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Published: Monday, 7/31/2006

UCLA, meet UM

Administrators at the University of California at Los Angeles claim they can't do anything about the shamefully low enrollment of African-American students. But they are ignoring a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed the University of Michigan to consider race in admissions. Instead of shaping its admissions policy accordingly, UCLA claims that California's Proposition 209 limits its options.

UCLA is a public institution supported with taxpayers funds, and it's awful that its student enrollment does not reflect the community it serves. More than a million African-Americans call L.A. home, and 10,000 black students graduated from its high schools last month. Yet black students will make up only 2 percent of UCLA's incoming freshman class in the fall.

Black enrollment began dropping 10 years ago after Prop 209 became law and forbade UC schools from using affirmative action policies in admissions.

Three years ago the high court in two Michigan cases effectively supported affirmative action programs. Affirmative action has frequently been confused with quotas, which we still oppose, and labeled "reverse discrimination," but it is neither.

Its purpose is to ensure that minorities are fairly represented on the nation's campuses and in government. Interestingly, 300 miles north of UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley takes a more well-rounded approach to reviewing applicants' files by examining their grades and SAT scores within the context of their high schools and families.

But UCLA blames Prop 209 for its low minority enrollment, and seems satisfied with that. If so, UCLA's admission policies need re-examining. When it refuses to admit black student pianists and athletes with GPAs of 4.0 and SAT scores over 1400, it raises suspicions that the school may be deliberately ignoring talented blacks.

This is the quagmire our neighbors to the north face if they pass the so called "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative," a state constitutional amendment on the ballot this November. The measure with the misleading title also would ban affirmative action in university admissions and government hiring. And no wonder. The campaign is backed by Ward Connerly, the same California millionaire who was behind Prop 209.

Meanwhile, UCLA needs to stop using Prop 209 as an excuse for doing the wrong thing. The public institution cannot operate as though it is a private university. It if persists, it should give up its public funding. It's time California regents ponder what the U.S. Supreme Court said about the University of Michigan.

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