The Continuing Debate Over Affirmative Action

Graduate School of Public Policy Invites the Pros, Cons to Air Their Differences

by Fernando Quintero

A panel discussion April 14 at the Graduate School of Public Policy featuring Tom Wood, co-author of the California Civil Rights Initiative and a Berkeley alumnus, underscored the "clash of fundamental values" in the current debate over affirmative action.

The event, sponsored by the graduate school and Public Policy Students of Color, addressed public policy implications of Wood's proposed amendment aimed at dismantling state affirmative action programs.

The other panelists were David Vogel, professor of business and public policy; Pedro Noguera, assistant professor of social and cultural studies in education; and Carmen Estrada, director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at the Office of the President. Patrick Hayashi, associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment, served as moderator.

"If you're against the Civil Rights Initiative, you're in favor of discrimination," said Wood, who once taught religion and philosophy at California State University, Fresno. "Start with the polling date. The majority of voters want to see an end to preferential treatment.

The Civil Rights Initiative gives the American public what it wants," he said. It would prohibit sate and local governments from granting preferential treatment to any group or individual using sex, race, color, ethnicity or national origin as a criterion for hiring, promoting, granting, admission to college or selecting public contractors.

Wood added that about half of all women, African-American and Latino voters in California support the proposal, according to recent Field and New York Times polls. He denied "the canard that the initiative is a manifestation of white male backlash."

Vogel, a Wood supporter, said reports of resentment among white men over their perceived loss of social, economic and political power to women and minorities in an ailing economy are exaggerated.

"There are already many blacks in entertainment and sports. White people don't resent them in these institutions," he said. "The real issue is all people should be treated the same."

Wood said the goal of his proposal was to even the playing field. Noguera argued there was no such thing.

"The Civil Rights Initiative ignores the inequality that exists in our society," he said. "This is a society based on racial privilege in favor of whites," he said. "The practice of discrimination is ingrained."

Noguera said white males own, control or dominate all sectors of public and private industry and cited a recent report that showed 97 percent of senior managers in Fortune 500 companies are white men.

"We need Affirmative Action because we need proof that goes beyond commitment to non-discrimination," he said.

Estrada said affirmative action is often misunderstood as preference based on race or sex. "More often, it consists of outreach and recruitment to eliminate the effects of past discrimination and add diversity," she said.

"Since the University of California is a public institution that serves the people of the state, and with the population of the state expected to be more than half non-white by the close of the decade, a balanced student body should be our major goal."


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