Asians Derail Affirmative Action In California

The express train hurtling to return racial preference admissions to California — in the form of State Constitutional Amendment 5, which if placed on the ballot and approved by voters would have overturned Prop. 209 —has just been derailed by an outburst of opposition from Asian Americans.

The eruption of opposition caught SCA 5’s Democratic sponsors by surprise and caused a crucial three Asian American senators to withdraw their support, depriving the measure of the two thirds senate majority required to place an initiative on the ballot. “Prior to the vote on SCA 5 in the Senate,” Senators Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge, and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote Assembly Speaker and lead sponsor John A. Pérez, “we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts…. As lifelong advocates for the Asian American and other communities,” they added, “we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children.” (Or at least never again, a skeptic might observe.)

The three changed their minds, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, ”when they started hearing from Asian American constituents who feared that giving preferences to African American and Latino students would make it harder for their children to get into competitive University of California campuses.”

Feared? That’s rather like saying Jewish parents in the early 20th century feared that Jewish quotas would make it harder for their children to be admitted to Ivy League schools. Of course lowering admission standards for some students based on race or ethnicity inevitably raises the barrier for those of unpreferred races and ethnicities. And in fact, not just in logic, the passage of Prop. 209 prohibiting racial and ethnic preferential treatment produced a dramatic surge in the admission of Asians to selective California campuses.

In 1997, the last year preferences were still in effect, Asians were 29.8% of those admitted to the University of California system. In the fall of 2010, their proportion had increased to 37.5%. At Berkeley, according to a university fact sheet, the percentage of Asian admits increased from 41.7% in 1997 to 47.1% in 2007. In the most recent data available, statements of intent to register for next fall’s freshman class, Asians will be 46.6% of the entering freshmen at Berkeley, 51.7% at San Diego, and 49% at Irvine (where whites will be only 13.9%).

These numbers should not be surprising. In a major 2005 study of affirmative action, expanded in a 2009 book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade (who supports affirmative action) and his co-authors concluded that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation "Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students, with an acceptance rate rising from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent." (Quoted here, from the article.) Thus what needs to be explained is not the “fear” of Asian parents that preferences to blacks and Hispanics discriminate against Asians — that fear is entirely rational and based on irrefutable evidence — but why it took so long for them to express it, and why they have continued to support Democrats who support policies that discriminate against their own children.