Chancellor Tien Speaks On Affirmative Action

Over the past few weeks, several incidents of racist hate mail related to affirmative action have surfaced at Boalt Hall. As you know, Dean Herma Hill Kay and I have strongly denounced this behavior. It has no place on the Berkeley campus. Unfortunately, these incidents illustrate the intense emotions associated with the affirmative action issue, which is at center stage in California and the nation.

It is no accident that this debate surges forth in difficult economic times. The job market is very tight, and as a result, affirmative action policies are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Our campus has become a focal point for this debate because demand for quality higher education is continuing to grow while our capacity to accept students has reached a limit. Hence, more and more students are frustrated as they are denied access to an increasingly scarce public resource. Because Berkeley is known for both its excellence and diversity, it is attracting the attention of the national media covering the issue of affirmative action.

I am writing to you, the faculty and staff, because I feel a moral obligation to share my views on this complex and important issue. As many of you know, as an Asian immigrant, I have been the victim of bigotry in the past. These experiences have forged my own deep commitment to the goals of affirmative action.

When I first became chancellor, I laid out several principles--most prominently, that Berkeley's greatness stems from its excellence and its diversity and I would work to ensure both. To me, excellence and diversity are woven from the same cloth--they are inextricably linked. This is especially true as our shrinking world necessitates greater interaction among races and ethnicities. Berkeley's tradition of producing state, national and world leaders would be short-lived if our students didn't reflect this "real world" diversity. And we wouldn't be doing our job preparing our students for careers in which they will work with many different kinds of people if our own work force did not reflect our commitment to diversity.

California policy makers and our own UC Board of Regents have seen this clearly by mandating policies that require that our university population encompass the cultural, racial, geographical and socioeconomic backgrounds characteristic of Californians.

This visionary approach was endorsed in a recent resolution on affirmative action adopted by the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, which represents faculty on our campus: "The affirmative action programs undertaken by the University of California have had a beneficial effect on the university by making it a more diverse institution in terms of the gender, racial and ethnic makeup of its faculty, students and staff. This work is not yet finished."

Berkeley stands as a model demonstrating that excellence and diversity can be complementary. Every member of the faculty, staff and students has earned a place here. We all contribute to the university's excellence. This is our community and one of which we are justifiably proud. And we must work together to preserve and enhance it.

At the same time, we must remember that our community also values the free exchange of viewpoints, aided by open and intensive inquiry and careful analysis. Indeed, our own affirmative action policies have been, and will continue to be, the subject of such examination and the product of continual refinement to ensure fairness, equity and effectiveness. This is consistent with the regents' current review of affirmative action policies as a whole.

Debate on affirmative action policies, as well as immigration policies raised by the recent passage of Proposition 187, are innately emotional and often divisive. We must not allow this to pull our community apart. We must stand together as a community committed to reasoned and informed debate as the nation confronts once again this important and complex issue.

Finally let me say that times like these can be very painful because this charged emotional environment makes people of color easy marks for hatred and bigotry.

I know that I speak for the campus community when I assure you that what offends you, offends our entire community, and that all persons of goodwill stand together to fight against intolerance, whatever its form.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
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