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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday, June 28, 2020

When Are Access and Inclusion Also Racist?

Answer: when students of color get access to and are included in a university that has become inferior to that built for whites.

This can happen across universities, or across campuses in a university system, or across disciplines on a campus, or across time in one university.  Victories for access don't take care of the problem of unequal educational treatment.

This isn't to belittle this month's access victories.

First, the University of California Board of Regents voted to phase out the SAT in admissions.  This will push UC and others towards the holistic, qualitative assessment of candidates that they should have been practicing since the Bakke decision of 1978.  It's true that the Academic Senate's report suggests this isn't a magic bullet for increasing the presence of underrepresented minority (URM) students. It's also true that the decision was not good for faculty governance (see John Douglass's new paper on both points). All I'll note here is that the SAT is not just a test. It's an ideology, one that has consistently and wrongly claimed that racial inclusion lowers academic quality.  Politicians have used SAT scores to make whites think that widening access victimizes them.  It has been a technology of racial resentment that has helped unmake the public university. (See chapters 3-7 in my book of that name for an extended discussion of the structural racism of what I called rank meritocracy, featuring 1990s Gov. Pete Wilson's use of SAT scores to induce the UC Regents to ban affirmative action.)  The SAT's suspension is a real victory for cross-racial access.

The same can be said of the temporary reprieve for the DACA program won by a UC lawsuit.  UC president Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents chair John Pérez noted that UC would continue to fight for full access to UC and to financial aid, legal services, and other support systems for undocumented students brought to the US as children.  
Such actions “expressed the desire of those of us in California to make sure that we expanded opportunity and worked towards broad-based immigration reform as well,” Pérez said.  And so I think it would be no surprise to anybody that this university is going to continue to commit itself to representing the interest of all our students."
This is another access victory, which universities will need to work to sustain.

And yet access raises the question, access to what? What is the university that Napolitano and Pérez, as those most responsible for UC's finances, offer access to?

In brief, they offer today's students access to an underfunded UC.  Today's increased proportion of undocumented, first generation, low-income, immigrant, and URM students have fewer educational and related resources than did the cohorts that came before.

I documented this in a recent post.  Even after today's students pay a multiple of the tuition paid by students twenty years ago, their UC of 2020 has sixty percent of the net per-student funding compared to that earlier UC.  I noted that Pérez, as Assembly Speaker, was a leading enforcer of this austerity.

But is this negative funding pattern a racial pattern? We can check by comparing the share of white students at UC to the share of state income the government allocates to the university. 

The state's politicians have defunded UC in the exact proportion of its decline in white student share.

This is not a coordinated intention, but it has happened anyway. White enrollment and funding go down hand in hand--except when funding goes down faster during major economic downturns. Republican and Democratic leaders give diverse UC less money than they gave a comparatively white UC. This is what racist inclusion looks like.

Higher ed funding expresses systemic racism, even as most members of college communities oppose it.  We've seen the national pattern of "separate but unequal" in which most new white students go to selective colleges while most new students of color go to open access colleges--which have less money and lower graduation rates. We've seen the UC campuses with higher shares of students of color get less funding from UCOP. ("Rebenching" did not fully fix this).  In our UC system case, we see California state leaders--including leaders of racialized, educationally underserved communities--coming up with excuses, year after year, to fund UC in inverse proportion to its diversity. 

One can be consciously anti-racist while supporting systemic racism.  This is a pattern in U.S. political life. The pattern is top-down austerity management for institutions devoted to racial equality and related forms of social justice.  While politicians of both major parties have deregulated and de-taxed the private sector, they have applied austerity to public institutions, which offer reduced quality of service to populations that are often minority-majority.

The historian Elizabeth Hinton recently outlined the longer-term pattern:
President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the role police brutality and socioeconomic inequality played in urban uprisings when he convened the Kerner Commission in 1967. Its report warned that if American political and economic institutions failed to commit resources “sufficient to make a dramatic, visible impact on life in the urban ghetto,” the nation would become increasingly divided along racial lines and plagued by inequality — a “spiral” of segregation, violence and police force.
Though the Kerner Commission and much subsequent research created "blueprints" for changing the “socioeconomic conditions that led to [George] Floyd’s premature death,” these research blueprints were never implemented.
The tragedy of the war on poverty is that the promise of grass-roots empowerment and representation was not sustained on a wider level, or for entire communities, but only for individuals. While remnants of critical reforms are still with us, like the Head Start program, on the whole policymakers at all levels believed “maximum feasible participation” worked against their self-interest. By 1965, as many promising grass-roots initiatives began to receive the initial [Office of Economic Opportunity] grants, they were required to design programs with public officials and municipal authorities in top-level positions. Soon after, policymakers defunded and dissolved anti-poverty programs.

UC isn't being dissolved.  But it is being steadily defunded.  Napolitano and her OP, Pérez and his regents, aren't openly opposing the most likely scenario for the state portion of UC's 2020-21 budget--a net 7 percent cut from 2019-20's level, or -$260.8 million. This cut to the permanent budget would happen in a year when Covid-19 health and safety could add at least $1 billion to the system's costs.

The long defunding has reduced the power and vitality of UC grassroots--for example, of the academic departments with a fraction of their former funding for speakers and internal research, which now depend on the accident of private donations. Similarly, UC's equivalent of anti-poverty programs--for students facing food insecurity, housing insecurity, and mental health issues--are also funded at a fraction of estimated need.

Replicating the other key post-Kerner retrenchment, UC governance is more top-down than ever.    On the important matter of selecting the new president, the Board excluded the Academic Advisory Committee from basic participation in the search for the new president: even its Chair was not allowed to attend selection committee meetings. UCOP treated the UCSC wildcat COLA strike as a breach of contract discipline rather than as a desperate attempt to communicate basic needs. Participants still face disciplinary charges at Santa Cruz in spite of faculty objections. The Board of Regents remain literally inaccessible to faculty, who may not address the Board except through the president (Standing Order 105.2(e)).

Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Janet Napolitano, John Pérez, and their legislative comrades have replicated in higher ed the strategy that 1960s politicians applied  to cities after Black uprisings against police violence and racist underdevelopment.  They have expressed support for their developmentalist institutions while taking money and power out of them.  Of course the social damage done by underfunding public services for Black and other communities has been far greater than that wrought by underfunding of public universities.  But the practices are analogous.

The public university funding model is broken--and racist.  More inclusion as such won't fix that. Funding parity will fix it.  That means the 66 Dollar Fix or some similar Covid-era stimulus funding that gets per-student resources to the benchmark established for white UC.

2 comments:

Mark LeVine said...

Chris, Thank you for this powerful and deeply troubling yet enlightening piece. Can you elaborate on what role the ending of affirmative action at UC through Prop 209 has played in the relatinoship between decline of white enrollment and less funding? Was there supposed to be some sort of quid pro quo related to passing 209 that should have seen more money to help students from underrepresented communities, etc. that never came? Did it get allocated unequally? etc.? thanks!

California Policy Issues said...

You may recall Jerry Brown's comments at the regents when - thinking about his student days at Berkeley - he bemoaned the fact that "ordinary people" (or some phrase to that effect) could no longer get into Berkeley. Put aside the issue of whether the son of then-governor Pat Brown was an ordinary person. Who were the ordinary people Brown had in mind?

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