Aff. Action & APAHE Conference

Melissa Ponder (
Mon, 14 Dec 1998 20:52:45 -0800

Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education:
Redefining Merit, Race Relations, and Leadership
>>>1999 APAHE Conference Theme
>>>Radisson Miyako Hotel, San Francisco
>>>March 12-14, 1999
Access to and enrollment patterns in all segments of higher education in
California and across the nation are now undergoing rapid and significant shifts
not seen since the advent of affirmative action policy in the 1960s. Under
affirmative action, institutions of higher education across the U.S., both
public and private, gradually opened their doors to the historically excluded
racial minorities and women and achieved, without compromising academic
excellence, a high degree of equity and diversity never before seen in American
colleges and universities. With the help of various programs, most notably,
early outreach, active recruitment and training, and above all, need-based
financial aid, undergraduate education has reached a relatively high degree of
integration. In fact, colleges and universities, from Berkeley to Michigan,
from Harvard to Stanford, have
embraced diversity as an institutional goal and integral part of liberal
However, the backlash against affirmative action and the push in favor of
meritocracy in the past few years are now threatening to undo the
accomplishments of the past thirty years and to resegregate higher
education within a matter of two to three years. To begin with, the Board
of Regents of the University of California (UC) abolished the affirmative
action policy on July 20, 1995 for its nine campuses and California voters
approved an even more sweeping measure, Proposition 209, in November 1996,
outlawing the use of race in any programs or activities in the state of
California, including those successful programs that helped UC achieve its
diversity and excellence. On the judicial front, the 5th Circuit Court of
Appeals in Texas, in Hopwood vs. the University of Texas, Austin, attempted
in 1996 to overturn the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Bakke vs. the
University of California by holding "any consideration of race or ethnicity
by the (UT) law school for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body
is not a compelling interest under the 14th Amendment." Since then, several
states and the U.S. Congress have also been attempting to do the same
thing. Meritocracy, thus far ill-defined and largely misunderstood, now
reigns supreme in public institutions and in whose name privilege is being
reinstated and fairness eliminated.
As public universities lose the affirmative action tool for admission and
private universities continue to use the same tool to admit underrepresented
minorities and women, four alarming trends are likely to
emerge. First, public research universities in California, like UC, will
become predominantly white and Asian American students, with Asian Americans
eventually outnumbering whites, within three years while elite
private colleges ironically become defenders of diversity. Secondly, as
the California population and the cost of higher education continue to rise
each year, more and more lower middle-class and poor white and Asian
American students will pursue less expensive and more accessible higher
education in the 24 campuses of the CSU, forcing more and more working
class students of all races to seek higher education through the 106
community colleges. Thirdly, the community colleges throughout California
will be called upon to provide more rigorous basic education to a larger
number of immigrant and poor students and to help prepare them for
technology-related and service jobs for the changing California economy.
Lastly, as the cost of private higher education continues to escalate each
year, private colleges and universities will come under increasing pressure
to reduce their commitment to affirmative action for poor and minority
students and to increase the admission of less competitive middle-class
students who can afford to pay the higher tuition.
On the surface, Asian Americans appear to be the immediate winners of the rapid
and systemic shift taking place in higher education. The preliminary admissions
results for Fall 1998 undergraduate programs of the University of California
already indicated a very significant drop in the number of underrepresented
minority students offered admissions. Other than UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and
UC Santa Cruz, where the numbers of
underrepresented minorities actually rose, the projected enrollment for the
UC campuses in Fall 1998 is expected to drop substantially. On the other
hand, the admission of Asian American applicants in all UC campuses is
increasing and if the current trends persist, by year 2002, all
undergraduate programs in UC will most likely have more than 50% Asian
American students. To a lesser extent, the CSU system too will also see a
gradual increase in Asian American enrollment.
If and when Asian Americans become the dominant majority in UC, how
will the public response to a UC system dominated by Asian Americans? Will
there be a racial backlash similar to the kind experienced by Asian
immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries and by Asian American
applicants in the 1980s among the elite public and private institutions of
higher education? How will that affect the admissions of Asian American
poor and underrepresented subgroups? Will there be a demand to retreat from
meritocracy? In light of anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1995 and
English-only Proposition 227 in 1998, will there be a call for either a
higher level of English-language proficiency for admissions into UC and CSU
or the elimination of remedial English classes, like what the City
University of New York (CUNY) is doing, in an attempt to curb the
enrollment and higher cost of education? How will this notion of
meritocracy affect Asian American students in both systems? What are the
implications for Asian Americans if the proposal by state senator Theresa
Hughes to offer admissions to the top 12% of each high school in California is
enacted? How shall Asian Americans view the proposal to eliminate the use of
SAT test scores in the admission process? Will the visible presence of Asian
Americans in the UC and CSU systems reduce public support for the two systems?
Beyond these questions, as a racial minority, where do Asian Americans stand in
the continuing debate over merit, racial equality, and fairness? As a direct
beneficiary of affirmative action and the hard-won civil rights laws of the
1960s, should Asian Americans remain silent in the face of these unfolding
trends? As a frequent target of racism and discrimination and as a minority
group that has made significant progress in education, employment and
entreprenuership, what is the role of Asian Americans in the on-going national
race dialogue? Is there a leadership role for Asian Americans to play in the
dialogue and in the debate over merit and equity in higher education and in our
national search for fairness and equality for all? In light of their historical
experience as a racial minority, what kind of vision for America do Asian
Americans wish to share with whites on one side and racial minorities on another
These are some of the major questions APAHE will seek to address in the 1999
conference in San Francisco. In an effort to broaden our vision and search for
long-term solutions to problems facing higher education, the
conference will invite and include scholars and professionals of diverse
racial backgrounds to participate in the discussions of these and other
related questions.
L. Ling-chi Wang, Chair
1999 Conference Planning Committee
Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education
>>>For more information:
>>>L. Ling-chi Wang, Chair
>>>Department of Ethnic Studies
>>>University of California
>>>Berkeley, CA 94720-2570
>>>Tel. 510-642-7439
>>>Fax 510-642-6456

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