Affirmative Action Is Bringing a Rush of Reporters
by Jesús Mena
For campus admissions personnel and administrators, the consensus in the national press that no report on affirmative action in higher education is complete without a jaunt through Berkeley has generated a flurry of activity.
In recent weeks, the campus has received requests for information from news agencies ranging from the New York Times to MTV News.
Reporters and correspondents have talked extensively to Chancellor Tien, Law School Dean Herma Hill Kay, admissions administrators Patrick Hayashi and Bob Laird as well as a number of Berkeley professors who represent a wide array of opinions.
The proposed state initiative abolishing affirmative action as well as the ongoing discussion among UC Regents on the role race and ethnicity play in UC admissions, hiring and contracting have catapulted the issue onto the national agenda.
The stories resulting from press visits to the campus have, with a few exceptions, been generally favorable to the UC admissions process.
Newsweek columnist Ellis Cose concluded that it is a myth that admissions into institutions of higher education have ever been conducted based strictly on academic merit. His column accompanied a package of stories that focused on the successes and failures of affirmative action in government and private agencies over the years.
The McNeil-Lehrer News Hour chose to run a series: "Conversations on Affirmative Action" with correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault. The segments, highlighting the views of national academic and civic leaders, included interviews with UC Regent Ward Connerly and Dean Kay.
ABC World News Tonight reported on the February rally at Boalt Hall that came in response to hate mail incidents at the law school. The incident served as a newspeg for a major story on the future of affirmative action.
The Sacramento Bee reported that it conducted an independent analysis of UC's admissions process. Its conclusion: three out of every four African-Americans enrolled were admitted without relying on racial preferences.
National Public Radio looked at the challenges posed to Berkeley's cultural diversity by the changes in admissions policies being proposed by some regents.
The Detroit News and Free Press examined all sides of the issue, concluding that the dramatically shifting demographics of California are making old civil rights paradigms obsolete and fueling the debate.
Added into the mix were the smaller journals and publications such as California Lawyer. Black Issues in Higher Education featured Tien on the cover speaking to the Boalt Hall rally.
The issue has lured international interest, with the French newspaper Liberation sending a reporter to explore how the campus has managed to recruit such a diverse population of students.
It also attracted the attention of the offbeat press with MTV News conducting an interview with Tien for a special report it is compiling.
Tien has also published his views on affirmative action in California Monthly (see page 2 for the column) and the Daily Californian. Another column appeared in A. Magazine, a glossy periodical aimed at an Asian-American audience.
While most of the reporting was balanced, there were exceptions. The Chicago Tribune compared Berkeley's admissions process to "racial gerrymandering every bit as convoluted as anything the notorious apartheid government in South Africa ever cooked up." The body of the story, however, never seemed to explain that analogy.
Still to be published are stories by New York Times, Time magazine and Philadelphia Inquirer reporters who recently visited the campus. The San Francisco Chronicle has likewise conducted intensive interviews for a series of stories that will appear soon. And scheduled to conduct interviews next week is a Wall Street Journal reporter.
And though the press traffic has slowed slightly, the resolution of UC Regents policies on the issue coupled with the anti-affirmative action initiative proposed for November 1996 promises to keep campus administrators and professors busy in the coming year.