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UC Board of Regents Plans Out Affirmative Action Ban

By Amy Wallace
Los Angeles Times

After weeks of contentious debate that included a well-publicized clash between the University of California president and Gov. Pete Wilson, the University of California Board of Regents Thursday swiftly and quietly approved a new timetable to implement a ban on race and gender preferences in admissions.

At their monthly meeting in San Francisco, the regents voted unanimously to eliminate preferences in undergraduate admissions beginning with students applying for entry to the spring 1998 term. There was little discussion and the vote came so quickly that the governor, who made a special appearance at the meeting to underscore the board's policy-making authority, missed his chance to weigh in because he was in the restroom.

The meeting, perhaps the first in history to finish ahead of schedule, was so uncharacteristically calm that regents admitted they were stunned.

"I'm as confused as everyone else is," said Regent Roy Brophy. "We went in there and sat down like we had swallowed a handful of tranquilizers. It's like the Joe Louis fights. If you missed the first three seconds, the fight was over."

But sources said the real action occurred before the meeting was gaveled to order, when Wilson met privately with University of California President Richard Atkinson, Regent Ward Connerly and board chairman Clair Burgener. Connerly, who had joined with Wilson in requesting the meeting, described it as a "candid exchange" in which he and the governor made clear that they were not convinced that the University of California administration needed more time in order to effectively implement the affirmative action ban in admissions.

Wilson and Connerly have maintained that the policy approved by the board last July was intended to be put in place beginning with students entering in the fall 1997 term. Last month, Atkinson announced that the university could not move that quickly and delayed the ban on preferences in admissions for a year, a decision that angered the governor.

Thursday's proposal of spring 1998 was a compromise, but Connerly said he supported it only in an attempt to make peace, not because he believed a delay was necessary.

"I was not doing it because I, as one person, was persuaded that he (Atkinson) needed more time. I don't think he needed more time, and I told him that," Connerly said.

During the closed-door meeting, the foursome also discussed whether the university's outreach efforts and financial aid strategies will continue to be race-attentive, as in the past. Outreach programs - through counseling and instruction - seek to increase the number of minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students who are eligible for admission.

"Race should not be a part of it," Connerly said later, adding that he preferred a socioeconomic model. "If you make the program inclusionary, on the basis of income, you're going to reach a lot of those who deserve to be included."

Connerly declined to describe the tenor of the meeting in detail. But when asked whether he and the governor feared that Atkinson might be trying to find a loophole that would allow race and gender preferences to continue, Connerly said, "In a word, yes."

Connerly said he and Wilson are considering drafting a resolution to be brought to the board in March that would clearly ban preferences in outreach and financial aid. But Connerly said the so-called California civil rights initiative, a statewide affirmative action ban whose campaign he is running, will play a part in their decision.

"The passage of that initiative will probably render a lot of our deliberations at this board somewhat moot," Connerly said, noting that the measure has until next week to submit enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. If the initiative qualifies, he said, "we'll have to weigh whether to bring this back to board or let the voters decide."

The governor declined to comment. But his spokesman, Sean Walsh, confirmed that Wilson "is not in favor of preference programs anywhere, and that extends to outreach programs."

For his part, Atkinson described his meeting with the governor as "very friendly." Asked about the outreach and financial aid discussion, he cited a legal opinion he requested from the regents' counsel.