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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Repealing Prop 209 - 3 - Analysis

California's Proposition 16
Post Three on Prop 16

My Analysis

Summary California Proposition 209, passed in 1996, was modeled on the landmark Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Both outlawed consideration of race or gender in employment and college admissions.  The California Assembly bill ACA-5 that became Proposition 16 puts a repeal of prop 209 before the voters in 2020.  All my life, I have worked to end racism and for that reason I am opposed to repealing Prop 209.

Civil Rights Act of 1964
"All Americans Urged to Curb Injustice"

President Lyndon Johnson signs the landmark Civil Rights Act
July 2, 1964

A majority of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Whites say race and gender should not be considered in college admissions.  This majority has increased over the years suggesting the repeal of Prop 209 is likely to fail.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that Affirmative Action is allowed under the Civil Rights Act.  What is not allowed are "quotas".  Repealing Prop 209 would roll back the progress that has been made in advancing civil rights.  It will inevitably result in quotas for work, college admissions, and government contracts.  It will ensconce in law preferential treatment based on race.  That is the very definition of racism.

The problem that needs fixing is not admissions - that's easy, just let everyone in.  The real problem is graduation. African-Americans college dropout rates are double that of Whites and Asians.  That is a much harder problem to tackle and repealing Prop 209 will do nothing to help that.

27% of African-Americans Drop out of UCs vs 12% of Asians, 15% of Whites

If Prop 209 is repealed, the first regulation looking even remotely like a quota will end up in front of the most conservative Supreme Court in generations and likely be overturned.  Restrictions on "affirmative action" will be further tightened.

Bottom line, this is a feel-good attempt at a quick fix, which, at best does nothing, and could make things worse.

Many people are infuriated and greatly pained by the attempt to bring back the bad old days of quotas based on race ("race" is a social construct, not a scientific term).  Because their college attendance and graduation rates are above that of other groups, Asian-Americans will be the ones to be most discriminated against if racial quotas are reintroduced.

Repealing Prop 209 will reintroduce quotas based on something as superficial as appearance, about which no can do anything.  This will only revive anti-Asian prejudice when instead we should be striving to achieve the American Dream of equal opportunity for all.

We have a sad history in California of Anti-Asian prejudice.  The Asian quotas for UC admissions that prevailed before 209 passed will likely come back.

Satsuki Ina as a girl with her brother, Kiyoshi, and mother, Shizuko at Tule Lake internment camp for Japanese Americans in 1945

This would create the absurdity of children of Asian hairdressers or retail clerks being limited in their opportunity while children of African-Americans and Hispanic lawyers and doctors get favored treatment.  This is called racism and we need to end it.

Chinese Exclusion Pamphlet
Published 1902 by the American Federation of Labor

Anti-Asian racism goes back a long way.  In 1871, Los Angeles had one of the largest single lynchings in US history.  This was later followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

College attendance rates for African-American and Hispanic HS graduates have increased to that of white students.  That is great!  What is not great is graduation rates.  At a time when funding to increase graduation rates are being cut, this massive distraction is brought up to divide people when they should be working together so all people can be part of an inclusionary America.

African-American & Hispanic UC Graduation Rates
Lower graduation rates (Purple bars)
More Years to Graduate (Red bars)
27% of African-Americans drop out vs 15% of Whites
A Real problem repealing prop 209 will not fix.
From data tables available at:

Repealing prop 209 will do nothing to solve the real problems facing minorities in California.  More funding for programs that improve graduation rates is needed.  

If ACA-5 passes, it will split the voters of California at a critical economic and political time.  The motivation is hard to grasp - is it intended to distract voters from the real problems we face?  When tens of $Billions are being spent on high speed rail with it's never-ending cost-overruns, when we have mass unemployment, rising homelessness, and cutbacks in critical school funding, the legislature brings up this?

$BILLIONS for High Speed Rail
Funding Cuts for Schools and Colleges

Letting in students to schools where inadequate high school preparation puts them at a disadvantage sets them up to fail.  This wastes years of their life, and often lowers their self-esteem.  Those setting out to be engineers often drop out when trying to compete against those coming from the most competitive HS environments.  Or, they change majors to something like "ethnic studies" with low employability after graduating.

The attempt to repeal an amendment based on the Landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 will be on the national stage.  The attempt to repeal prop 209 could decide which party controls congress and the presidency.

Why Say Anything?

This is a real political hot-button, a divisive wedge issue, and all my friends told me to avoid it.  Whatever I say, they assured me, will be turned against me.  Simply because it is such a hot-button topic, I feel I need to explain my views.  "Leadership" is rather a vague concept, but I am quite sure it doesn't mean hiding under the covers when a controversial issue comes up.  It also doesn't mean taking the expedient way of going with the media-hyped message of the day.


First of all, from a strictly practical, results-based perspective (realpolitik) viewpoint, this seems like an odd thing to raise at this particular time.  In the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, with a likely resurgence in Fall (right before the election), and with an economy that is the worst in living memory, the legislature wants to bring up a divisive issue like this?

It has come up before in the legislature and not made its way to a public vote, probably because some felt Prop 209 was correct and should stand, while others felt it wasn't the right time.  If it goes to the public and gets defeated, that will likely kill any possibility of Prop 209 ever being repealed.  Those wanting to repeal Prop 209, should make sure to choose the right time.


Why now?  My guess is that with the re-awakening of many young people's sense of racial injustice over the Floyd case, and the changing demographics of California - more minorities - those wanting to repeal Prop 209 feel that this is the right time.  There is also a wide and visceral dislike of President Trump among some in California.  Add in a likely woman vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic side, and you can envision a large turnout of those most likely to support repealing 209.

Maybe.  Here's what can go wrong.

Covid-19 resurges in Fall, everyone has to return to "Shelter In Place", the economy tanks again.  The young and economically disadvantaged - the most supportive of repeal - will probably not show up in the numbers required.  California is a deep blue state, so regardless of how one feels about President Trump, it is hard to imagine him winning here.  So there you are, looking for a job, maybe your first job out of school, you can't get out of the house, President Trump has no hope in California - do you really care about voting to repeal a proposition which has been around for 24 years?


I think Proposition 209 expressed what people really want - a situation where only merit matters, not sex, coloring, or ethnic heritage.  As seen below, majorities in all groups - including African-Americans and Hispanic - do not want race considered in college admissions as seen in the 2019 poll shown below:

From Pew Poll, Jan.-Feb. 2019

In fact, the percentages against racial preferences actually increased in 2019 from an almost identical poll in 2013, 6 years earlier.  African-Americans for considering race in admissions declined from 48% to 38%.  Hispanics preferring merit alone increased from 59% to 62%.  See below:
Gallup Poll "Take race into account in college admissions?"

This does not mean Americans think past injustices don't matter.  In a 2014 Pew Poll, 63% favored "affirmative action ... to increase the number of African-Americans and minority students on college campuses".  The wording is important.  Affirmatively ensuring that African-Americans and minorities have a chance is what people want.  But if there are a limited number of slots open, do they want something that limits other groups?  Based on the previous polls, probably not.

US Supreme Court Rulings

The US Supreme Court cases of Bakke, Grutter vs Bollinger, and Fisher, established that quotas are unconstitutional, but also that "race", sex, ethnic heritage, etc, can be considered in the interests of providing a diverse work and educational environment.  In the Fisher case (2003), Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote "that the Constitution 'does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.'"

There are various ways colleges are already considering the disadvantaged.  In Texas, at the time of the Fisher case, the UT automatically admitted the top 10% from every high school.  (The UCs do the same for 9%, CSUs for 30%).  Since high schools are diverse, with educational opportunities differing by school resources and environments, this guarantees a diverse student body and gives opportunity to the historically disadvantaged.  

If prop 209 is repealed, any attempt to implement race-based preferences will quickly end up before the US Supreme Court.  The current court is pretty conservative.  It may very well make it even harder to make adjustments based on diversity.

The Right Problem?

We can't solve the problem if we can't identify it.  We will make things worse if we solve one problem only to cause more problems.  The problem is not getting African-Americans and minorities into UCs.  That is easy - just rubber stamp admissions.  The real problem is making sure they succeed in any college once they get in.  Letting in minorities who then fail doesn't help those that need it.

The following chart shows the graduation status of students by race and ethnicity:

African-American & Hispanic College Completion
Less than Other Groups
Green bars show percentage who didn't graduate & are no longer enrolled i.e., dropped out.

What we see above is that the problem is not admissions but graduation.

45% of African-Americans drop out of College, vs 27% of Whites, and 20% of Asians
Fix that problem!

You will notice that highest completion rates are among Asians.  Is that because of a cultural ethic of hard work and reward postponement?  Maybe.  It might also be due to other more immediate social factors such as family structure.  The following chart shows the prevalence of single-parent families among the same ethnic groups:

Percent of Children in Single Parent Households
by Major Group

What you should notice is that the college drop-out rate correlates very strongly with the percentage of single-parent households.  Would letting someone into a UC help them if they are worried about their mother and siblings being able to pay the rent?  Of course not.

We are seeing progress in minority educational attainment in high school with drop out rates cut in half or more among African-Americans and Hispanics ... (click on graph below to enlarge)

In the chart below, we see the percentage of white, black, and hispanic college enrollment rates are equal at this point.  Repealing Prop 209 is supposedly intended to get more African-Americans and hispanics into college. With college admissions already equal this is attempting to fix a problem that doesn't exist. (Click chart to enlarge):

As seen below, Latino college enrollment was 35% in California State Universities in 2013.


This was identical to Latino college enrollment rates around the country, as seen in a previous chart, including the many states where something like Prop 209 does not apply.

The real problem, which we showed earlier, is graduation rates.  Repealing prop 209 won't fix that.  Letting more African-Americans or Hispanics into more selective colleges isn't doing any good if they don't succeed.  The following graph shows that nation-wide 6-year graduation rates were 62% for whites vs. 40% for Blacks in 2005.

Chart above from:

This shows up in the college graduation gap shown below.  On the one hand it is encouraging that more Blacks are graduating college, and the percentage increase is large, (from about 2% to around 20% - a 10X improvement!)  But, the graduation gap with whites is increasing.  It is the graduation rate which needs fixing, not the admissions rate!  Repealing prop 209 will do nothing to fix the real problem.

What is needed are comprehensive programs to help minority families stay together, and to help those entering college to finish.  Far too much emphasis is put on enrollment rates, and not enough on graduation rates.

What Will Happen?

If the repeal of prop 209 is on the ballot at the same time the state is announcing cuts in student aid, hikes in tuition, while unemployment stays in double digits, divisions will worsen.  Resentment will build.  President Trump will have a field day with ads pointing to California and the possible repeal of 209.  It might help put him over the top in Florida and Michigan.


If prop 209 is repealed what changes will we see?  Blacks and Hispanics that would have gone to UC-Santa Cruz instead go to UCLA.  Those that might have gone to San Jose State will go to UC-Santa Cruz.  No one will ever know if they could have gotten in without special treatment in the admissions process.  They won't know themselves.  Employers and colleagues will believe that they couldn't have. 

What difference will we see with the large number of Blacks and Hispanics that now go to community college part time while they work to support their family?  What difference will we see in graduation rates?  In both cases no difference.

US Senator Kamala Harris
California's first Black Senator

If ACA-5 passes and is signed, I think it will likely be defeated.  The sense of most people now is that integration and assimilation are working.  They can see Blacks and Hispanics in public office and in business, with advanced degrees in all fields.  There is much more to be done, but repealing prop 209 won't help, and could hurt.


Based on polls, and what is actually happening in colleges and the workplace, we are making progress.  Not as fast as people would like, but progress, nonetheless.  Most people want a fair and just society.  How to get there is the issue.  Repealing Proposition 209 is not really going to help, but it will pit people against each other when they should be working together.  It is like giving a band-aid to a cancer patient.  It looks like it's doing something, but it isn't.

There may be political reasons that ACA has to be passed, but perhaps Governor Newsom can find a reason to postpone it to another year.