Affirmative Action the Chicago Way

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi

Apparently there were no qualified Mexican Americans out of the 600 applicants for the job of Chancellor of the University of California, Davis (UCD). So the Regents, in their wisdom, chose Linda Katehi, a white woman from Illinois. She is eminently qualified to hold the job, we were told when we asked why the Regents could not find a California Chicano/Latino to do the job.

Today, buried in the second section of the Sacramento Bee, we find out the reason why this woman was chosen. During her time as Provost at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (which has responsibility for admissions), there are allegations of political influence in admissions. Students were admitted over the protest of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UI) admissions committee and others who had their rejections reversed during an “unadvertised appeal process.” Looks like legacy admissions are back.

According to the original exposé by the Chicago Tribune, most parents did not know there was a secret way to appeal the denial of admissions or that it overturned denials of “politically connected applicants.”  The report was based upon over 1800 pages of documents including emails from lawmakers and university trustees who advocated for their “relatives and neighbors” to be let in. Katehi (the new UC Davis Chancellor) had no comment on the report. The investigation indicated that politicians and others sent letters recommending reversal of denial of admissions for students who were found to be admitted later.

According to Pamela Burnett, who is the UC Davis Director of Undergraduate Admissions, letters and phone calls like these at UC Davis never have any impact on the decision-making process. I suspect the faculty will be weary of Linda early on.

So here is the question of the day: Was this racism at its best or is it just the Chicago Way?

The right wingnuts have been going crazy over Sonia Sotomayor (notice the silence of the progressives on this one). They call Sonia a racist and say she is not qualified to hold a spot on the United States Supreme Court. (Now I give one to the Big O who is rock solid on her so far.)

How can a white woman from Illinois get a job here in Califa, if in Illinois she only listened to politicians and Board Trustees (the Board had no Spanish surnames listed)? How can she be the best qualified coming from an institution that claims on its website the following, “Nowhere else on campus is that increase in both students and faculty felt more acutely than at 510 E. Chalmers Street, home of the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Latina/o Studies Program”? This is a Provost who has been there since 2006 during which time Chicano/a enrollment went from 2291 in the year 2005, to 2025 in this year of 2009. (Oh yes, during that time the Liberal Arts department apparently was combined with sciences so microbiology became a part of the count.) Of course, the reality is that in the spring of 2009 there are 266 fewer Chicano/a students enrolled at UI than when she started. Now that is what I call progress!

With her track record at UI, how can she be the best qualified person to head up UCD where 62% of all Chicano/Latino students are disenrolled? That is right. Out of every 100 Chicano/Latino students who get admitted, 62 will be disenrolled by the time their class graduates. (Let us see what the Chicano Caucus of the Legislature does with this one.)

Since there are no real programs funded by the University of California to help these students make it and since full-time faculty positions are regularly raided by other departments, cutting down the number of full-time Chicano/Latino faculty that get to teach and mentor Chicano/a students, the likelihood of Latinos being successful at UCD is about as good as being rejected by the University of Illinois if you have the right connections.


So Limbost, Rover, and the Newt are you ready to call for this woman to not be selected as our Chancellor or is it OK for her to bring the Chicago Way of legacy programs to California? I look forward to your defense of this injustice.

Steven J. Ybarra

Steve Ybarra

Steven J. Ybarra JD is a retired civil rights attorney who operates a consultant company in California. He is a member of the California Democratic State Party and is Chair of the Chicano Latino Caucus Voting Rights Committee and a long time political activist. Contact Steven at: This article is copyright by Steven J. Ybarra JD, originally published in but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media if this entire credit paragraph is attached.

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