The University of California board of regents voted Thursday to drop affirmative action policies on admissions and hiring following a tumultuous meeting in which demonstrators led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson forced the panel from its meeting room.
The board voted 14-10 to drop race-based admissions at the nine-campus system and 15-10 to halt affirmative action in hiring.
After the votes, Jackson and about 200 protesters headed toward downtown on California Street, a major thoroughfare, chanting, “We will go to jail tonight.”
The votes were major victories for forces working to roll back affirmative action programs around the nation, including California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who has made repealing such programs key to his 1996 presidential campaign.
“It means the beginning of the end of racial preferences,” Wilson said after the votes. “We believe that students at the University of California should achieve distinction and will achieve distinction without the use of the kind of preferences that have been in place.”
The votes came a day after President Clinton pledged his support for affirmative action programs.
After the first vote on hiring, a woman stood in the back of the room and yelled in protest.
The regents suggested clearing the room, prompting Jackson, who had pledged to commit civil disobedience if necessary, to stand and cross his arms. About 100 demonstrators surged forward.
Jackson, who faced off with Wilson in two days of protest and debate on the issue, stood on a chair to address the crowd.
“We must fight back,” Jackson said. “You must contain this virus and stop it here.”
The demonstrators linked arms and sang “We Shall Overcome” and other songs of protest. There had been no attempt to disperse the demonstrators, which included students, ministers and others.
The regents left and held the second vote in another room. After that vote, Jackson left the building.
Police in riot gear ringed the building on the UC Laurel Heights campus and barricaded off streets around the campus.
Earlier, six people were arrested on civil disobedience charges and a bomb threat forced an evacuation of the meeting room for 40 minutes as the regents neared the first vote.
At the start of the meeting, Wilson tried to set the terms for debate from his vantage point as president of the panel.
“Are we going to treat all Californians equally and fairly? Or are we going to continue to divide Californians by race?” he asked.
Jackson, himself a potential presidential candidate, urged regents not to drop race-based admissions.
“The consequence of going backwards is the loss of hope, the furthering of despair, the hardening of cynicism we can ill afford,” Jackson said.
After Jackson spoke, he made a point of pushing to Wilson’s seat and shaking his hand. Wilson rose and the two spoke briefly, the taciturn governor smiling faintly.
Seventy people addressed the regents. During the debate, about 500 demonstrators marched and chanted outside, and some were let inside to watch the proceeding on television monitors.
One demonstrator hanged Wilson in effigy. Another wore a shirt saying “PETE Public Enemy To Education.”
Five people, including the Rev. Cecil Williams, a San Francisco activist, were arrested when they sat in the campus entrance and refused to move.
As police led the five away, about 300 people crowded around, chanting, “Justice yes, Wilson no.”
Another person was arrested for refusing to move aside for police.
Outside, the only sign of support for ending affirmative action was a plane towing a sign that said “End Race and Gender Based Preferences Now.”
Anti-affirmative action forces said favoring one group over another won’t work because it is using one injustice to try to rectify another.
Affirmative action supporters said while a color-blind system sounds fair, it doesn’t take into account the realities of being a minority in a racially fractured society.
The proposals were put forward by regent Ward Connerly, a black Wilson appointee. They will drop affirmative action hiring policies by January 1996 and take race out of student admission formulas by January 1997.
UC’s nine campuses select between 40 percent and 60 percent of students on grades alone. The rest are judged on grades and supplemental factors, including race and special skills.