The University of California:
The End of Affirmative Action /
the Beginning of Privatization?
Interview with Kimi Lee
former Executive Director of
University of California Student Association
The following In Motion Magazine interview with Kimi Lee was conducted in August, 1997 towards the end of Kimi Lee's three year tenure as Executive Director of the University of California Student Association. This in depth interview covers a variety of topics ranging from the impacts of California Proposition 209 and the state's UC budget, to new fees charged on students, and the efforts of students to maintain the presence of students of color at UC campuses through student-run retention and recruitment programs. Interview by Nic Paget-Clarke (by phone from San Diego.)
The Effects of Proposition 209
In Motion Magazine: What has happened to Affirmative Action polices on UC (University of California) campuses since the passage of 209 (California ballot initiative banning race and gender preferences.).
Privitization of the University of California
Kimi Lee: 209 only expedited what the Regents had already voted on. The Regents, in July of '95 voted to take out race and gender from admissions, hiring and contracting policies. Change was already in the works. When 209 came around and was passed it simply expedited the whole thing. The Regents' original decision was going to be implemented in a timeline of 2 years 209 made it happen in about a year. Our concern was that they re-wrote the policies in such a fashion that there wasn't as much research or thought put into it as we would have liked. It was a hasty change to accommodate this vote.
In '95, after the vote, they changed all their admissions policies. It's not actually implemented yet. It's going to be used this year. They'll be used for the people that will come in the spring of next year. So it hasn't actually been done yet for the undergraduates, but for graduate admissions it started away.
This fall under the changed guidelines there are actually very drastic changes. The law school and the business schools have had huge drops in people of color. The main example that people are looking at is Boalt Law School at Berkeley. They have one African American that will be entering the freshman class, and he deferred from last year.
We're going to have very drastic effects on what type of graduate students and professional students we turn out in the next few years. The diversity of professional students is going to deteriorate in public schools in California.
There has been a general sense that morale has gone done. Students of color don't feel like they are welcome at the UC. I think that will have an effect on retention. The students that are there right now aren't feeling welcome. They may choose to transfer in the middle of their education and go to another school.
In Motion Magazine: Do you talk to the students at the California State University system?
Kimi Lee: Yes
In Motion Magazine: What's happening there?
Kimi Lee: There's a drop in students of color applying to the UC and almost the same percentage increase at the California State University (CSU). So you can see that students basically started applying more so to the CSU system. I think that has to do again with this image of being welcome or not. At the CSU system their policies never had race or gender in them and they were able to admit most of the students that wanted to go there. They never had to have a selection process as strict as ours. More people are feeling more welcome there, and so the CSU system is actually in better shape.
In Motion Magazine: Do you talk to recruitment people at high schools about what their response has been?
Kimi Lee: Yes. It goes back to the whole morale issue, of people feeling welcome or not to apply to the UC. Recruitment people are seeing that. People think it's hostile at the UC. There's a weird aura around us that people don't think people of color are welcome. So they don't want to apply. That's what happened with our grad school applicants. For high school definitely people are feeling they are not welcome. A lot are feeling discouraged from even applying because they think that their race is a negative thing. That's from talking to actual high school students.
I try to encourage them to still apply, but it's really hard for me to say you are still welcome. Looking at all the policies that are going through, it's not just affirmative action that is discouraging people .
In Motion Magazine: What else is going on?
The UC administration and the Board of Regents
Kimi Lee: There's actually a lot of financial aid policies going through that are shutting out the middle class and low-income students.
The administration is charging new fees now. They're really working the students. I feel they are moving towards privatization. They are charging students for things that they shouldn't be charged.
There are several different fees that are being proposed right now. One of them is a technology fee where students pay for use of computers and other technology on the campuses. It's going to start out at $40, and within two or three years it will be $200 a year. Computers are just part of an educational process and the university should be accommodating for that and not having students pay so much.
Another is a course materials fee which will mean that in a class that has any other materials besides a teacher talking, the students will have to pay for that. If it's a science class in which the teacher is doing experiments, or if the students have a lab, the students have to pay extra.
The university said they'll try to limit this fee to be about the cost of a textbook, but for science classes the cost of a text book could be $50 or $100. If you are a science student you've got maybe three or four lab classes in a quarter. You'd be paying another $200 just to have those labs. For a biology student, that's four years of that. A student in sociology is not going to have any of those fees. That's not fair.
Besides the technology fees and the course materials fee, the University administration is creating a system-wide new policy for financial aid. They have developed an equation to figure out how to give students money.
Basically it's an equation of how much can students give, how much can their parents give, and how much do they need. From that they figure out how much will be given them in financial aid.
The problem is with the column of how much the student can give. They base it on students working 20 to 40 hours a week at $6.50 an hour throughout the school year and then full time during the summer, winter and spring breaks. They think that all students make $6.50. But you go to campuses, the jobs are $4.50, jobs are very minimum wage, or close to it. They don't make $6.50 an hour.
Not only that, the university expects students to work between 20 and 40 hours a week. If you're a student you can't work that many hours, other wise you're going to be at school for six or seven years.
There's all these expectations on the students that are out of control. Telling students they have to work 20 to 40 hours a week plus 40 hours a week during vacations - that's just unrealistic. It deters students from doing anything but being in the classroom. They can't do internships. They can't take summer school. They can't do other things in terms of expanding their educational experience. Even more, the administration wants to add on an extra charge if you are at the university longer than four years. They keep taxing the same students over and over again. It's really privatization of the university.
In Motion Magazine: The UC office is in Oakland?
Access to Education
Kimi Lee: The UC Administration is in Oakland. The local campuses implement the decisions.
In Motion Magazine: Have you confronted the administration with this concept of privatization?
Kimi Lee: Daily.
In Motion Magazine: What do they say?
Kimi Lee: They say they are doing the best they can. The governor and the state are committed to education, they've given them as much money as they can, the state's been in a recession, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah. They praise the state.
"This is what we're getting and we should be happy. Other programs got screwed this year but the UC got most of the money it needed and if students need to pay a little bit more, then they need to pay a little bit more."
We fight with them about the state's priorities, and the fact that education was one of the high receivers of money, but then look at prisons. Prisons were right next to that. Was that necessary?
In Motion Magazine: How much of these changes come from the governor, and how much from the university system?
Kimi Lee: They have a relationship where the university is going to do what the governor says. If the governor gives us a certain amount of money, the university is going to be happy with that, and the university is going to promote it, and do what they need to do. It's both of them.
The university is not fighting enough and not lobbying enough about education to the governor. They accept what he gives us. We always try to lobby the administration as well as the governor that it's not enough. A public education is supposed to be free. And here we are paying the highest fees in the country for a public school
In Motion Magazine: Is the Board of Regents an active board? Do they tell the administration what it should do?
Kimi Lee: Concerning the budget, the Board of Regents is more of a rubber stamp. The administration has a lot of leeway and a lot of power. The director of budget, Larry Hirschman has so much power it's scary. He drafts the entire UC budget, brings it to the Regents, they vote on it within a month. They don't have a complex understanding of it, they just check it over, and pass it. The administration does most of the work, and the Regents play more of a rubber stamp role. I think that's been the problem.
We would like them to be more involved, and to actually connect the information that they are getting to the decisions they make. For example on the policy decision of affirmative action, the vote was fourteen to ten, but even the administration, the chancellors, the teachers, the students and the unions -- everyone was telling them that the information said different from the proposal. Affirmative action wasn't hurting the university, it was good for the university -- and they didn't listen. Well, 10 of them did, but not the other fourteen.
It's really interesting. They meet once a month and they have their discussions and they make decisions for the university. But they are very removed from the campuses. When they do come to the campuses they only visit the chancellor and top faculty. They don't really spend time with students. They are active within the realm of the administration, but not with the faculty, the students or the unions. It's a rare occasion for us to actually meet with them.
In Motion Magazine: So the question of affirmative action is just a part of the move to make the university available for only an elite?
What students are doing
Kimi Lee: That's how we feel in terms of everything that is happening. It is all a question of educational access. Who goes to school? And scapegoating certain people.
First it was with Proposition 187, saying illegal immigrants couldn't go to school, couldn't use any of the public services. Then with 209 they are again scapegoating certain people for something that wasn't their fault. They are putting blame on people that have no power in the first place. They are denying access to education for all of these groups, plus implementing policies that people don't know about. It really is a bigger picture of access and who can go to school. It is slowly privatizing our university and being selective about who can go.
The largest example of privatization is that they just merged our University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) with Stanford. Our San Francisco Medical center, which is one of the best ones in the country is a public institution and they are merging it with Stanford, a private institution. What does that mean for the future of public healthcare in California? It effects health services for the San Francisco area, but they are also doing that to all of our med schools in the state. We provide public healthcare, and by merging us with private entities we're slowly changing the face of healthcare in California.
In Motion Magazine: Are these changes cutting edge in the U.S.? Are they having effects on other campuses in other states?
Kimi Lee: Other states are seeing the same type of thing. The U.S. is moving towards privatization. Corporations have such a strong stance here. Just as corporations are getting tax breaks at a national level, they have an influence on universities now. They are the ones giving money to research in the universities. It's a corporate takeover which is hand in hand with the privatization. The corporations use the universities as their research labs and negotiate with universities over findings and patents.
In Motion Magazine: Do you know what states this is happening in?
Kimi Lee: Across the board. I don't think there's any state that doesn't have research funded by somebody.
In Motion Magazine: What about the changes in affirmative action?
Kimi Lee: Seven other states including Florida and Oregon have affirmative action changes proposed as initiatives. In Colorado, though, the students defeated it. It didn't make it on to the ballot.
In Texas there is the Hopwood case in which a law school took out race from the admissions policy. The courts supported their changes. This year at that law school only four people of color are in the freshman class. It was a huge drop in enrollment. They are feeling the same effects.
In Motion Magazine: Is the student body in general upset about this?
Kimi Lee: Definitely. All the student governments have opposed what is going on. In fact we predicted this would happen, years ago. We said: "You are going to hinder enrollment. You are going to hurt the whole environment at the UC."
UCSA is a coalition of all the student governments, and every student government was saying it. All the student governments passed resolutions in support of affirmative action and against the Regents' decision. The student coalitions on the different campuses stand very strong next to the demand that even chancellors not implement 209. Everyone is very much against 209, and that it should not be implemented.
Students are doing more proactive things in terms of helping to recruit and retain students on the campuses. They are starting to develop their own retention and recruitment programs. Student organizations are seeing the importance of actually doing the recruitment in high schools and once the students get to the colleges making sure there are strong retention programs. We have turned our focus to trying to help students ourselves, developing programs on campuses that are student run. The university is doing recruitment and retention programs but they are usually not as effective as the ones run by the students. We're advocating for the student organizations that have these programs to get more funding and to be supported by the university.