This Date in UCSF History: Groups Protest Aftermative Action Decision

Originally published on January 20, 1977.

Student and labor groups, anticipating the possible effect of the Bakke decision on minority programs, plan to protest the decision through mass rallies and demonstrations.

Several hundred persons representing student, labor, minority, and civil rights groups throughout the state, met last Saturday at a Statewide Organizing Conference Against the Bakke Decision at UC-Berkeley.

It was decided at the conference to designate February 25 as a day for statewide action and demonstration.

Demonstrators will demand the reversal of the Bakke decision and that administrators defend and extend minority admission programs. The UC Regents office in Berkeley and the State College trustees office in Los Angeles were mentioned as places where rallies would take place.

Statewide protests in April against cutbacks in minority and women’s programs are also planned.

It was decided at the conference that each region would develop its own plans for Feb. 25. The Bay Area Coalition Against the Bakke Decision, which sponsored the conference, will meet Tuesday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. at the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland (E. 14th and Fruitvale) to discuss what action they will take.

Groups are also planning forums to educate people on the Bakke decision and affirmative action for the next two months.

Beyond Bakke Other demands to be presented during the rallies, the conference decided, are: in addition to overturning the Bakke decision, that there be proportional representation in admissions and hiring for minorities; UC must “plead guilty to past and present discrimination”; UC must accept a co-counsel approved by the coalition to represent minorities in the appeal of the case; no more cutbacks in minority programs and increase of funds and control to minorities; expansion of hiring and admissions of women without cutbacks in minority hiring and admission programs.

September decision

The protest stem from the September decision by the California Supreme Court that special admission programs that use race as criteria are unconstitutional.

Allan Bakke. a white applicant twice rejected for admission to the UC-Davis Medical School, sued UC contending that the school’s special program was in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and that less academically qualified minority students were admitted in his place.

Under the Davis program 16 of the 100 spaces for entering medical students were reserved for disadvantaged minority students.

The State Supreme Court ruling in Bakke’s favor, ordered UC to dismantle such programs and admit Bakke to the David medical school.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, issued a stay of that order pending review of an appeal filed by UC.

The UC Regents in November voted to appeal the case to the high court despite pleas from some civil rights groups not to.

Those groups argued that UC argued its case poorly and is presenting a case not solid enough for the Supreme Court to find the admissions programs constitutional.

They said that if the Supreme Court upheld the Bakke decision it could have negative impact on admissions programs throughout the nation.

UC attorneys and officials, however, have said that they feel their case is strong enough and it is not a foregone conclusion that it will lose. The appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was filed Dec. 14.

The Court has yet to announce whether or not it will rule on the case. It is anticipated that it will.

Fears

At Saturday’s conference, speakers argued that a move must be made to defend minority admissions and expressed fears of what could happen if the Supreme Court upholds the state court decision.

Karen Obradivic from the coalition chaired and opened the conference by stating that every person in attendance who wanted would have time to speak.

Representatives from MEChA Central, a Chicano organization, stated that they supported the idea of a Third World coalition but that there was currently no such effective vehicle.

They called for “a people’s organization with a common cause.” To have this they declared a need to further caucus among themselves and for all groups to do further organizing before acting as a coalition.

They asked for improved direct communication among groups and they asked their supporters to leave the conference. The MEChA speakers who left were followed by supporters.

In response several persons stated that the conference need reflect on its purpose. The Bakke decision involved larger issues and necessitated working as a coalition.

Speakers panel

The panels of speakers at the conference included James Bell. Executive Board Hastings Black Law Students Association; Rodolfo Acuna. professor Cal-State Northridge; Carol deBerry, President of the East Bay Coalition of Labor Union Women; Ron Takaki, Chairperson of Ethnic Studies at UC-Berkeley; Carlos Munos. Chicano Studies at UC-Berkeley; and Lee Brightman. Chairperson of the United Native Americans Inc.

Bell reviewed the status of the case to date and said that all briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court were to be filed by Jan. 17.

Within about two months, he said, the court will decide whether or not to hear the case. If the case is taken, there will then be oral arguments. After oral arguments, it will take about another six months to reach a decision, he said.

Judging from the conservative tenor of the court. Bell said, he felt the California decision would be upheld. If this happens the Bakke decision will then apply nationally.

Better qualified?

Bell reviewed the basic points of Bakke’s argument — that he was better qualified than the 16 Third World students admitted to the UC Davis medical school. Bakke’s criteria, Bell said, are MCAT scores and grade point averages.

He pointed to the cultural bias of these admission requirements and said that anyone who graduates from college is by definition minimally qualified for graduate education.

He said that racial criteria can be used to correct social ills but that the UC Regents would not admit to prior discrimination.

Bell asked if the Regents could then be the “real parties in interest” in defending Bakke’s allegations.

He concluded by saying that the State Supreme Courts order to eliminate racial classifications was based on a pretense that such classifications did not inherently exist in U.S. society.

“Race has to be a classification,” he said, “when dealing with a racist system.”

Bell sees the Bakke decision as the beginning of return to full repression taking “back the crumbs Third World People almost got happy with in the sixties.”

MEChA splits

Acuna emphasized that the Bakke case was a crucial issue around which to organize. He said that MEChA’s need to caucus separately was not an issue of nationalism but was an expression of the need to gain strength as groups.

He said that in a coalition the “groups must be strong.”

He said he felt an obligation to his students, and he called for a 1-2 hour break so groups like MEChA could caucus with a reconvening to follow.

“We must go forward. I don’t want to go back to 1965.” Acuna said. “We cannot deny history. History is made by the struggles of people, not in conferences.”

He and a handful of participants then left the conference to join with MEChA supporters.

Working women

Carol deBerry underscored how the issue effects the labor movement. She stressed that the Coalition of Labor Union Women have as a major plank the fight for meaningful affirmative action in the union and on the job.

She said that much of the union movement had forgotten its history and cited the Berkeley fire fighters suit contending reverse discrimination. deBerry recalled the UAW organizing during World War II to get white workers to work with Blacks.

The UAW at that time stressed that the Black workers should get available housing because their oppression was greater.

She said that organizing worked and that unions need to return to a consciousness of worker solidarity.

University role

Ron Takaki questioned whether affirmative action was a good thing. He said another question was needed to answer the first, “What is the purpose of the University?”

The answer to that question would dictate the answer to the other, he said.

“We can view the University as a corporate institution, as an institution of imperialism, as a bank, a bank that invests in South Africa.” he said.

The University is not dedicated to education, Takaki said, but to “training people to be functional in a corporate segregated society.”

He then asked if people should be brought into “that monster.”

Takaki cited UC-Berkeley statistics which show that there about 3,000 Asian students. Of the male Asian undergraduate students, 65-75 per cent are engineering or science students.

Each year 100 premeds graduate. By contrast, he asked “where are they going?”

In the last 10 years, he said, the San Francisco Chinatown population has doubled but only eight Asian MD’s have opened practices.

Talented Third World students are not being educated to work in their communities, he said. Rather they are being trained to function in the larger corporate society.

Takaki said he felt that affirmative action was good, but only if there were efforts to transform the institution.

He called for efforts to change the University so that it does not train but educate Third World students about their communities and themselves. Education should relate to a broader social reality and seek to transform it, he said.

Takaki concluded by saying there was not much point in bringing more Third World faculty if they have to teach traditional material.

“Affirmative Action must depend on the transformation of the University into a socially responsible institution,” he said, and “affirmative action becomes the means for transformation.”

Without transformation, Takaki said, affirmative action becomes “worse than reformist.” Instead of being an innocuous it will be actually damaging to the struggle of Third World people, he said.

Communication

Carlos Munos called for more direct communication among the groups present, reiterating the earlier comments of MEChA Central.

He said the fight against the Bakke decision was part of a life and death struggle in this society.”

The Bakke fight, he said, is a “concrete case in an overall struggle.” Munos said, “We do not control this institution; we do not control the mass media. What do we control? ...

We have the power to destroy and undermine, not on the basis of rhetoric but on the basis of work and dedicated commitment; not in a conference but in the day to day struggle.”

Lee Brightman pointed out that while Bakke claims his constitutional rights were violated, those same rights for Third World people are violated every day.

He said that Dartmouth University was founded as a college for Native Americans and when there were not enough Native Americans to attend it was opened to whites.

There is a clause now, he said, that says that Native Americans can attend for free.

But he questioned, “How many Native Americans can pass the entrance exam and have the GPA to get in?”

Brightman reminded the conference that there are other special programs that should not be forgotten.

He cited the athletics admissions programs, easy admission access for children of faculty, and special consideration given to foreign students.