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Entrepreneurial President

Richard Atkinson and the University of California, 1995–2003

Patricia A. Pelfrey (Author)


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Richard C. Atkinson was named president of the University of California in August 1995, barely four weeks after the UC Regents voted to end affirmative action. How he dealt with the admissions wars—the political, legal, and academic consequences of that historic and controversial decision, as well as the issue of governance—is discussed in this book. Another focus is the entrepreneurial university—the expansion of the University’s research enterprise into new forms of scientific research with industry during Atkinson’s presidency. The final crisis of his administration was the prolonged controversy over the University’s management of the Los Alamos and Livermore nuclear weapons research laboratories that began with the arrest of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee on charges of espionage in 1999. Entrepreneurial President explains what was at stake during each of these episodes, how Atkinson addressed the issues, and why the outcomes matter to the University and to the people of California. Pelfrey’s book provides an analysis of the challenges, perils, and limits of presidential leadership in the nation’s leading public university, while bringing a historical perspective to bear on the current serious threats to its future as a university.
Foreword by Karl S. Pister
About This Book

1. The Evolution of a Crisis
2. The Education of a Chancellor
3. Who Runs the University?
4. Seventeenth President
5. A Problem in Search of a Solution
6. “A More Inclusive Definition of Merit”
7. Reinventing the Economy
8. An Idea and Its Consequences
9. History’s Coils: The Nuclear Weapons Laboratories
10. Presidents and Chancellors
11. Epilogue: One University

Appendix 1. Regents’ Resolutions SP-1, SP-2, and RE-28
Appendix 2. Atkinson Presidency Timeline
Appendix 3. University of California Trends, 1995–2003
Select Bibliography
Patricia Pelfrey is a Research Associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. She is the author of A Brief History of the University of California (UC Press, 2004).
“In this very readable, thoughtful, and richly informative account, Pelfrey uses an insider’s perspective gained by working in the Office of the President over three decades to show how Atkinson not only helped the University survive the first wave of the state’s ongoing budget crisis, but brought about or sustained several important changes of direction for the system and for higher education generally.”—Professor Emeritus Sanford Lakoff Chronicles: Newsletter Of The Ucsd Emeriti Association
“A most interesting book. . . . The reader knows after just a few chapters that [Pelfrey] recognizes the most intriguing aspects of Atkinson’s personality. . . . It is hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Pat Pelfrey to write this book. . . . [Her] expertise is apparent throughout. . . . [The] book [begins] with what is easily the clearest and most inclusive discussion of the passage of SP-1 and SP-2 so far published. . . . There is no better description to be found of these tumultuous years; Pelfrey’s book is worth the price of purchase for these chapters alone.”—Vanderhoef, Larry N. De Gruyter
“Pelfrey writes from an unparalleled inside position. . . . Full of insight.”—Karen Merritt Journal Of The Society For College And University Planning
“Enlightening. . . . This book provides a wealth of important observations about the most salient aspects of the Atkinson presidency.”—Cristina Gonzalez, University of California, Davis Rev Higher Ed
"Her riveting chapter on the history of intelligence testing, disputes over the reliability of aptitude versus achievement testing and America's obsession with standardized tests should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the history of the interplay between merit and democracy."—Sheldon Rothblatt History of Universities 27, no. 1
"This engaging book is blessed with a special chemistry. It is, first, a

revealing story of one of the most intelligent, adaptive, and creative

leaders in the history of the University of California. It is, second, a

superb account of the knottiest problems—affirmative action, relations

with the national laboratories, for example—faced by the University during

the Atkinson presidency. It is, third, remarkably enriched by Patricia Pelfrey's talents, long experience, keen judgment, and objectivity as the storyteller."--Neil J. Smelser, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and author of Reflections on the University of California

“This book has a wide range of appeal, from University of California loyalists to scholars of public higher education, its governance, administration and politics.”--Karl S. Pister, Chancellor Emeritus, UC Santa Cruz and Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering Emeritus, UC Berkeley


The Evolution of a Crisis

For some reasons ... it has been very difficult for the University community to create, develop, and rally around a vision of the University for the future-a vision that can be supported by all constituencies, faculty and staff, students, Regents, State government and alumni.

UC Provost Walter Massey, remarks to the Regents, July 21, 1995

The End of Racial Preferences at the University of California

On July 20, 1995, the Board of Regents of the University of California rolled back thirty years of history by abolishing the use of racial and ethnic preferences in admissions and employment. The two resolutions approved by the board, SP-1 (on admissions) and SP-2 (on employment and purchasing), passed by a narrow margin after a long and exhausting day of regental maneuvering and unsuccessful attempts at compromise. The vote itself was the culmination of eight divisive months of discussion and debate about the merits of affirmative action. It was a decision made against the advice of the president, the vice presidents, the systemwide Academic Senate, and the nine chancellors of the University. Given the glacial pace at which universities change course, this was a reversal of extraordinary speed.

There were historical ironies in the Regents' action. The University of California had been among the first universities in the country to establish programs to attract more minority and low-income students to its overwhelmingly white student body. In the 1970s, when a white applicant, Allan Bakke, challenged an affirmative action program at UC's Davis medical school, the University took the case all the way to the US Supreme Court. The decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which held that race and ethnicity could be considered as one factor among others in admission, set a new legal standard for the use of preferences in American colleges and universities. UC's efforts over many years to prepare and enroll talented minority students were undertaken at the urging of both the Regents and the legislature, in recognition that California was on the threshold of becoming the first mainland state to consist of a majority of minorities. With annual immigration in the hundreds of thousands from some sixty countries, California was already one of the most diverse societies on the planet. Its public university seemed the last place in which anyone would contemplate a sudden break with three decades of affirmative action.

Yet in fall 1994, when the topic of racial preferences first appeared on the Regents' agenda, circumstances were ripe for such a challenge. Politically, the state was in the midst of one of its periodic spasms of anti-immigrant sentiment; 1994's Proposition 187, one of several anti-immigrant initiatives, would have ended access to health care and public education for illegal immigrants, most of whom were Mexican. (The measure was overwhelmingly approved by the electorate-including nearly two-thirds of white voters-but later thrown out as unconstitutional by the courts.) The state's Republican governor, Pete Wilson, had just ridden to reelection on this wave of anti-immigrant feeling, exacerbated by a prolonged economic downturn. In the first three years of the 1990s, with the collapse of the defense and aerospace industries, the state lost nearly half a million jobs and its unemployment rate leaped to over 9 percent. The public mood was sour. Californians who were pessimistic about the direction their state was heading outnumbered optimists by two to one.

All state-supported agencies were struggling through their fourth straight year of draconian budget cuts. For the University, the cumulative shortfall-the difference between what it would have gotten from the state in normal times and what it actually received-amounted to nearly a billion dollars, the equivalent of the entire state-funded budget for three of its nine campuses. Divisions were rife within the University community over the budget crisis; deciding how to share the pain was a difficult and contentious process. The lingering effects of a highly public controversy over the University's compensation policies and practices that began with the 1992 departure of the previous president, David P. Gardner, made it even worse. Some on the campuses blamed the Office of the President, the University's systemwide administration, for transforming a bad budget situation into a terrible one.

But perhaps the key institutional reality that ignited the debate over affirmative action was the intensifying competition for a place at UC. Admissions standards at UC are closer to those of elite private institutions like Stanford than to those of most public universities. Under the state's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, the University's students must be drawn from among the top 12.5 percent of California high school seniors. To become eligible for admission to UC, students must meet stringent requirements in subject matter, scholarship, and standardized examinations. Eligibility, as the idea was applied at UC, did two things at once: it spelled out the University's academic standards, and it promised every undergraduate student who met those standards a place at UC, though not necessarily at the campus or in the program of first choice. In the words of a faculty white paper, eligibility is both "a 'road map' to students aspiring to attend UC and, since the 1960s, a guarantee of admission to those who meet the threshold requirements."

Until 1973, UC was able to accommodate all applicants in the top 12.5 percent. In that year, for the first time, the University's Berkeley campus had to turn away qualified freshmen. Over the next twenty years, admission to both Berkeley and UCLA became increasingly difficult even for exceedingly well qualified students; many were redirected to other UC campuses. And despite fee increases to help deal with budget reductions, UC was still one of the best bargains in American higher education. Changes in the price structure of private institutions meant that UC was a place in which students could receive an undergraduate education comparable to a university like Stanford for a fraction of the cost. Demand in both undergraduate and professional programs was outstripping the spaces available at campuses like UCLA and Berkeley. In 1994, UCLA received 25,300 applications for a fall 1995 freshman class of 3,700; Berkeley's numbers were similar. The college-age cohort in California, the largest since the baby boom generation of the 1960s, was about to hit, and UC was already beginning to feel the insistent push of rising demand. The University would have to accommodate student numbers comparable to those of the 1960s but at an even faster pace and in the midst of a fiscal drought. Since it considered only the most highly qualified for acceptance into its undergraduate programs, admission to UC was intensely competitive.

In the mid-1970s, the California legislature had adopted a policy calling on UC and the California State University (CSU) system to enroll an undergraduate student body that approximated the ethnic and racial composition of the state's public high schools. By the 1990s, a public collision between these two realities-UC's high-stakes, zero-sum admissions policy under the Master Plan and the legislative mandate to encompass an ethnically and racially diverse undergraduate student body-was increasingly likely. That is exactly what President Gardner told the Regents during a 1990 discussion of affirmative action:

So, we talk about these policies ... as though they somehow all hold together to everybody's satisfaction, when in fact, translated into practice, everybody is unhappy.... The groups that are ... more eligible on academically objective criteria are unhappy because we're turning them away. Those who think the academically objective criteria are, in fact, discriminatory against them because of special problems and circumstances in their communities, think we ought to rely less on those and more on subjective criteria. Anyone who thinks they have the answer to this problem does not comprehend it. And those who comprehend it don't have an answer.

It was a highly unstable environment in which the University of California was more than usually vulnerable to challenges from unhappy constituencies. Even so, the Regents' decision might never have happened were it not for Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Cook of San Diego.

In 1993, the Cooks launched a letter-writing campaign to legislators, University officials, and others about what they saw as the unfair advantage minority applicants enjoyed in UC's five medical schools. Their son, James, a white applicant who was also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC San Diego (UCSD), had been accepted at Harvard Medical School in 1992 but denied admission to UC's medical schools, including his first choice, UC San Diego. He reapplied in 1993 but was accepted only at UC Davis.

What made the Cooks different from other disgruntled families of rejected applicants was the energy and thoroughness with which they pursued information about the students who did get admitted. First, they gathered statistics about the students who were accepted at UC San Diego's medical school between 1987 and 1993. Later, they analyzed similar figures for UC Irvine and UCLA. These statistics, they claimed, demonstrated two telling facts about UC medical school admissions.

One was that minority students on average had the lowest grades and test scores of those accepted at UC medical schools. The Cooks translated these abstract numbers into visually compelling form by producing a chart, called a scatterplot, that showed the distribution of grades and test scores for those admitted. Most minority scores clustered at the bottom.

Further, the Cooks maintained, their figures showed that minority students' chances of being admitted were three times greater than those of nonminority students-a much larger disparity than one would expect if race and ethnicity were just one factor among others. As a result, according to the Cooks, the University discriminated against highly qualified whites and Asians, who were forced to go to expensive private and out-of-state institutions for their medical education.

The matter might have ended there, were it not for two things. First, through persistence and determination the Cooks won a sympathetic hearing for their views from several Regents, including Clair Burgener of San Diego and Ward Connerly of Sacramento, an African American businessman recently appointed to the board by Governor Wilson. Connerly later wrote that he first heard about the Cooks' complaints from Regent Burgener who, concerned that the couple might sue the University, asked Connerly to meet with them in his capacity as chair of the Regents' committee on finance. Connerly did so in August 1994. The Cooks did not know that Connerly was of African American heritage until they met him in his office, and they immediately assumed he would have no interest in their cause. They were wrong. He was impressed both by their son's qualifications and by their statistics, including the scatterplot. "The last thing I wanted was to become embroiled in racial politics on the Board of Regents," Connerly wrote. "But ... I said to them what I couldn't deny in my heart: 'This is wrong.'"

Second, Governor Wilson was about to make a bid for the presidency in the 1996 national elections. His outspoken support for Proposition 187 during his 1994 gubernatorial reelection campaign had won him both a landslide victory in California and national attention as a potential presidential candidate. Opposition to affirmative action was the centerpiece of his presidential agenda. The University of California was a promising target for a demonstration of this anti-affirmative action strategy; ending racial and ethnic preferences in California's leading public university would have a nationwide impact. As governor, Wilson not only appointed members to the UC Board of Regents (Connerly, an old friend, was one of his nominees), but was a member himself.

Regents Connerly and Burgener asked UC President Jack Peltason to put the Cooks' report and the issue of medical school admissions on the agenda for the board's next meeting in November 1994. At that meeting, UC officials did not dispute the Cooks' assertion that the grades and test scores of minority students admitted to UC's medical schools were generally lower than those of white and Asian applicants. It was the consistent disparity in these academic measures among racial and ethnic groups, after all, that made affirmative action necessary in the first place. Rather, as Peltason emphasized in his introductory remarks, every student accepted by a UC medical school was deemed academically qualified to become a physician. In admitting students, the University did what other selective universities did, which was to assemble a class that reflected different backgrounds, experiences, races, and interests.

Other speakers reminded the board of how slow the journey toward educational access had been for minorities who aspired to become physicians. In 1964, 97 percent of all medical students in the United States were non-Hispanic whites; in 1968, when the UC Davis medical school opened, its first class had no African Americans, no Latinos, and no Native Americans, at a time when 25 percent of California's population consisted of members of minority groups. It was only as medical schools began actively recruiting minority students in the 1970s that enrollments began to rise.

The Regents' deputy general counsel, Gary Morrison, discussed the legal ramifications of professional school admissions. He told the board he had reviewed the University's medical school admissions practices, and though he had a very few changes to recommend, generally they were legally sound and consistent with Bakke.

Dr. Michael Drake, associate dean of the UC San Francisco (UCSF) school of medicine, explained that in the ferociously competitive world of medical school admissions, grades and test scores were not the only factors that the University considered. Good physicians must excel at other things besides chemistry and anatomy. Admission to medical school was not simply a reward for having performed well in the classroom:

To be sure, classroom performance above a certain level is required to indicate that the student can withstand the considerable scholastic challenge of a modern medical education. But although there are levels of classroom performance that are so poor that they virtually guarantee failure, there is no level of performance so high that it guarantees an outstanding physician. We have to look deeper, at the people behind the scores.

And the University, in looking at "the people behind the scores," did not end its scrutiny of prospective students with an assessment of individual merit. As a public institution, it took into account health care trends in California, physician manpower needs, and social policy. All the evidence, the University argued, suggested that minority physicians were far more likely than others to practice in medical specialties and geographic areas where the state's needs were greatest.

Dr. Drake told a story to illustrate his point that the University was not sacrificing excellence in pursuing diversity. Every year at UCSF, he told the Regents, members of the medical school graduating class select the classmate they believe most closely approximates the ideal physician. In each of the previous two years, the students chosen by their peers were members of minority groups.

UC's medical school admissions policies and procedures were, at bottom, a complex calculus that balanced academic merit and intangible qualities of mind and character with the professional workforce requirements of a highly diverse society. The need to strike this balance was why exceptionally qualified applicants like James Cook could be accepted at a private institution like Harvard and turned down at a public institution like UC.

Regent Connerly was unconvinced. He felt the presentation failed to answer the questions raised by the Cooks and to address the issue of whether, in employing racial preferences, the University was ignoring the rights of individuals of all races for access to higher education. "It is time to take off the training wheels," he said at the November 1994 meeting, referring to UC's admissions policies.

Six weeks later, in early January 1995, he told the secretary of the Regents that he wanted the issue of affirmative action put on the agenda again. His interest now extended beyond the question of medical school admissions to the broader issue of affirmative action in the University at all levels.

Peltason immediately made a counteroffer: a series of presentations over the next six months that would inform the board about the nature and purpose of affirmative action, not only as it functioned in the admissions process, but also in employment, contracting, and purchasing. Peltason also told Connerly that he was initiating a review of the University's current practices in affirmative action and would report to the Regents on that review.

In presentations throughout the winter and into the spring, University officials hammered at themes that echoed the discussion in November. UC's academic standards for all entering students were high, and in fact eligibility requirements had been made more stringent five times over the previous twelve years. Admissions policies and selection procedures were both rigorous and fair, subject to constant scrutiny by faculty and administrators to ensure their effectiveness and their relevance to the times. The most important point, made over and over again, was that these policies and practices sought to honor the Regents' 1988 policy on diversity at UC. This policy, which reflected resolutions adopted by the legislature, declared that each campus would seek to encompass "the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic, and socio-economic backgrounds characteristic of California." The admissions process at the University of California represented, as one speaker put it, "a balance of educational values and public policy."

Some Regents were persuaded by the administration's case. Others were not, and some were suspicious that UC officials were not giving them all the facts about how the University actually administered its admissions programs. As the spring progressed, an increasingly worried Peltason began working behind the scenes on a compromise with the governor and Connerly. He persuaded them to postpone the item until the July Regents' meeting to avoid making the issue a topic of contention during the crucial spring discussions with the legislature about UC's budget. He then made the case that, even if Connerly and the governor were right about abolishing affirmative action, a public battle on the Board of Regents was in no one's interests. A proposed ballot initiative banning racial and ethnic preferences in California state agencies-later to become Proposition 209-was in the process of qualifying for the November 1996 ballot. It would take at least until that date for the Academic Senate, which had authority over the conditions for admission, to work its way through the many complications involved in so drastic a change in admissions policy. Therefore, Peltason argued, the politically wiser course was to spare the University a nasty and divisive war over an issue that could ultimately be settled at the ballot box anyway. In the meantime, the administration and the Academic Senate would have time to prepare in case the citizens of California voted to end racial and ethnic preferences.

Besides heading off a national and institutional controversy, Peltason was trying to protect the UC budget. It was threatened from two directions-the Republican governor, who wanted to ban preferences, and the Democratic legislature, most of whose members wanted to preserve them. Both Connerly and the governor seemed willing to listen. In June, as Peltason left for a conference in Italy, he thought he had succeeded in defusing the issue.

But Connerly had devoted much time in the intervening months to talking with faculty, students, and UC admissions staff. These conversations convinced him that the University's admissions practices, professional and undergraduate alike, relied so heavily on race and ethnicity that they violated the law as laid down in the Bakke decision. As a result, UC was lowering its academic quality by enrolling minority students who did not meet the same standards expected of other applicants. UC was, he believed, an institution with "de facto racial quotas."

On June 1, Governor Wilson issued an executive order calling for "decisions in public employment and contracting ... based upon merit" and the end of "race- and gender-based preferential programs." That same day, in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, the governor wrote, "While I have repeatedly declared that California should celebrate its diversity, achievement of diversity cannot be justification for lowering qualifications or preferring race and gender to merit."

In a last-ditch effort, Peltason, accompanied by Regent John Davies, the governor's appointments secretary, made a final visit to the governor to explain in person the difficulty of ending affirmative action in admissions on the short timeline contemplated by him and Connerly. Peltason wanted to put his own item before the Regents, he went on, an alternative that would essentially say that the board would make no policy decision about preferences until the outcome of the November 1996 ballot was known. Given Wilson's superior advantage with the board, Peltason also asked to present his alternative item first. The governor refused. There would be no compromise.

The debate had never been over whether all qualified California undergraduates would be admitted to UC-under University policy, every state applicant who met the University's eligibility requirements was promised a place at one of the eight general campuses. In its 137-year history, the University had never turned away a California resident who met these standards. It was under no such obligation where graduate and professional students were concerned; the two processes were different, just as the aims of undergraduate and professional education were different. But these facts were ultimately submerged in the polemics of the debate, and the image of excellent white and Asian students pushed aside to make room for less qualified African American and Latino students was burned into the public imagination.

On July 5, Connerly made public his resolutions abolishing racial and ethnic preferences. In his letter to the Regents, he referred to some of the concerns that had been expressed by his colleagues on the board and others-that the timing was suspect, that more facts were needed before a decision of this magnitude could be made, and that action now would put the University out in front on a controversial and inflammatory issue. "The question that is before us," he stated, "is a rather simple one: should the University use race and ethnicity in the decision-making process?" And he continued:

The fact that the University of California might be the first state constitutional governing board in the nation to take a policy position which eliminates race-based decision-making does not disturb me as long as our position results from a deliberative process, which we have certainly had, and as long as our position is the correct one, which I strongly believe it is, although many of us will differ on this point. UC has never before been timid about being out-front, I don't know why we need to start being so now.

On July 19, President Bill Clinton defended affirmative action in a speech delivered at the National Archives against the backdrop of the original Declaration of Independence. The battle over Affirmative action was no longer just a California issue but a national one. When the Regents met the next day, the three major television networks-NBC, ABC, and CBS, along with its 60 Minutes news program-showed up to cover the proceedings and the inevitable protest demonstrations amid a crowd of more than a thousand people. Governor Wilson framed the Regents' debate early: the question before the board, he said, was at bottom a choice between fairness to individuals or racial division. He used Berkeley admissions as an example of UC's discriminatory practices and responded angrily when Berkeley Chancellor Chang-lin Tien tried to correct some of his assertions about how the Berkeley admissions process worked.

It did not help the administration's case that the reviews ordered by Peltason had uncovered some practices that went well beyond the limits set by Bakke. UC Irvine and UC Davis, for example, routinely admitted all underrepresented minority students who met UC's basic admissions requirements. UCLA and UC Berkeley gave individual assessments to applications from underrepresented minorities but not to those of white and Asian students. With characteristic candor, Peltason made these legal vulnerabilities public in a letter to the Regents before the July meeting and pledged to end them. But the administration had handed Connerly and the governor a powerful talking point in their quest to demonstrate that affirmative action as practiced at UC was riddled with abuse.

All the pent-up expectation, anxiety, and antagonism of the previous seven months hung in the air as legislators, public officials, and members of the public lined up to address the board. Former Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown argued passionately that the timing of this vote rested solely on the governor's presidential ambitions. The Reverend Jesse Jackson held the room spellbound by beginning his speech in a whisper before rising to his usual sonorous cadences as he condemned the Regents' proposed action as a tragedy. He asked the audience to stand and join him in a prayer; about one-third did. At one point in the proceedings, a bomb threat emptied the room and sent the Regents and the crowd spilling out of the building and into a nearby parking lot, where Jackson and the governor huddled briefly, Regents caucused, and rumors flew. One rumor was that the chancellors would resign en masse if the board approved the Connerly resolutions. After a long delay, the police let everyone back into the building.

It was a marathon day of emotion and eloquence on both sides. But in the end, Governor Wilson had the votes, and when the issue finally came before the board sometime after 8:00 P.M., the outcome was not really in doubt. The Regents approved SP-1 by a margin of 14 to 10, with one abstention. Jackson and a group of protesters in the overflowing meeting room marked the moment by singing the anthem of the civil rights movement, "We Shall Overcome." The Regents decamped to another conference room to enact SP-2, 15 to 10.

Why did the administration fail? Some blamed its presentations to the Regents, charging that they were overly long, involved, and tedious. But the admissions policies and practices they were describing resisted easy summarization. Their complexity reflected the difficulty of balancing so many issues involving individual achievement, institutional goals, and social policy.

Some blamed the president for not keeping the resolutions off the regental agenda in the first place. In addition to the fact that he had no authority to do so-any Regent could schedule an item for the board's consideration-this view underestimated the political and institutional realities Peltason faced. He was a political scientist by profession, a warm and genial man who had spent many years learning the politics of higher education in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. Before his eight years as chancellor at UC Irvine, he had spent seven years heading a national higher-education association, the American Council on Education. All of his experience reinforced his belief in compromise. His protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations with Connerly over SP-1 were an effort to find a middle way that would spare the University an institutional bloodletting. But Connerly had a powerful governor as an ally, and powerful governors are rarely open to compromise. David Gardner, a highly gifted strategist in dealing with the Board of Regents, had failed in 1985-86 to head off a regental decision to divest the University of its stock in South African businesses, favored by Governor George Deukmejian. The board Peltason inherited was just three years removed from the executive compensation debacle, which had reflected badly on the Office of the President. Peltason had little maneuvering room and a governor leading the opposition.

If there were shortcomings in the administration's approach to making the case for affirmative action, it might have been a failure to imagine the other side of the issue. The administration's defense of its policies was reasonable and often persuasive, but perhaps it did not sufficiently acknowledge that these policies involved a trade-off: racial and ethnic preferences, in UC's zero-sum admissions universe, inevitably left some groups, notably poor whites and Asians, at a disadvantage.

In reality, it would have been surprising if the University administration had been critical of its own stance on affirmative action. For three decades, most of what Regents, governors, and legislators wanted to know from the administration was when minority enrollment figures were going to improve at UC. Affirmative action had become as much a matter of faith as a matter of policy. What the Cooks began in 1993 was a radical questioning of two assumptions that had held together the thirty-year consensus on affirmative action-that race and ethnicity carried an indeterminate but not decisive weight in selecting those admitted to the University and that diversity brought educational benefits to all students. With their scatterplot and their anecdotes about highly accomplished nonminority students forced to seek expensive medical education outside their own state, the Cooks upended these assumptions. The challenge they put to the University-were its admissions policies fundamentally fair?-shifted the grounds of the debate from the social benefits of affirmative action to its impact on individual lives. The vote on SP-1 and SP-2, for all its obviously political overtones, raises the intriguing question of whether successive Boards of Regents really understood the trade-offs involved in their own long-held policies on racial and ethnic preferences.

One thing is certain. The University was caught in the crossfire of California's complicated demographic politics, with a determined governor on the other side. It was not to be the last time.

The Regents Choose a President

As the affirmative action debate unwound throughout the winter and spring and into the summer, another critical institutional question was in the process of being answered. Who would be the next president of the University of California?

In January 1995, Jack Peltason announced his intention to retire the following October. He had guided the University through three crisis-ridden years. "We haven't fallen off the cliff," he told a Los Angeles Times reporter in June, "but we have used up the short-term fixes." In a long career in higher education, he said, he had never occupied a position in which so many constituencies wanted to be informed and consulted first. UC Provost Walter Massey, an early frontrunner for the presidency, had already withdrawn his name from consideration. This time, some members of the board believed, the University should look outside the UC system for a new president. Regent Roy Brophy, a Sacramento builder, headed the search committee.

Its first choice, President Gordon Gee of Ohio State University, unexpectedly withdrew on June 22, the day before the Regents were to approve his appointment. Gee cited his devotion to Ohio State and the extraordinary outpouring of support from the university's trustees, faculty, students, and alumni when word of his impending departure leaked out. Another factor might have been articles in a San Francisco newspaper criticizing Gee's 1990 decision, while head of the University of Colorado, to approve more than $85,000 in deferred-compensation bonuses for several administrators, including himself. Deferred compensation was a sensitive subject at the University of California. A deferred-compensation program for UC chancellors and other top officials, established during more prosperous times, had been one of the flashpoints for the 1992 political firestorm over executive compensation. Peltason had been forced to spend large amounts of time trimming and then defending the University's executive salary and benefits program before the legislature and the public.

Coming just a few weeks after Gee's abrupt withdrawal, the board's decision to end racial preferences at UC was widely viewed as putting the last nail in the coffin of the presidential search. "Finding someone now, either inside or outside the university, will be that much more difficult," the Sacramento Bee editorialized on August 13. "But what would be nearly impossible is finding a first-rank candidate for a politically damaged institution and getting widespread board concurrence from the divided regents in the short time before Peltason is determined to leave."

Yet the Regents were in no mood to temporize. The search committee turned its attention to the nine UC chancellors, several of whom had already been rumored to be under consideration. One of them was the chancellor of the San Diego campus, Richard C. Atkinson. He had been a candidate in 1992 when the Regents chose Peltason instead, perhaps influenced by a 1980s lawsuit filed against Atkinson by a female Harvard professor involving an extramarital affair dating to 1976. Atkinson settled the lawsuit out of court in 1986, saying he chose this course because he and his wife wanted to get on with their lives. When the search committee talked to people familiar with Atkinson's record in San Diego, he was praised for his leadership in transforming the campus from a good to an excellent university during fifteen years as chancellor. His solid success as an administrator and his stature as a scholar-emphasized by the faculty members on the search committee-won over first the committee and then the board. On August 18, five days after the Bee's editorial, the Regents voted 19 to 1, with two abstentions, to name Atkinson president of the University, effective October 1, 1995.

In the aftermath of the affirmative action vote, it was clear where the fault lines lay within the University. There were divisions on the Board of Regents, unhappiness among faculty leaders over the board's July action, institutional strains from a four-year budget crisis, and potentially damaging questions about just how inclusive the University could or would be in the wake of its newfound status as the first major American university to abolish racial and ethnic preferences in admission. Whether the new president, or anyone else, could construct "a vision of the University in the future" that UC and its many communities would support was far from certain.

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