Ethnic Studies Statement on Proposition 54 (2003)

The Department of Ethnic Studies focuses on the fundamental theoretical and political questions regarding the social construction of categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nation. We have dedicated ourselves to studying these issues in a comparative, relational, and multidisciplinary fashion in order to critically analyze questions of power and social justice.

Proposition 54 will compromise three fundamental commitments that the U.C. system has made to the citizens of California: 1) to provide information to the public in order to make possible evaluation of the University and its operation; 2) to promote and guard the freedom of intellectual exchange governing all teaching and research activities performed by the University; 3) and to achieve and maintain the highest standards of academic excellence.

Restriction of publicly available U.C. data

At present, the University of California must comply with a number of Federal affirmative action regulations in order to qualify for Federal grants, contract, and other financial programs. The initiative exempts these data gathering and reporting requirements [Sec. 32 (i)], and this exemption would presumably allow the U.C. campuses to continue to develop and maintain a written affirmative action plan covering staff, faculty, and other academic employees. U.C. campuses currently fulfill Federal reporting requirements by the collection of racial/ethnic statistics on employees and new appointees and may also be exempted under . To the extent that derivation of state level availability pool figures depends upon racial breakdowns of UC degree recipients, collection of these data might be allowable as well. Finally, at present, participation in Federal financial aid programs obliges UC to assemble statistics on the racial composition of the enrolled student body.

However, Federal regulations do not mandate that the University collect information on the racial and ethnic composition of applicants and admittees, and the gathering or reporting of this information is specifically prohibited in the initiative [Sec. 32 (a), (d), and (k)], unless specifically exempted by a 2/3 vote of both houses of the California legislature [Sec. 32 (b)].

In this regard, Proposition 54 seeks to prohibit the State of California from the voluntary collection of data on the race and ethnicity of its own citizens. As a public institution, UCSD has an obligation to ensure that all Californians have fair and equitable access to its campus and its benefits. Forcing the University to cease to collect data on the race and ethnicity of applicants and admittees to U.C. campuses deprives the public of the information needed to assess fully the equitable operation of the mechanism that determines the makeup of the U.C. student body, a process that has already been affected by restrictions on the use of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions brought by the passage of Proposition 209. The prohibition against collection of such information would impede equally the enforcement of State anti-discrimination laws, and enforcement of State Proposition 209, which prohibits discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race and ethnicity in university admissions and all other aspects of University operations.

Compromise of academic freedom

Proposition 54 places the University of California in the position of making unavailable to the citizens of California, whose tax dollars provide a substantial share of it operating funds, information that would allow for the public evaluation of admissions policies and outcomes on the basis of race and ethnicity. The issue of equitable access to the U.C. system though the admissions process has always been a matter of vigorous public debate, debate which has only increased as a result of the passage of Proposition 209. As a matter of principle, the University of California should oppose any attempt to restrict or prohibit areas of research or the free exchange of intellectual ideas.

The language of demonstrates its intent to restrict or prohibit certain kinds of research precisely in order to obscure the effect of common race/ethnicity-based practices and policies. Section 32 (g) allows “law enforcement officers, while carrying out their law enforcement duties,” to describe “particular persons in otherwise lawful ways”. While permitting law enforcement to describe people by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin in the performance of their duty, the same clause effectively prohibits them or their employers [Sec. 32 (k)] from collecting data on this practice. The initiative prohibits any state official or agency from requiring entities that use race, ethnicity, color, or national origin to classify individuals “to maintain records that track individuals on the basis of said classifications”. While specifically allowing classifications by race and ethnicity in practice, the initiative denies potential researchers access to data collected by law enforcement agencies that would allow them to assess public issues such as Police profiling on the basis of race and ethnicity.

Other exemptions in the initiative, such as that for “[o[therwise lawful classification of medical research subjects and patients” effectively establish within the University of California classifications of areas of knowledge subject to research into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” categories on the basis of whether they depend on data voluntarily collected by the state or its agencies that report information by race, ethnicity, or national origin. In an e-mail message sent on 27 March 2002 to U.C. Academic Senate Chair Chand R. Viswanathan, U.C. Regent Ward Connerly explained that, [a]s one of the proponents of the initiative, I specifically wanted to ensure that legitimate areas of research could be conducted, assuming the passage of [Proposition 54 ].” Since the passage of Proposition 54 would hamper any research that depended on current data based on “separating, sorting, or organizing by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin” [Sec. 32 (c)] collected, assembled, or contracted by the State of California, the effect of the initiative would be to make these areas of U.C. research “illegitimate”.

Although Regent Connerly’s communication of 27 March 2002 claimed that “research that takes place in the classroom or that is conducted by a member of the faculty is not subject to Proposition 54’s definition of ‘public education,’” which is in the operative clause (Section a) of Proposition 54 , we remain concerned that such assurances are not reflected in the actual language of the initiative. In fact, the combination of Sec. 32 (a) “in the operation of public education” and (k) “‘state’ shall include …public university system, including the University of California”, leaves open the interpretation that the initiative prohibits faculty, employees of the State of California, from “classifying”, that is “separating, sorting or organizing by race ethnicity, color or national origin including, but not limited to, inquiring, profiling, or collecting data on government forms.” [Sec. 32 (c)].

Regardless how individuals feel about the merit and relevance of any particular research produced by U.C. faculty members, researchers, or graduate students, the future of lines of academic inquiry and areas of legitimate research should not hinge on an eventual judicial interpretation of whether the meaning of the terms used in the initiative cover faculty duties as a part of their employment by the state. We should oppose any policy that compromises this public educational institution’s freedom to explore any and all avenues academic inquiry and areas of knowledge.

Elimination of Social Science perspectives from Public Policy arena

Over the last century, significant scholarship within the disciplines of Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, and History have developed around concerns for the way in which racial and ethnic processes have affected all dimensions of U.S. society and culture. Studies that use precisely the kinds of data prohibited by Proposition 54 have figured crucially in most important legal decisions and public policies (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education [1954], Welfare Reform [1996]).

Research that uses the best available scientific data analysis to comprehend the structure and processes of America’s multiethnic/multiracial society is fatally threatened by the amendment to the California constitution embodied in Proposition 54. Rather than investigating in order to critically analyze questions concerning the distribution of power and aspiration for social justice, social science researchers are told by Proposition 54 that their work is unnecessary, that the important questions have been answered, and that all critical problems are already resolved. The initiative, which purports to protect California citizens from arbitrary government classification by race, serves instead to use the power of the state to hide information that its citizens need in order to participate democratically and to advocate for equity and social justice in California and elsewhere.


1 Comment

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One response to “Ethnic Studies Statement on Proposition 54 (2003)

  1. Very nice article, I’m glad to be a reader.

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