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Hypocrites: The University of California Regents

An Opinion By: James O. Goldsborough

Columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune

Pure as the driven snow, our UC regents. Affirmative action must go, they announce, hands on their hearts. Academic achievement alone shall be the criterion for admission to the University of California. Hallelujah and Amen!

Of course, if you can't make it on grades alone, a letter or phone call from a regent will help. The student or his sponsor may be expected to do something for the regent in return. A favor is a favor.

Any principle the regents pretended to stand on in overturning the highly successful UC affirmative action program has been demolished by newspaper revelations last week that the regents have been pulling strings for a favored few for years.

The regents voted last year to repeal UC policies that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin. They did not vote to repeal policies that discriminate on the basis of knowing a regent or someone who does.

This smells to high heaven, and UC President Richard Atkinson is right to launch an internal review of favoritism. But what can he do? When Atkinson tried to get tough with the regents over delaying the repeal of affirmative action a few weeks ago, they threatened to fire him.

Exposure of this kind of political patronage and favoritism is why we have newspapers. In revealing how the regents operated, the Los Angeles Times has fulfilled its watchdog role admirably.

The Times investigation revealed that regents helped their own children gain admission to UC campuses. They helped children of partners and campaign contributors gain admission. They helped friends, and friends of friends and people from their districts. They had a nice little system of patronage going.

Aw, g'won, they protest, we didn't make that many requests. We only sinned a little. And sometimes the universities didn't give in to our requests anyway.

That is the point Atkinson's investigation will clarify. The pressure was there from the regents. How often did the university buckle, and what was the risk it ran if it didn't?

Gov. Pete Wilson only made two requests, and he doesn't know whether he made a difference or not. Let's put it this way, Pete. It didn't hurt.

But the regents' champion of patronage, Leo Kolligian of Fresno, made 32 requests, and Kolligian knows he made a difference. Kolligian justifies his actions by claiming that students from Fresno are "underrepresented" at UCLA and Berkeley.

"Underrepresented", you remember, was the basis for affirmative action --- only it didn't mean that regents' children and friends were underrepresented on campus but that minority students were underrepresented.

Kolligian went to bat several times for children of his business partner, gaining admission to UCLA for one whose academic ranking was far below UCLA standards. Kolligian also intervened with UCLA to obtain housing help for his partner's children.

Orange County regent Meredith Khachigian, only made two requests, but one was for her daughter, who had been rejected by UCLA. After Khachigian called UCLA to inquire about it, the rejection was reversed.

Regent Ward Connerly, Wilson's point man on the California Civil Rights Initiative, which, if passed in November, would repeal affirmative action in all state programs, only wrote a few letters, he says, and doesn't see anything wrong with that.

Nevertheless, he told Union-Tribune reporter Jeff Ristine, he will stop. Give Connerly credit. When the right course is pointed out to him, he knows what to do.

Last year, when it was discovered that his contracting firm, Connerly & Associates, held minority contracts with several dozen cities and counties, and that he was benefiting handsomely from affirmative action, he also announced he would stop.

You have to admit it would be a little awkward for a beneficiary of affirmative action to be Wilson's stalking horse against it.

The self-righteousness of Wilson, Connerly and the other anti-affirmative action regents who stood, they said, on the principle of equal opportunity, has been exposed for the lie it is.

Why didn't they tell us about their personal patronage system at the time? Why didn't they tell us that all high school seniors are equal, but those who know a regent are more equal than others?

The UC affirmative action program worked, but was sacrificed on the altar of Wilson's presidential ambitions.

The program, supported by the UC president, all nine chancellors and faculty and student body representatives, had nothing to do with quotas or even preferences.

It gave a modest number of supplemental points (300) to black, Hispanic and American Indian students academically qualified for UC admission on the basis of "underrepresentation" on campus.

Points are also earned for state residency, veterans status, disability, economic disadvantage, community service, leadership and other pursuits judged worthy of recognition.

These few points, out of the roughly 8,000 it takes to qualify for admission, make a difference for a few hundred students each year.

Brain power alone does not make a great university, state or nation. Community service, military service, leadership, the extraordinary effort it can take to overcome physical, social or, yes, racial and gender handicaps, all are in shorter supply today than brain power.

These, too, should be honored by a great public university and the citizens who run it.

Dated: March 21, 1996

Jim Goldsborough
Foreign Affairs Columnist
The San Diego Union-Tribune


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