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Burning Down the House

Politics, Governance, and Affirmative Action at the University of California

Brian Pusser

Publication Year: 2004

Burning Down the House presents a riveting analysis of one of the most nationally prominent and bitterly contested policy battles in the history of American higher education: the struggle to eliminate affirmative action at the University of California. A timely and essential addition to the literature on affirmative action, it examines the political, economic, legal, and organizational factors that shaped the debate in California and offers unique insight into the contemporary politics of admissions policy, university governance, and the role of higher education in broader state and national political contests to come.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Frontiers in Education

Burning Down the House

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pp. iii


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pp. v

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Every project imparts a number of lessons. One that I take from this endeavor is that you can never have too much assistance, nor can you be too grateful for that support. This book was made possible with the cooperation of students, staff, faculty, administrators, and Regents of the University of California who lent their voices, experiences, and energy to its creation...

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1. Burning Down the House: The Politics of Higher Education Policy

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pp. 1-11

On July 20, 1995, in the culmination of twelve months of rising organizational and political economic conflict, the University of California (UC) Board of Regents voted 14–10 to end race and gender preferences in university admissions, and 15–10 to do so for employment and contracting.1 The votes, having been delayed by a bomb threat, were taken at the end of more than twelve hours of...

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2. The UC Governance and Decision-Making Structure: History and Context

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pp. 13-24

The origin of the University of California governance and policymaking structure can be traced to the California Constitutional Convention of 1849. At the convention, article IX of the constitution was adopted, providing that funds received from the sale of federal land grants under the Morrill Act would be...

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3. The Context Shaping the Affirmative Action Contest at UC

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pp. 25-44

Affirmative action policymaking at the University of California was shaped in myriad ways by the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on public education in Brown v. Board of Education. In Brown, the Court held that racial distinctions at the core of segregationist education laws violated equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result...

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4. Interest Articulation and the Illusion of Control

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pp. 45-82

Connerly’s activist stance was somewhat surprising, given that his qualifications, like those of many other Regents, were essentially that he was a strong ally of the governor and had contributed money to the governor’s campaigns over the years. It has been argued that Connerly’s appointment...

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5. The New Politics of Governance

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pp. 83-118

Whatever hopes the administrative leadership at UC might have had for an institutional solution to the affirmative action contest were soon to be ended. Old patterns of mediation and interest articulation were being challenged by an increasingly zero sum admissions process, rising fees, and an emerging cohort of conservative politicians bent on using higher education as a site of...

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6. National Contest and Conflict

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pp. 119-142

On the eve of the July meeting of the Regents, it was becoming increasingly clear that absent some intervention, a steady march to a vote on affirmative action was inevitable. To many observers it appeared that the UC Office of the President was determined to continue on the path of mediation and articulation, hoping ultimately for something of a “mend it, don’t end it”...

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7. Contest, Resistance, and Decision

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pp. 143-196

On the morning of Thursday, July 20, the Regents’ headquarters complex in San Francisco resembled an occupied territory. Police officers were posted on each of the four blocks surrounding the university complex, some in riot gear, others arrayed as part of an elite SWAT team. Hovering around the barricades, stringing cables and testing microphones was a small army of television and...

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8. Aftermath

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pp. 197-209

The reaction to the Regents’ votes was swift in coming. Just days after the votes, White House chief of staff and former California congressman Leon Panetta stated that the federal government would reevaluate nearly $4 billion in funding to UC, and indicated that the government might withdraw that funding in light of the Regents’ votes. Panetta’s comment reflected a desire...

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9. The End and the Beginning

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pp. 211-228

The contest over affirmative action at UC reveals a great deal about the contemporary politics of higher education organization and governance. As a complex and multilayered public contest over an important policy, one in which the preferences and strategies of a wide variety of interests were revealed, it offers answers to the question, “How should we understand...

Appendix 1. SP-1 as Amended and Passed

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pp. 229-230

Appendix 2. SP-2 as Amended and Passed

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pp. 231-232


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pp. 233-251


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pp. 253-262


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pp. 263-278

List of Titles, SUNY series: frontiers in Education

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pp. 279-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485262
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460573
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460576

Page Count: 291
Illustrations: 5 tables, 8 figures
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series, Frontiers in Education