Disadvantaged, Women-Owned Firms Could Be Affected by the New
by Patricia McBroom
The recent decision by the UC Board of Regents to remove race, ethnicity and gender from consideration in the hiring and contracting at the University of California will not impact the university's affirmative action hiring obligations, which are subject to federal guidelines.
But it could have major effects on Berkeley's robust program to contract with disadvantaged and women-owned companies for a portion of its $200 million per year business in purchasing and construction.
The business contracting program may be vulnerable, although any changes in operation are frozen pending a review by the Office of the President, according to Trudy Tuan, the campus's director of the Office of Materiel Management.
At the moment, about 20 percent of the dollars that go to independent companies are awarded to disadvantaged and women-owned businesses through a seven-year program to ensure equal opportunity. Disadvantaged firms refers to companies owned by groups that historically have been socially and economically disadvantaged, which includes black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and multi-ethnic groups that could include whites.
The Office of the President has asked campus directors not to dismantle or change their programs until a full evaluation has been made and new policies implemented in light of the regents' decision.
But the program is susceptible to change, said Tuan. About 80 percent of its contracting money comes from private or state sources; only 20 percent is subject to federal guidelines. Moreover, California rules requiring equal opportunity in state government do not legally apply to UC, according to Tuan.
The university has voluntarily complied with the state's numerical goals on affirmative action for the past six years, and that voluntary compliance could be withdrawn, she said.
By contrast, employment decisions on campus are governed by different rules, according to Alice Gregory, director of human resources.
Academic, staff and executive positions are all filled in the context of federal guidelines requiring "good faith" efforts to diversify along racial, ethnic and gender lines, said Gregory.
She said racial preferences are not given at Berkeley, but if two candidates are equally qualified and if a pattern of underrepresentation exists in a given job category, then managers are encouraged to make the affirmative action choice. Ultimately, however, it is the hiring manager's decision. No one is required to make an affirmative action choice, she said.