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Professors Call UC Ban on Preferences 'Ill-Advised'

Education: National group says board was motivated by politics, cites lack of shared governance. Foes call report biased.


Completing a five-month investigation into the UC Board of Regents' decision to end race- and gender-based preferences in hiring, contracting and admissions, the nation's largest organization of university professors Wednesday deemed the action "ill-advised" and driven by "political motivation rather than educational concerns."

In a report based on interviews with University of California regents, administrators and faculty, the American Assn. of University Professors concluded that affirmative action should not be abolished at UC until there is a full review by a joint task force comprised of all levels of the university.

"In the absence of sustained and careful consideration of the educational impact both of affirmative action and of the decision to end it, the regents' action--though technically correct--was ill-advised," the report said. "The regents should not implement final rescission of affirmative action until a thorough review of the educational goals and impact of diversity . . . has been conducted."

The report's impact is largely symbolic, in that the association has no authority over the management of UC. But it renews attention to an age-old idea: that UC should be free of political interference and should be governed cooperatively, with decisions shared by trustees, administrators and faculty.

Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University who chaired the eight-member panel that conducted the inquiry, said the group found that "some regents were totally unaware of the concept of shared governance, and this lack of knowledge contributed to the subsequent breakdown in communication and trust."

Equally alarming, the report concluded, was the role played by Gov. Pete Wilson, who championed the affirmative action rollback and made the issue a cornerstone of his ill-fated run for president last year. Wilson's aspirations for higher office, the report concluded, caused affirmative action to be "dealt with in a partisan political manner that appears to have promoted the interest of a particular candidate and party."

California's Constitution is intended to protect UC from political interference, making it independent of the Legislature. Still, the governor is president of the regents and appoints regents to their 12-year terms.

Sean Walsh, a spokesman for the governor, called the report "misguided" in its conclusions and implied that the panel--which included educators from across the country--was biased in favor of affirmative action.

"It is regrettable that our institutions of higher learning wish to perpetuate a system of race and gender discrimination," Walsh said. "California has ended this shameful practice at its universities. The voters will make this the law of the land in November" when they vote on the statewide initiative to ban affirmative action in public employment and contracting and in public education.

Regent Velma Montoya, who voted against abolishing race and gender preferences in admissions but supported a similar ban in hiring and contracting decisions, was one of three regents interviewed by the panel. Told of the panel's conclusions Wednesday, she said she agrees that efforts should be made to avoid partisan political activity in decisions about educational policy, but is not convinced that politics influenced the regents' decision.

Overall, she said, the association's conclusions were less meaningful because the panel, which included several distinguished academics from East Coast institutions, had no Californians.

"I came away thinking, 'Well, who do they think they are?' " she said of her interview with the panel. "They have every right to be concerned about the academic issues . . . and they're very well-meaning, but I would have appreciated a Californian being on [the panel]. It would have given them a better perspective."

Regent Ward Connerly, the sponsor of UC's affirmative action rollback, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But when the association announced its investigation in December, Connerly called the panel "rigged" and said its assessments would have no impact on him.

"My position is as solid as a rock," he said then. "No rigged panel is going to deter me."

UC Berkeley professor Jerome Karabel, who also was interviewed by the panel, praised the group's work. "It does not shrink from reaching crucial conclusions" about shared governance and political interference, he said.

Karabel, who is a co-organizer of the UC faculty's effort to persuade regents to reconsider the affirmative action ban, added: "The regents have embarrassed both the University of California and themselves, and the AAUP report explains why."

But Steven Brint, a UC Riverside professor, said the report's impact probably would be limited unless a majority of regents begins to understand why the faculty feels so strongly about breaches in shared governance.

"Affirmative action is not the issue from the faculty's point of view," Brint said. "I myself am skeptical about many practices on campus related to affirmative action. But the reason that there is so much unity among the faculty [in opposition to the regents' 1995 vote] is that we are concerned about how decisions are made, how much consultation there is."

Brint called the report "a wonderful opportunity for everyone to take a deep breath and reconsider--but I'm not optimistic that that will happen. . . . Perhaps everyone's heels are dug in at this point."

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