Tags: Berkeley | the | Exception | Minority | Enrollment | Rise

Berkeley the Exception in Minority Enrollment Rise

Friday, 08 April 2005 12:00 AM

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the former president of the University of Toronto who was appointed to lead Berkeley last September, stopped short of declaring war on Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure outlawing consideration of race or gender in public hiring, contracting and education.

However, he said campus officials will look for ways to work within the system to change the admissions picture and he hopes to keep the issue to the forefront by speaking out. Meanwhile, the campus is funding faculty positions for research on issues such as the impact of diversity on campuses and reasons for achievement gaps between different racial groups.

"Part of what I'm trying to accomplish here as a new chancellor is just saying, 'Look, this really is a crisis,'" Birgeneau said in a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday. "This is a problem that has got to get solved. We're not meeting our obligation as a public institution."

In 1997, the last year affirmative action was allowed at UC campuses, Berkeley enrolled 260 black students. Last fall, there were 108 out of a freshman class of more than 3,600.

Overall, the class breakdown was 3 percent black, 9.5 percent Hispanic, 0.4 percent American Indian, about 45 percent Asian-American and about 33 percent white. (The remaining 10 percent or so listed other races or declined to state race.)

Birgeneau's contention that voters didn't bargain for the effects of Proposition 209 got a cold reception from Ward Connerly, the recently retired UC regent who fought for race-blind admissions and went on to chair the campaign for the proposition.

"Clearly the voters knew full well what the consequences would be," Connerly said Thursday. "They just concluded that at the most selective institutions of higher education in this state they did not want race to be a factor."

In a March op-ed piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Connerly said Birgeneau has "a higher level of contempt for the people than any UC official I encountered during my term as regent."

In the private world, wrote Connerly, "Birgeneau would either be fired or taken behind the woodshed for revealing such disregard for the people who pay the bills."

Looking at the aggregate totals for UC campuses, the number of blacks and Hispanics is above 1997 levels as enrollment of those students has increased at other schools in the system.

But Birgeneau said that doesn't make the situation at Berkeley less pressing.

He said he was particularly shocked to find out that no black students enrolled last fall in Berkeley's highly ranked engineering program.

In an op-ed that ran in the Los Angeles Times, Birgeneau said that Proposition 209 has created an environment that many students of color view as discriminatory. Minority representation has dropped "appallingly, and where there should be camaraderie across cultural lines, I have seen too much alienation, mistrust and division."

Birgeneau wrote that he feels "a moral obligation to address the issue of inclusion head-on. Ultimately it is a fight for the soul of this institution."

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Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the former president of the University of Toronto who was appointed to lead Berkeley last September, stopped short of declaring war on Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure outlawing consideration of race or gender in public hiring,...
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