Jonathan Garcia is certain that without the Chicano Student Affairs office and other retention programs at the UA, he would have dropped out of school.
This year, while interning with the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the UA senior says he took the initiative to speak out to campus groups, to get the word out that Proposition 107 on the Nov. 2 ballot is far from an initiative about equality.
"When I first read the initiative it stunned me. I don't know how it will be supported. How can you be against equal opportunity?" Garcia asks.
Prop. 107 would amend the Arizona Constitution to prohibit state and municipal governments from conducting business using any preferential treatment on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, or national origin. So procurement or contracts for construction would no longer put women- or minority-owned businesses that qualify at the top of the selection list. And at places like the UA, kiss goodbye directives to increase minority or women represented in academic areas like science.
If there were no longer a need for equal-opportunity policy, Garcia could understand doing away with such policies, but unfortunately there remains a need, he says. He looks at his own life as an example. His father crossed the border illegally into the United States from Mexico before Garcia was born in the United States.
Eventually, Garcia's father received his citizenship, but life growing up in East Los Angeles wasn't easy for Garcia. His family struggled financially, and he worked hard in school with a vision of his own—to go to college. "I wanted even higher standards. I'm a first-generation college student. Now I want to go to law school. I've been doing what's considered the unthinkable in my family. ... Not everybody is given the same opportunity, and I know that if it wasn't for equal-opportunity laws, I wouldn't be where I am now."
The person who brought the proposition to Arizona is Ward Connerly, an African-American California businessman and former University of California regent. The first proposition to end affirmative action policies started in his home state when his organization, the American Civil Rights Institute, put an initiative on the ballot in 1996. Connerly moved on to other states, including Washington, Michigan, Nebraska and now Arizona.
However, Connerly and his supporters haven't always been successful in getting these anti-equal opportunity measures passed in other states. In 2008, for example, he brought ballot initiatives up in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, but Colorado voters rejected the amendment.
In 2008, Connerly failed to submit the required number of valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in Arizona. Then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer invalidated 40 percent of the signatures submitted after a lawsuit was filed by Protect Arizona's Freedom, which challenged the validity of more than 100,000 signatures.
Signatures and the tactics of how those signatures were gathered have been challenged in almost every state where Connerly's group puts up an initiative. However, despite the problems with the signatures in Arizona, Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams helped refer Prop. 107 to the ballot.
Many against the proposition, like Garcia, have discovered that Connerly's organization has an odd history that on the surface seems harmless enough, but is actually backed by a good amount of cash; and in Arizona, the campaign for Prop. 107 is mostly funded by out-of-state dollars donated to Connerly's group.
Look at the bottom of the Yes on 107 campaign signs. In fine print it says, "Major funding by out-of-state contributor ACRC." The ACRC, or American Civil Rights Coalition, is part of Connerly's American Institute for Civil Rights. The funding for the campaigns and the sources of those funds has been questioned regarding those donations and his own compensation from the organization.
Thousands in contributions have gone to the American Civil Rights Coalition from right-wing contributors, such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Richard Mellon Scaife, and the Olin Foundation. Connerly was also named a Bradley Prize honoree by the Bradley Foundation and awarded $250,000.
UA President Robert Shelton spoke at a public panel discussion on Prop. 107, and said the UA will not stop doing what it needs to do to be a diverse university.
"We will not abandon our land grant mission," to open the university's doors to everyone, Shelton said. "We will not turn our backs on what we know to be fundamentally true. To remain a world-class, public research university we need the talent, we need the inspiration that comes from a diverse faculty, staff, and student body."
Barbara Atwood, a spokesperson for the no on Prop. 107 group, Protect Arizona's Freedom, is also a professor at the UA's Roger E. James College of Law. Atwood, however, made it clear she was not speaking to the Weekly on behalf of the UA.
Atwood says she sees Prop. 107 dismantling important programs that help retain underrepresented minority students and helps recruit them to the UA when they are in high school, sending in college students with similar backgrounds to show youth they can go on to college.
"But there's been a total misperception, partly by the proponents, that we have quotas. We don't have quotas," Atwood says.
In the professional graduate-level programs, like the law school, Atwood describes the application process as holistic. "We don't have quotas or numerical affirmative action or anything like that, but there is the ability of the admissions committee to look at all backgrounds—race, ethnicity, how the student engages in community service, did they travel—all of those factors are important to help us create a diverse class. That's an important part of the school experience."
Atwood says she's been teaching for so long she remembers a time when ethnic minorities were underrepresented on college campuses, if not at times nonexistent. What's taken place over the years, increasing minority populations on campuses is a "really good thing. I wasn't in the era when there were one or two women ... But the class was very, very white, and it doesn't look like that today, and that's just such a great thing."
Leon Drolet, manager of the Yes on Prop. 107 campaign, says he thinks the campaign is going well. "People are intelligent enough to understand that ending affirmative action programs that treat people differently based on race is what this is about."
Does Drolet take the charges seriously that Connerly is a right-wing tool that has aligned himself with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke? He says it never comes up "in the serious political arena." When it does come up, Drolet blames opponents, whom he calls the "race industry that is committed to maintaining a system of separating people based on race that financially benefits from this particular industry."
Connerly "despises everyone who discriminates," Drolet says.
However, there is a YouTube video quoting Connerly blessing the KKK for agreeing with his initiatives. Drolet says that interview was taken out of context.
Regarding Shelton's comments on Prop. 107, Drolet cautions the UA president to think about what happened when the University of Michigan's president announced she'd defy the law. "That caused a conflict with the AG and she was forced to step down."