes.
Camarena's appearance is sponsored by the Pacific Legal Foundation and hosted by Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chico), who is advocating a state constitutional amendment to abolish preferences in minority hiring, contracting and college admissions in California. A proposed ballot initiative with similar aims, endorsed recently by Gov. Pete Wilson, has heated up the controversy over affirmative action and prompted anecdotal evidence of alleged unfairness.
Mertes said he was trying to obtain the facts in the Camarena case but said the Pacific Legal Foundation refused to tell him where the incident had occurred. Mertes said it took two days of investigations by his staff to learn that Camarena was a student at the San Bernardino school.
A spokesman for Valley College President Donald Singer said officials only learned of Camarena's allegations on Wednesday and were still investigating.
Pacific Legal Foundation said in a statement that Camarena was denied a place in an English 101 class for the spring semester under a statewide program offering tutoring and counseling to African American and Latino students "to the exclusion of all others." The foundation said its lawyers would mount a "major challenge to this state-sponsored racial segregation."
In an interview, Mertes said there are programs specifically for African American and Latino students in need of remedial courses to help them gain admittance to the University of California. He said those groups are traditionally underrepresented in the state's university student population.
Mertes said the success of the programs is evident from the improved transfer rates of minority students from community colleges to UC schools. For students needing extra help who are not blacks or Latinos, there are parallel courses that produce similar results, he said.
The Pacific Legal Foundation said the programs that discriminate are co-sponsored by UC and the community colleges. UC spokesman Mike Alva said the university was not associated with the program from which Camarena said she was excluded. He added that the program for Latinos accepts anyone who wishes to attend and was seeking a retraction from the foundation.
Mertes said he was still getting the exact language of the law, but he believed that under the program for African Americans and Latinos, a campus "can have a class with just those students in it. But if there is an English 101 class as part of those programs, there would be other sections (of that course) open to other students."
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), a staunch defender of affirmative action programs, said in Washington when told of Camarena's accusation: "That's an absolutely stupid move by any school that did that."
Times staff writer James Bornemeier contributed to this report from Washington.