Home » The Politics of Representation in the Charter School Debate

The Politics of Representation in the Charter School Debate

Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground: The Politics of Representation in the
Charter School Debate at the University of California, San Diego
Author(s): Lisa Rosen and Hugh Mehan
Source: American Educational Research Journal , Autumn, 2003, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Autumn,
2003), pp. 655-682
Published by: American Educational Research Association
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3699448
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American Educational Research Journal
Fall 2003, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 655-682
Reconstructing Equality on New Political
Ground: The Politics of Representation in the
Charter School Debate at the
University of California, San Diego
Lisa Rosen
University of Chicago
Hugh Mehan
University of California, San Diego
Attacks on the legitimacy of affirmative action pose new challenges forp universities committed to creating a diverse student population without sidering race or ethnicity as factors in admissions. On the basis of a case of the controversy surrounding the building of a charter school at the Un sity of California, San Diego, in response to the elimination ofaffirmative in University of California admissions, the authors describe the mea making process by which that campus established new procedures fo moting educational equality and constructed new meanings to justify policies and to resolve conflicts about their legitimacy. The charter schoo created after a contentious public debate, in which the concept for the sc and tacit definitions of equality, of social responsibility, and of the univ itself became objects of contestation. The analysis reveals (a) the constitu socialprocesses by which particular meanings of equality and social respon bility are constructed and institutionalized, and (b) the role of higher edu tion policy in reconstituting meanings of equality in the wake of affirm action ‘s political retreat.
KEYWORDS: affirmative action, educational equity, politics of representat Affirmative action policies have been either challenged aggressively or out- lawed entirely in numerous states since the mid-1990s. These develop-
ments pose a new political challenge for selective public universities, given
the “achievement gap” between White students and historically disenfran-
chised students (i.e., Black, Latino, and Native American students): how to cre-
ate a student body that is representative of the state without using affirmative
action as a tool. The challenges are not only technical but also symbolic and
political. That is, universities must not only construct new procedures for
increasing the numbers of underrepresented students on their campuses but
also, simultaneously, establish a new set of meanings to justify those policies
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Rosen and Mehan
and resolve conflicts about their legitimacy. The reflexive relationship bet meaning making and political action is the central concern of this article. examine the processes of legitimation, competition, and political comprom that shape how new interpretations of social inequality come to have powe situations of political change. We present a case study of the controversy rounding the establishment of the charter school at the University of Calif at San Diego (UCSD) as the focus for our analysis of these processes.
By highlighting the negotiated and often contested character of the c ter school dispute, our article contributes to theorizing about public p in general. Our discussion reaffirms the constitutive view that public poli a socially constructed process, in contrast to the technical-rational view th has long dominated both lay and scholarly analyses. The technical-rat view posits policy as a linear, abstract process in which policy is form elite decision makers and proceeds through distinct sequential stages formation to implementation.
The constitutive position, in contrast, regards policy as a continu process of constructing and negotiating meaning in concrete context organizational settings, policy actions both shape and are shaped by o nizational norms, routines, and standard operating procedures. Politic policy is a mechanism that powerful actors use to manage contested ceptions by focusing attention on some conditions rather than other promoting a particular interpretation of those conditions. It is also a m by which powerful actors legitimate particular meanings, which acqu sense of authority once they are solidified in policy. Finally, policy works shore up institutional authority by communicating an institution’s commi ment to particular values and ideas.
The Preuss School, a public charter school on the campus of UCSD, created in 1998 in response to the elimination of affirmative action in Un sity of California (UC) admissions statewide. The purpose of the charter sc is to prepare “disadvantaged” and “underrepresented” students to compete admission to the UC system without benefit of “racial preferences” in adm sion to either the charter school or the university. After students’ low-in status is ascertained, they are selected by a lottery constructed to be consis with state laws.
The Preuss School was created after a contentious public debate, in
which not only the concept of the charter school but also the tacit definitions
LISA ROSEN is a Research Associate (Assistant Professor) at the Center for School
Improvement, 1313 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637; e-mail [email protected]. Her
areas of special interest are educational change and the social context of education
HUGH MEHAN is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San
Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0533; e-mail [email protected]. He
directs the Center for Educational Equity and Teaching Excellence (CREATE), which
combines his commitments to research and practice concerning educational equity.
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
of community, equality, and the university itself became objects of contest
and struggle. In 1997, a coalition of university administrators, faculty, and
individuals representing San Diego’s African American and Latino commu-
nities had proposed the creation of a charter public high school on the uni-
versity campus. The proposal generated both considerable support and
tremendous controversy; eventually, it was rejected when it failed to garner
the full support of either the faculty of UCSD or its new chancellor, Robert
Dynes. The ensuing public outcry, negative publicity, and pressure from the
Regents resulted in a more comprehensive plan, which called for a newly
configured charter school, a research center to serve as an umbrella organi-
zation over the school, partnerships with public schools, and a unit to evalu-
ate the university’s multifaceted “outreach” activities. That plan was approved
by the chancellor and the faculty.
Theoretical Framework
Our analysis of the debate surrounding the creation of the charter school a the university’s response to the controversy is informed by a constitut theory of social action: the premise that human social activity, including pu lic policy discourse, both expresses and constructs meanings that define social world. These constitutive social processes often involve the “polit of representation”-competition between differently situated actors for power to define the situation for others (Gusfield, 1996, 1981; Holquist, 198 Levinson & Sutton, 2001; Shapiro, 1988; Spector & Kitsuse, 1987; Meha 1997; Rosen, 2001). At the same time, social actors also cooperate to co struct meanings for the social world through bargains and compromises tha integrate multiple interests to create diverse political coalitions in support o particular actions. In the process, the meanings ascribed to particular object are modified and sometimes transformed.
The details of our analysis are organized along two dimensions: orga-
nizational and political. The organizational dimension foregrounds how
shared norms and taken-for-granted routines shaped the university’s
response to the controversy. From an organizational perspective, such
institutionalized norms and routines constitute a repertoire of accepted
ways of doing things that shape how policies are made and implemented.
This analytical dimension emphasizes the aspects of organizations that pro-
mote stability, particularly mechanisms that work to restore equilibrium in
response to a disturbance such as that created by the charter school con-
troversy. Analysis along this dimension generally predicts that individuals
within organizations will respond to or interpret new situations by using
their existing repertoire of organizationally sanctioned meanings and prac-
tices. Our analysis employs an organizational lens to demonstrate that the
university’s response to the charter school controversy worked to frame the
school within the university’s established system of priorities (e.g., valuing
research more than community service) and its existing administrative
structures, which served to “domesticate” those aspects of the charter
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Rosen and Mehan
school proposal that did not fit well within dominant organizational n or routines.
The political dimension of our analysis draws attention to how the uni-
versity’s response to the controversy worked to regulate social conflic among groups with competing claims on university resources. From a pol ical perspective, policy mediates social conflict by authoritatively allocati scarce resources among multiple and competing interest groups. Likewis the relative power of particular groups mediates their ability to influence po icy. We demonstrate that the charter school controversy constituted a com-
petition among various interest groups for material resources (such as st funding, faculty time, and space on campus) and symbolic resources (su as recognition within the definition of the university’s mission). On the poli ical dimension, we highlight how processes of competition and compromise,
as well as differences in power, influenced the course and outcome of t debate. For example, we argue that the charter school proposal represent a compromise between liberal and conservative constituencies, each of
which supported the plan for different reasons. At the same time, however,
competition among other interest groups (e.g., faculty seeking to conser campus resources and community members seeking to expand access to them) also shaped how the debate played out.
We argue that the resolution of the charter school debate had two co stitutive effects: (a) It validated a particular definition of inequality in highe education, one that treats the lack of diversity among students at selective un versities as being primarily a problem of academic preparation; and (b) i redefined the mission of public research universities, and specifically UCSD,
to include the academic preparation of K-12 students as one of the activities
in which it is essential for such universities to engage.
The charter school project gained its central place in the definition o the university not in spite of, but because of, the controversy surroundi it. The controversy both reflected and contributed to a crisis in institutional legitimacy resulting from a breakdown in the fragile accord that had, in the past, allowed the university to simultaneously pursue two goals in admissions policies: equal representation of the state’s diverse populatio and selection of students based on academic merit. Before its ban, affirm tive action was accepted as the compromise among these values or goal it tempered the embrace of pure meritocracy with the recognition that the
persistence of systematic racial discrimination requires admissions criter beyond test scores, grades, and other purported measures of merit. Th compromise defined diversity as a valuable end in itself and implied an understanding of equality in university admissions that regarded individ als not in the abstract but in the context of the social and cultural factors
that shaped their chances for achievement. However, while affirmative
action in university admissions called attention to the deleterious effects of
social and cultural conditions on individuals’ chances for admission, it did
nothing to address those conditions-for instance, the fact that elementary
and high school teachers are often ill-prepared to teach diverse student
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
populations-nor did it prepare students to succeed in the university once
they arrived.
Partly as a result of sustained attacks from the political Right, the fragile
accord that once supported affirmative action has gradually broken down
(Omi & Winant, 1994, pp. 128-136; Orfield & Miller, 1998). This disintegration
has occurred, in part, because critics of affirmative action have successfully
argued that the goals of equal representation and meritocracy are fundamen-
tally contradictory, and have rejected the possibility of compromise between
them. Instead of championing equal representation, the critics celebrate the
value of equal opportunity: that is, opportunity to compete with others to
improve one’s social position through one’s own efforts. This view privileges
individual agency as the primary route to achievement.
Critics of affirmative action repudiate the claim that the “playing field”
must be leveled; they assert that the obstacles to equal opportunity have, for
the most part, been removed. They deny the significance of race as a factor
mediating students’ chances for academic success and hold that admissions
decisions should be based solely on academic merit. Yet the debate at UCSD
was not simply about upholding a purely meritocratic admissions system
but was fundamentally concerned with race: Critics of affirmative action
specifically targeted the university’s use of race as an element of its admis-
sions formula while leaving unquestioned the other considerations that can
also influence admissions (e.g., athletics, state residency, students’ political
Critics of affirmative action also challenge the legitimacy of equal repre-
sentation as a goal for the university because it discriminates among individ-
uals, judging them not on the basis of their achievements but on the basis of
characteristics such as race or gender. The critics hold that if equal opportu-
nity for all to compete is assured, then a more diverse student body will nat-
urally result. This view makes diversity a byproduct of the goal of equal
opportunity rather than a goal in itself.
The embattled charter school proposal both responded to this breakdown
in the social bargain that once supported affirmative action and also exagger-
ated it, by exposing and aggravating conflicts both within the university and
between the university and the surrounding community. Among those conflicts
was the one between two implicit definitions of UCSD’s mission: a traditional,
narrower definition of the university as primarily dedicated to cutting-edge
research and the education of the state’s best-prepared, highest-achieving high
school graduates; and an emergent definition of the university as dedicated to
a broader mission of social betterment that includes the improvement of K-12
schools and the enhancement of educational opportunity. The debate’s reso-
lution helped to strengthen the latter definition.
The debate also created a crisis of institutional legitimacy, because the
initial decision not to build a charter school made the university appear indif-
ferent to the problem of equal access to higher education among students from
various racial or ethnic groups. The appearance of indifference created a polit-
ical problem for the university, because not only the San Diego community but
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Rosen and Mehan
also the media, the Regents, and the California Legislature were looking to university to take some constructive action to increase the diversity of the dent body once affirmative action had been outlawed. Moreover, many arg that a deeper involvement by the university in K-12 education was precisel the solution. Ward Connerly, a regent of the University of California and ch man of the California Civil Rights Initiative, the group that campaigned su cessfully for the ban on affirmative action in California, was among those argued that the university should take more responsibility for the improvem of K-12 education, partly because of increased political pressure:
There are those who make a strong case that this [the academic
preparation of K-12 students] really isn’t the university’s problem.
[They say] our job is to, as fairly as we possibly can, in looking out
for the best interests of the university, choose from among those that
you send us. And we shouldn’t take on the high-risk responsibility of
trying to lead K-12, because in 10 years, if the scores are still down,
they’re going to blame us…. [But] politically, to say this is not our
problem wouldn’t fly. (Connerly, personal interview, August 4, 2000)
In this climate of heightened political expectations of the university, t decision not to build the charter school upset multiple constituencies-leavin the university in a politically vulnerable position. Failure to take some acti to increase diversity after the outlawing of affirmative action would prom further charges of elitism and hypocrisy (charges frequently leveled by m bers of the media and other critics after the initial rejection of the ch school proposal). At the same time, any action that the university took wo also have to affirm its commitment to meritocracy, the linchpin of public s port for the university’s competitive admissions system. Support woul withdrawn if large portions of the public came to see university’s admissio practices as arbitrary or biased toward particular students on the basis of race or gender.
To extricate itself from this situation, the university needed to affirm commitment to diversity without compromising the principle of meritocr and also resolve conflicts about resources and values. We argue that the versity accomplished these tasks by incorporating the charter school into i existing administrative structure and institutionalizing a new set of meani to justify the charter school and the university’s sponsorship of it. The ne set of meanings redefined the university’s mission so that it included academic preparation of public school students. The resolution of the c had contradictory effects, however, affirming a narrower understanding inequality while promoting a more progressive definition of the university The contradiction was itself an effect of the processes by which the de was resolved: the integration of diverse political interests in support solution-improving the academic preparation of underrepresented stud that appealed to actors across the political spectrum. These processes of me ing making through political compromise are a central concern of our arti 660
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
Our data were drawn from a range of texts related to the debate (tran-
scripts of symposia and community and university meetings, versions of the
charter school proposal, recommendations by university committees, postings
on e-mail lists, and local news media coverage) and from interviews with key
players in the events described. In addition, one of the authors was himself
a participant in many of these events and is thus both author and subject.
The Contexts
To interpret the meaning of the charter school debate, it is necessary to kn the interrelated contexts or conditions surrounding it. These include (a national political context that is characterized, on the one hand, by the reju venation of conservative ideas by the New Right and, on the other hand, by
an education reform movement that has arisen partly in response to criticis of public education by New Right groups; (b) a state context defined by series of political decisions that eroded both the credibility and the legality affirmative action in California; and (c) a local context that is characterized a historical disconnect between the elite UCSD campus and the broader Diego community, particularly its poor neighborhoods and racial and eth minority communities.
The National Context: The Rejuvenation of the Right
The UCSD charter school debate occurred in the aftermath of the “conserv-
ative revolution” in the U.S. Congress, when the national political conversa-
tion was focused on reevaluating many of the liberal social programs
instituted in the 1960s, particularly welfare and affirmative action. President
Bill Clinton declared, “The era of Big Government is over,” and politicians
from California governor Pete Wilson to House speaker Newt Gingrich trum-
peted “personal responsibility” rather than state intervention as the solution
to problems of social inequality. The following statement by Connerly is rep-
resentative of this position:
It is not any government agency’s position, it seems to me, to say that
we are dissatisfied with an outcome if there is not discrimination. If
there is discrimination we ought to address this discrimination. If the
competition is fair, if the government agency has not created artificial
criteria that keep people out, if the process is being administered
fairly, we have to let the chips fall where they may on the outcome
[emphasis added]. (“Q&A: Ward Connerly,” 1996, p. G5)
Clinton remained a supporter of affirmative action, but other prominent
politicians attacked the practice as “patronizing” and subversive of cher-
ished values such as hard work, equal opportunity, competition, and self-
reliance. Both affirmative action and welfare were charged with encouraging
laziness and parasitic dependency on the state. Critics argued that affirma-
tive action was not only immoral but also ineffectual, because it did not
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Rosen and Mehan
provide individuals with the skills necessary to succeed in social competitio without “special treatment.” Governor Wilson was adamant on this poin I hope that he [President Clinton] and the other people who have
tried to defend what they term affirmative action will be honest
enough in dealing with preferences to recognize that they don’t
work…. They do not accomplish the heavy lifting that is required to
actually bring about the equality of access to opportunity. The only
way to do that is by taking a very long and concerted effort begin-
ning with prenatal care … to see to it that kids are healthy enough
to concentrate when they go to school and that they will go to a school
that will challenge them and equip them for life’s competition [empha-
sis added]. (“Q&A: Pete Wilson,” 1997, p. G5)
Affirmative action programs were also declared unjust because they ga benefits to some citizens at the expense of others, providing a “free ride” minorities and the poor while hurting Whites and Asian Americans, “hard-working” citizens not eligible for “special treatment”:
The status quo in the UC system [affirmative action] is breeding dan-
gerous antagonisms and dividing Californians along racial fault lines.
Worse still, by turning away better qualified applicants solely
because of their skin color, it is eroding the American idea of
advancement based on individual merit and hard work. (“Ending
Favoritism,” 1995, p. B14)
This period brought a renewed enthusiasm for values such as freed individualism, limited government, and “free-market” solutions to social p lems, instantiated in the argument that government should ensure the fair of social competition (for example, by removing barriers to equal opportun but that the outcome of such competition should be determined strictly by merit of individual competitors. During the same period, the national conv sation on education was also characterized by a dual focus on personal respo sibility and reduced government as mechanisms for achieving social educational equality. The dual focus was manifest in enthusiasm for curricu reforms such as the standards movement (which emphasizes hard work high academic expectations rather than compensatory programs as the rou to educational equality) and structural reforms such as the charter and vou movements (which emphasize free-market values such as limited governme innovation, entrepreneurialism, and competition). Support for structu reforms is strong among parents of historically disenfranchised children, a that Connerly emphasized in editorials linking the campaign against affirm tive action with the need for preventative solutions for educational inequa For Connerly and others, structural reforms were superior to affirmative a because they addressed more directly the root causes of social inequality:
Parents of minority youths understand the need for innovative solu-
tions. That’s why 57.3% of African Americans support school choice.
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
Among African Americans in the age group most likely to have young
children-26 to 35-the support for vouchers is an astounding 86.5%,
according to a poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies. (Connerly, 1998)
This line of argument-that inadequate public schools are a root cause
of inequality–was given institutional support by the resolution of the char-
ter school debate, a point to which we return at the end of this article.
The State Context: The Elimination of Affirmative Action
In the state of California, these more abstract issues were brought home by a
series of key political events. In the Bakke case (Regents of the University of
California v. Bakke, 1978), the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a White student
who had sued the state after being denied admission to the UC Davis School
of Medicine despite having higher grades and board scores than underrepre-
sented students who were admitted through affirmative action. Justice Lewis
Powell-who cast the deciding vote in that closely divided case–recognized
only one legitimate justification for considering race as a factor in the college
admissions process: that diverse student bodies would produce a more stim-
ulating educational environment. Overriding Powell’s reasoning, the UC
Regents decided in 1995 to eliminate the use of race entirely in UC admissions
and to encourage UC campuses to devise innovative ways of achieving diver-
sity by other means. Finally, in 1996 the California voters passed Proposition
209, which outlawed the use of “racial preferences” in all State of California
business: hiring, promotions, contracts, and university admissions.
Taken together, these political events constituted a challenge, not simply
to the legality of affirmative action but also to the legitimacy of the university
itself, which faced demands from both the Left and the Right. The university
was expected, on the one hand, to demonstrate its commitment to address the
“underrepresentation problem” and, on the other hand, to preserve a merito-
cratic admissions process. Similar challenges to institutional legitimacy increas-
ingly have been leveled at universities across the country and have provoked
similar institutional responses. As Lagemann (1993) observes:
Universities have fallen victim to critics across the political spectrum,
who bewail everything from university finances, to their cultural con-
servatism or, alternatively, their “political correctness,” to their failure
sufficiently to address and perhaps even remediate the problems of
health, urban decay, civic indifference, and education that our soci-
ety faces today. [In response, many] universities have made the
improvement of teaching [in elementary and high schools] a central,
internal concern, and more and more are considering the improve-
ment of neighboring public schools an appropriate province for uni-
versity “service.” (p. 6)
As the following discussion will show, UCSD responded to such chal-
lenges by creating a new definition of the university to accompany the new
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Rosen and Mehan
definition of equality in university admissions that emerged from the cha school debate.
The Local Context: Suspicious African American and Latino Communities These national and state events, combined with UCSD’s already tenuous r tionship to the city’s African American and Latino communities, formed th local context for the debate on the charter school. UCSD is well connected to
local business elites because its graduates are employed by nearby science
and engineering firms, and technological knowledge is transferred smoothly
to those firms. However, the political challenges to affirmative action and the
battle about the charter school exacerbated an already negative sense among
many in San Diego’s African American and Latino communities that UCSD,
situated in an affluent area insulated from poor neighborhoods (which, in San
Diego, is also where Black and Latino students more often live), does not
welcome students from those communities.
In the eyes of many local educators and community members, UCSD has
not had a distinguished history of engaging public schools. In some circles,
the university is perceived to be interested in students in local schools only if
they can be subjects of experiments. UCSD’s teacher education program,
although distinguished, is small and therefore not deeply involved in many
schools. In the past there were dozens of independent outreach activities on
campus-but they were not coordinated. In short, the controversy surround-
ing the proposal to establish a charter school on the UCSD campus served to
aggravate the sense among many that the university simply was not interested
in the well-being of “folks south of 8” (Interstate 8, the highway that divides
the city’s affluent beach residents from their poorer neighbors to the south).
The Controversy
In this tumultuous political climate, the UC Regents appointed a task force
on minority “outreach” to respond to the anticipated decline in the number
of underrepresented students admitted and enrolled in UC schools, particu-
larly at its most competitive campuses. The UC Outreach Task Force met dur-
ing the 1995-1996 academic year and produced guidelines that encouraged
UC campuses to go beyond previous methods of outreach-which primar-
ily had entailed providing motivational information to students-and to
undertake a major expansion of their academic outreach to the state’s K-12
schools. They were advised to create long-term partnerships with selected
high schools and their associated junior high and elementary feeder schools
to increase the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds who
were “UC-eligible” (UC Outreach Task Force, 1997).
The Proposal and Its Rejection
UCSD provost Cecil Lytle, one of the university’s representatives on the UC
Outreach Task Force steering committee, advocated strongly for charter
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
schools as an alternative means to achieving diversity. In spring 1996, Lytle
and a diverse group of collaborators from the university and the community
proposed an on-campus charter school for “disadvantaged” and “historically
disenfranchised” students. Lytle and his steering committee met with all com-
mittees of the UCSD Academic Senate; met with numerous academic depart-
ments, student groups, and community groups; and proposed to the senate
a plan for a college-preparatory high school (Grades 9-12).
The proposal was vetted by all committees of the Academic Senate-
with a mostly negative response. Although the senate was “supportive in
principle of establishing a charter high school on campus” (Academic Sen-
ate, 1997, p. 1), it had a plethora of specific criticisms, centering around six
main areas of concern: (a) financial issues, (b) consistency with the univer-
sity’s mission, (c) campus capacity and resources, (d) impact on diversity,
(e) location, and (f) psychological risks.
Financial Issues
Some committees of the Academic Senate worried about sources of m for founding the school (capital costs) and for its continued operation demic Senate, 1997, pp. 110, 118, 132-135). Others worried that grad and undergraduate education (p. 112) or previously existing outreach effor would be cut or reduced to pay for the charter school. More specifically, said that substituting the school for the Early Academic Outreach Pro a long-established motivational outreach effort, would be “unfair and appropriate” (p. 103). “[Ifi the school will be governed as an ancillary e prise (as for example, UC Press), … [then] it would be expected to pay own way” (p. 112). Defending anticipated attacks on their own inter some faculty feared “the day when university requests to the legislatu the Office of the President for other unrelated initiatives are met with the
response, ‘UCSD got the charter school’ ” (p. 113).
Consistency With the University’s Mission
Other critics directed attention to the fundamental purposes of the university,
maintaining that the UC mission precluded direct involvement in K-12 educa-
tion. “Understanding the mandate of the university to be the provision of
undergraduate and graduate training,” they said, “… the establishment of a
charter school is well beyond the mission of the university” (Academic Senate,
1997, p. 111). Citing UCSD’s status as a research university, some faculty mem-
bers criticized the charter school proposal for an incomplete evaluation design
and lack of specific criteria for judging whether the school was succeeding in
accomplishing its goals (pp. 108, 117). The most experimentally minded crit-
ics called for a randomized control group to measure effects (pp. 104, 117, 120).
Campus Capacity and Resources
Concerns about the capacity of the faculty to mount the charter school were
accompanied by concerns that the campus’s already-overburdened resources
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Rosen and Meban
would be stretched even further. Asking rhetorical questions-“Is Teacher Education Program [TEP] large enough or of a high enough qu to meet the demands right away? Should we wait to build TEP before s ing this endeavor?”-the Academic Senate concluded that the “UCSD c munity does not have the necessary skills and experience to run a h school” (Academic Senate, 1997, p. 115).
Because the students at the charter school were to take one or two
classes on campus in their senior year, critics said that campus facilities such as labs, dance studios, and theaters would be negatively affected (e through overcrowding) (Academic Senate, 1997, p. 108). Other critics fea that using university students as tutors at the on-campus school would dimi ish the capacity of UCSD to provide tutors to public schools (pp. 103, 10 Impact on Diversity
Some faculty members also questioned whether the proposed school wo make a very significant impact on the problem of underrepresentation, poin ing out that it would produce only a “handful” of UC-eligible students p year. Building a school from scratch, therefore, would be “too expensiv way to increase the number of high school students eligible to be admit to the UC system” (Academic Senate, 1997, p. 111). Others were concern about replicability-that is, whether the results of the charter school eff would be transferable to any other public schools:
According to the proposal, the charter high school would act as a
“model” other high schools could learn from and potentially adopt.
Yet the particular features of the school that recommend it-namely
the tutorial component, the selection of staff, the small classes, and
the expenditures to cover them-are features that are unlikely to be
exportable to the public high schools. (p. 108)
Location and Psychological Risks
A final line of criticism called attention to the potential for trouble because “innocent youth” would be vulnerable to attacks from “predatory” colle students. “We are also concerned about the presence of younger adolesce on campus … because of our inability to protect them from untoward events” (Academic Senate, 1997, pp. 112, 121). The potential for untowar incidents, including possible psychological damage, was described in ter that, to some supporters of the school, suggested thinly veiled racism “[W]ould high school students suffer any emotional problems living aw from their neighborhoods and mixing with university students at UCSD? In
particular, is there any evidence of students’ having or not having psyc logical problems at existing high schools on other university campuse (p. 114). Supporters of this line of criticism recommended that the school be located off campus, in low-income communities, closer to students’ hom This recommendation was roundly rejected by the Charter School Steeri 666
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Committee, especially by its community members, who did not want their
children relegated to second-class facilities and saw the symbolic as well as
educational value in having their students attend school on a prestigious
In spring 1997 the debate culminated in a vote of the Representativ Assembly of the Academic Senate. The proposal for the school passed b 36-23 vote with 3 abstentions, but members of the assembly exercised a pro vision in the bylaws that permitted casting of a written ballot by all facult members on campus. When the mail ballots were counted, the proposal build an on-campus charter school was defeated 362-293. This combinat of circumstances presented Chancellor Robert Dynes with contradicto advice: One campus group advised him to build the school, another advi him not to. Both groups were advisory to the chancellor; he was not bo by either. On June 10, 1997, just days before President Clinton was t address the campus graduation ceremonies on the topic of race in Amer the chancellor addressed a special session of the Representative Assemb He announced that the charter school issue was dead:
After a year of extensive review and conflicting preliminary votes, the
Academic Senate rejected the charter school proposal placed before it
by mail ballot. I accept that verdict and want to state unequivocally that
I will not move forward with the proposed plan. (Dynes, 1997, p. 1)
The documents that we have cited reveal that the very meaning of the uni-
versity was at stake in the charter school debate. The mission or purpose of
the university as a place for basic research and graduate and undergraduate
education was challenged by the view that it had a broader social responsi-
bility, as exemplified by taking an active role in the education of students
underserved by the public schools. The meaning of the charter school, too,
was contested. Was it to be a model for other universities to follow? For other
public schools? A tool to help solve the university’s “diversity problem”? A
way to better connect UCSD to the wider San Diego community?
The Decision Sparks Negative Reactions
The chancellor’s decision was met with hostile reactions from a wide range of
constituents. The San Diego Union Tribune and local TV stations ran edito-
rials and cartoons savaging UCSD for empty progressive rhetoric. The Tribune
wrote, for example:
[T]he La Jolla campus has long been an insular community, separated
from the rest of San Diego by a cultural divide that has limited the
university’s potential and, just as important, its contributions to the
region. Today as always, UCSD’s focus remains largely global, not
local-a fact that has, rightly or wrongly, earned it a reputation for
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elitism. Indeed, a dismaying air of elitism appears to be a major fac-
tor behind the opposition of many faculty members to the creation
on campus of a charter school for low-income students. The multiple
objections raised by a bevy of Academic Senate Committees are long
on NIMBYism but clearly devoid of any sense of obligation to the
larger San Diego community.
Consider the self-revealing conclusion of the Committee on
Preparatory Education: “San Diego State University is closer to poor
neighborhoods than UCSD, and with its education school, has more
faculty and staff that have had experience in matters of high school
education.” In other words, put the charter school on the other side
of the tracks, where the poor people live, not on Torrey Pines Mesa,
where the Nobel laureates reside. (“UCSD’s Obligation,” 2000, p. B6)
Students protested; one highly visible protest occurred at the 1997 com mencement address by President Clinton. Students and faculty in the a ence wore buttons supporting the charter school. The student speake Collean Sabitini, devoted the bulk of her speech to a ringing endorsem of the school. Some students who supported the charter school retur their diplomas to Chancellor Dynes.
A vocal proponent of charter schools, President Clinton was schedu to compliment UCSD on its charter school in his commencement addr But after the faculty and the chancellor rejected the proposal, Ann Lewis, White House director of communication (who was close to proponent the charter school) toned down the President’s remarks considerably wound up saying,
There are no children who, because of their ethnic or racial back-
ground, …. cannot meet the highest academic standards, if we set them and measure our students against them, if we give them well-
trained teachers and well-equipped classrooms, and if we continue
to support reasoned reforms to achieve excellence like the charter
school movement. (Clinton, 1997)
Representatives of local ethnic communities challenged the chancell decision. For example, the Coalition for Equality called the faculty v “shocking.” The cofounders of the coalition, City Club president Geo Mitrovich and Catfish Club president and founder Rev. George Walker Smi called on “other members of the college and university community to acce the challenge UCSD declined” (quoted in Ristine, 1997a, p. Al).
Ron Ottinger, a San Diego City Schools Board member, called the f ulty vote opposing the charter school “unfortunate.” He went on to “I think the university will need to redouble its efforts to reach out to ki in the inner city who have high potential to go to UCSD” (quoted in tine, 1997a, p. Al). The school board, which was to host the charter sch unanimously endorsed it and informed Chancellor Dynes that it was ” prepared to move forward on the charter school should you reconsid (Ristine, p. Al).
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In a gesture of moral reprimand, Cecil Lytle abruptly resigned as provost
of Thurgood Marshall College. In a letter to Chancellor Dynes, he strongly
criticized the decision on the grounds that it endorsed a “do-nothing” stance
toward pressing social problems, which, he suggested, was inconsistent with
the university’s moral obligations to society:
Your announcement before the UCSD Representative Assembly …
not to pursue this project is more than a personal and professional
defeat. The announcement presents the campus as gutless and
unimaginative in the face of three prevailing attributes that should not
have a home on a modern, public university: fear, indolence, and
indifference. (quoted in Ristine, 1997c, p. Al)
Three days after the negative decision, and the day before graduation,
Lytle addressed the Catfish Club, a weekly luncheon meeting of predomi-
nantly African American civic leaders. He said, “[M]y resignation is not for
leverage or a ploy.” Attempting to convince the audience that finding ways
to better educate disadvantaged students went to the heart of the meaning
of the university, he said: “This not an issue between me and my faculty. It’s
an issue between you and your university. It’s a time for action…. Your
voices should be heard now” (quoted in Jahn, 1997).
Lytle’s call to action posed a rhetorical challenge to the dominant defi-
nition of the university community. In contrast to an exclusive definition that
includes only members of a narrow academic elite, Lytle constructed an alter-
native, inclusive definition of the university community, composed of and
accountable to citizens of the state, especially those who have historically
been excluded from its campus. By constructing the university as literally
belonging to these groups, Lytle foregrounded their entitlement, as taxpay-
ers and members of the moral community of the city and state, to make claims
on the university.
After Lytle’s speech, Rev. Smith, who as club president hosted the event,
told the audience: “We are back to the time where [Alabama governor]
George Wallace was keeping Blacks out of college. The entire community
has been dealt a blow.” Shirley Weber, an African American studies profes-
sor at San Diego State University and a former San Diego City Schools board
member, added: “I see this every day in the city. We’re fighting the school
board to keep gifted-student programs south of Interstate 8. We should be
raising hell about our children or we’ve wasted good catfish and worn out
the linoleum of Rev. Smith’s church today.” Paul Espinosa, an award-winning
producer of films for public television and a professor at San Diego State
University, reminded the group that the rejection of the UCSD charter school
also dashed the hopes of Latino children in San Diego: “In ten years, there
won’t be a professional class for any minorities in this city. We need to stand
up and be heard.” (The quotations in this paragraph are from Jahn, 1997.)
At the conclusion of the meeting, a dozen supporters drove to the La Jolla
campus to confront Dynes.
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And finally, the Regents-led by Ward Connerly, the main spokes son for both Proposition 209 and the Regents’ decision to eliminate affirm tive action in the UC system–questioned the chancellor’s decision. Du remarks to the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune a day b the UCSD graduation, Connerly said that there was “a lot of support” for charter movement among the Regents. UCSD should not have dropped idea in the face of faculty opposition-especially over funding, he sa would bet my last nickel that the Board of Regents would say that we find some additional funds to make this happen. The problem isn’t that th the money can’t be found. It’s that nobody is asking for it” (Connerly, qu in Ristine, 1997d, p. Al).1 Connerly said that the Regents began hearin the UCSD charter proposal during a visit to UCSD by the search comm that eventually selected Dynes as chancellor. Charter advocates “were bying [the] concept, … and to a person, we were very excited about i encouraged them to do this. I don’t know of any [other campus] that is ev close to where San Diego was on a charter proposal. So, this is a setba the system” (quoted in Ristine, 1997d, p. Al).
Peter Preuss, a UC Regent from San Diego, also challenged the c cellor’s decision, making an “outspoken” effort to communicate his s support of the charter school proposal to his “good friend” Bob Dyn (Preuss, personal interview, August 2, 2000). Regent Connerly promis take up the rejection of the charter school proposal at the board’s July m ing. Noting that the UC Outreach Task Force had specifically recomm charter schools as a way to help underrepresented students qualify fo UC system, Connerly said, “I would like something to come to the bo He added that if Peter Preuss did not place the matter before the Regents himself would “certainly … ask that we be briefed on it and see where briefing leads us” (quoted in Ristine, 1997d, p. Al). In fact, Dynes was by the Regents to elaborate on the charter school situation in June; then was asked to provide an update in September.
The dispute among the faculty that played out in the relative privacy the Academic Senate’s committee meetings occasionally spilled over public space. In a guest editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune, Ri Madsen, a professor of sociology at UCSD, represented the debate as an ological conflict between competing visions of the university-one dedi to cutting-edge research, the other dedicated to the prosperity and goodw of the community:
Beneath all the details-and often obscured by them-are two differ-
ent visions of the university’s role in our society. … One vision is of
an upward-looking elite that depends for its status on national and
international institutions-on the professional associations that bestow
honors for excellence and the funding agencies that give out money
for cutting-edge research…. As competition intensifies, this upward-
looking vision emphasizes the need for faculty and researchers to pro-
tect themselves from local distractions. Don’t encumber ourselves with
messy, local, social problems for which there are at best imperfect
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solutions. Focus on what we know we can do best…. People with
this vision agree with the goals of the charter school, but they think
its implementation poses too many risks. They worry about its effec-
tiveness and its costs. They are not sure that the university has the nec-
essary expertise to make it successful. They are concerned about the
costs at a time when the campus is having to make painful cuts in its
library budget. In an insecure world, they are afraid of taking on new
risks. The other vision is of an elite [that], while recognizing the uni-
versity’s need to demonstrate excellence on a global stage, … sees its
fate grounded in the prosperity and goodwill of its community. They
note that in this current era of transition, the university cannot simply
take for granted its public support. (Madsen, 1997, p. B7)2
Madsen’s assertion that the faculty vote reflected a failure of nerve
fueled by a clash of competing visions was rejected by some members of the
UCSD faculty, who said that their opposition was based on rational and
empirical grounds. One stated: “My vote against the charter school came
from a study of the facts as we had them. It was too expensive to serve as a
model for the community at large, there was no serious experimental design
for it and the admissions criteria were unspecified” (Backus, 1997, p. B7).
Another faculty member explained that, “as an operation of a state-sponsored
research university, a charter school should test new educational approaches
that can be transferred to public schools. This goal failed the test of reality”
(Fantisel, 1997, p. B7). A third commented as follows:
[V]otes against [the school] were reasoned mostly on issues of
whether a charter school on the campus was the biggest bang for the
buck in helping the disadvantaged. Many felt it was not, and that
more good could be accomplished in other ways from the same
resources. I am not aware of a single faculty member who was
socially, ideologically, or racially opposed to the goals of the pro-
posed school project. (Wagner, 1997, p. B7)
Commenting on the groundswell of support for the charter school, the
San Diego Union Tribune observed:
The challenge now for Dynes is to find a way to reopen the charter
school debate in light of the vigorous support it has generated
beyond campus, and ultimately, to overcome the faculty opposition.
In so doing, he can be assured he has strong support from the larger
San Diego community that UCSD should be striving to serve. (“Time
to Reconsider,” 1997, p. B10)
Rescuing the University: New Organizational Arrangements
and Political Alignments Construct New Official Meanings
From July through to December 1997, the campus did in fact succeed in
recovering from this embarrassing incident and reached the goals voiced by
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the San Diego Union Tribune. The charter school debate was reopened ulty opposition and regential disapproval were overcome, and support the San Diego community was won. How was this phoenix raised fro ashes? What are the implications of this case for understanding how p ular understandings of inequality come to have power?
Deploying the two dimensions of our analysis, we argue that the versity succeeded in emerging from the debacle because its leadership the battle about the meaning of the university and embraced an interpret tion of inequality that struck a new compromise among the goals of d sity and meritocracy. From an organizational perspective, the U administration restored order to its campus by moving the charter s from the periphery to the center of campus governance and placing it wi existing administrative structures. From a political perspective, the univer resolved competition for scarce resources and conflicting interpretatio its mission by striking compromises among its various constituents.
Organizational Analysis: Centering the Charter School Within
the Administrative Structures of the University
The university had lost control over the discourse that defined it; moreov it had “lost face,” not only with the public, but also with the Regent appearing either indifferent to the “underrepresentation problem” or una to take proactive steps to address it. In the face of these threats to legitim the university’s actions restored stability to the campus and authority to administration by acquiring control of the proposed school from the char school’s founding committee, many members of which had no formal affi ation with the university (and were more loyal to local communities than the university).
The first centering move occurred during the summer of 1997, w Chancellor Dynes assembled the San Diego campus’s own task force-t UCSD Outreach Task Force-led by two distinguished faculty members composed of well-respected faculty, administrators, and students. D charged the committee with reviving the issue in a creative way: “I’m to ask you, as I’ve committed myself, to re-ignite this commitment and jo me in seeking fresh ideas for a UCSD initiative in preparatory public e tion” (quoted in Ristine, 1997b, p. Al). Dynes made it clear to this gr and to anyone else who asked him, that he was now full square behi comprehensive and integrated approach to outreach. His hands-on appr to the summer’s work contrasted sharply with his disengagement from original initiative.
Recently, Chancellor Dynes explained why he had so strongly su ported the UCSD Outreach Task Force after rejecting the original cha school proposal. The original proposal, in his view, “was not being cre inside the mainstream of UCSD” and was therefore unlikely to garner support. Moreover, he anticipated that that the charter school would conflict other outreach programs at the university. Indeed, the lack of coordin 672
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among the university’s multiple existing outreach programs was itself a seri-
ous problem, according to the chancellor: “The charter school was just
another one of these unrelated things.” He explained that he rejected the
original proposal because he saw a need to bring greater coordination to the
university’s outreach efforts: “I realized at the time, albeit unpopularly with
almost everybody, … that we had to pull back and [evaluate] all these pro-
grams … because I thought the faculty’s objections were legitimate.” In addi-
tion, he also thought that for the charter school to be successful, it needed
broader political support. He therefore included in the committee “people
on all sides of the political spectrum because [he] wanted it to be vetted [by
all sides]” (personal interview, August 8, 2000).
Dynes’s commitment was visible in the committee’s membership. One
half of the committee was composed of faculty members recommended by
the Academic Senate. The other half was composed of administrators rec-
ommended by the chancellor. In marked contrast to the Lytle-led initiative,
Dynes placed his high-ranking administrators on this committee. He gave the
committee a small budget so that its meetings could be open to the public,
transcriptions could be made of the meetings and posted on a website, and
national experts could be invited to testify before the task force. Conspicu-
ous by his absence on the task force was Cecil Lytle, the charismatic leader
of the first proposal. According to Dynes, it was for personal reasons that
Lytle did not serve: “Cecil refused to be on it because he was terribly hurt”
(personal interview, August 8, 2000). According to Lytle, his reasons had
been instrumental and political: “After it all blew up I’d just had it and
protested the faculty decision, and I resigned. I thought, if they know more
than I know, let them do it” (personal interview, July 14, 2000).
The UCSD Outreach Task Force dealt with each of the major criticisms
of the school and devised a multifaceted plan that structured new meanings
for outreach. It recommended the formation of a research center-the Cen-
ter for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence
(CREATE)-that would report to the chancellor through his vice chancellor
for academic affairs. CREATE was charged with coordinating the university’s
multiple outreach efforts–existing student-based outreach efforts and new
school-based “partnerships” in public schools serving high proportions of
underrepresented students. A model school on campus, serving students in
Grades 6-12, which was expanded from the original high school concept,
was also proposed under CREATE’s umbrella. The task force proposals, then,
placed the model school squarely within CREATE, which, in turn, was placed
squarely within the university’s traditional table of organization.
Cecil Lytle recently commented on the significance and value of cen-
tering the charter school within the university’s traditional organizational
The original proposal was that the high school would be run out of Thurgood Marshall College…. [The task force proposal] says a provost will serve on the Board of Directors and that that committe 673
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include lots of people: faculty, … community people south of 8,
staff…. It’s a much more eclectic model of governance…. I am
chair of the board.
It’s actually smart when you think about it, because future Thur-
good Marshall College provosts might not be so supportive. This
proposal says that there will be a chair and that a provost will be
on the board. … That way, you … broaden its appeal. It’s not just
a vanity project of this college, but the university bought it. If this
school failed tomorrow, it would be a stain on UCSD. Which is
where you want it…. I think the Academic Senate owns this proj-
ect now, . . . which is kind of what I’d been asking for all along….
Also, the Regents own a piece of it. Peter and Peggy Preuss’s name
is on it. So everyone wants this to succeed for their own provincial
reasons if not for more global reasons. I’ve had to make some per-
sonal adjustments and get out of the vanity thing and say we all
own this thing …. Its success is our success. (Personal interview,
July 14, 2000)
Political Analysis: Managing Conflicts About University Definitions
and Scarce Resources
The UCSD Outreach Task Force proposed two key political compromise resolve conflicts about competing definitions of the university and sc financial resources. First, it resolved to establish an evaluation compon within CREATE to monitor the work of both the model school and the par nerships. The constitutive effect of that resolution was to redefine the un sity to strike a compromise between those who insisted that the university primary mission was research and those who sought to broaden its mis to include expanded educational and community service. We elaborate new definition in the next section.
Second, to help resolve the competition for resources, the task force
proposed creating a “firewall” between the model school and campus fund-
ing. No funding for the school would come from campus research or instruc-
tion sources; all funding would come from private sources or the San Diego
City Schools (Drake & Spitzer, 1997).
In September 1997, Chancellor Dynes held a press conference to
announce his pleasure at the work of the UCSD Outreach Task Force and its
report. In reflecting on the reasons for the success of CREATE with the char-
ter school tucked under its umbrella, as opposed to the original charter school
proposal, Dynes alluded to the political dimension of UCSD’s response to the
controversy-the challenge of integrating a diverse coalition around a new
definition of the university:
The committee recommended an on-campus school, to be sure, but
in my view a better school, … better integrated, [as] just one of the
building blocks of CREATE. At that point, we had the political chal-
lenge of leading that [recommendation] both through the university
community and through the greater San Diego community. (Personal
interview, August 8, 2000)
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The chancellor was so confident about this new comprehensive, inte-
grated approach to outreach that he appointed a Planning Action Team to
plan the implementation of the provisions of the outreach report-at the
same time as sending the report to the Academic Senate for review. The
Planning Action Team was led by Peter Gourevitch, a distinguished faculty
member who was highly respected for the political skill he had demon-
strated in developing the Graduate School of International Relations and
Pacific Studies at UCSD. Unlike the original Charter School Steering Com-
mittee, the Planning Action Team consisted of people closer to the core of
the campus, including four vice chancellors, five people who had previ-
ously served on the UCSD Outreach Task Force, and a representative of the
chancellor himself. The appointment of the Planning Action Team, with its
well-respected faculty leader and significant membership from the central
administration, was another step in the centering of the original charter
school proposal and the resolution of the political conflicts among com-
peting constituencies.
During the same period, Lytle retracted his resignation and engaged in
fundraising for the school-securing commitments of several million dollars
from prominent donors, including a gift of $5 million from the family of
Regent Preuss, for whom the school was later named. The Planning Action
Team established six task forces corresponding to the main components of
the Outreach Task Force and interviewed a large number of faculty and staff,
thereby building consensus for its eventual recommendations to the chan-
cellor and the Academic Senate. The report of the Planning Action Team
(Gourevitch, Attiyeh, Betts, Cole, Cox, & Gutierrez, 1997) was accepted by
the Representative Assembly of the Academic Senate by a 58-5 vote on
November 25, 1997. Implementation began with the hiring of staff for
CREATE and plans for opening the Preuss School in the fall of 1999.
As of this writing, CREATE has formed partnerships with 18 underserved
schools. The Preuss School is now in its 3rd year of operation as a college
preparatory charter school for low-income students in the San Diego City
Schools. Five hundred students, chosen by lottery, attend classes in Grades
6-12 on a UCSD campus site donated by the Regents and in buildings val-
ued at $14 million. Opening the school to low-income students through a
lottery keeps it within the rules established by Proposition 209, which pro-
hibits the use of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions.
Within the next 2 years, the school will reach its capacity of 700 stu-
dents. If graduation and college enrollment projections are accurate, then the
Preuss School will have a significant influence on the college-eligibility rates
of underrepresented minority students. Fifty-two percent of the Preuss
School students are Latino/Chicano (the term used by the San Diego City
Schools) and 24% are African American. When the first class of 100 students
graduates in 2004, assuming a college eligibility rate of 90% (which is
the rate of the two most selective public high schools in San Diego County),
47 Latino/Chicano students and 22 African American students will be college
eligible. This will increase the college eligibility of these underrepresented
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minority groups from the San Diego City Schools–the home district of Preuss School—by 16% for Latinos/Chicanos and 11% for African America Conclusions: Reconstructing the University
Our analysis of the debate surrounding the proposal for a charter scho UCSD sheds light on two constitutive social processes: (a) how new in pretations of inequality are consolidated and institutionalized, and (b) the mission of public research universities can be negotiated and resettled public political discourse. More specifically, the analysis shows the rol higher education policy in reconstituting meanings of inequality in the wa of affirmative action’s political demise in California and how these shif political winds have exerted pressure on the university to expand its missio Our goal in this discussion has been to illuminate these meaning-mak processes and to “expose the contests, the conflicts surrounding policy, the configurations of power” (Malen & Knapp, 1997, p. 429) that conver to validate a new definition of inequality and the university.
New Interpretations of Inequality
UCSD’s response to the charter school controversy has consequences for un versities in general in the context of the crisis provoked by the challenge affirmative action. Prior to that challenge, a particular definition of the “di sity problem” was implied by the use of affirmative action by universities a strategy for achieving a more representative student body: a definition t attributed the lack of diversity on university campuses to problems of temic inequality, such as the effects of past group oppression and cur discrimination. The resolution of the debate about the UCSD charter school
represents a new definition of problems of inequality in higher education
that has emerged in the wake of affirmative action’s political demise. The
new definition diagnoses the small numbers of students from historically dis-
enfranchised groups at elite universities primarily as a problem of unequal
academic preparation (due in part to the inadequacies of urban schools serv-
ing underrepresented students).
This redefinition of underrepresentation as underpreparation focuses
primarily on the characteristics of urban public schools, on the one hand,
and their students’ preparedness to compete for admission to the university,
on the other, rather than on more general social and historical processes of
systematic disenfranchisement. It thus reinforces the effects of Proposition
209 by directing attention away from questions of race. Indeed, the post-209
territory contains new discursive obstacles to defining equality in racialized
terms because the outlawing of affirmative action in all State of California
business has made it illegal to aim publicly funded programs specifically at
students from particular racial or ethnic groups. Instead, students intended
to benefit from programs to increase social equality-typically students of
color-must be described by public officials and decision makers in lan-
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
guage that avoids mention of race or ethnicity. Indeed, an initiative to ban
public agencies within California from even counting or measuring students
and state employees by race, sponsored by the UC Regent who sponsored
Proposition 209 (Connerly), qualified for the October 2003 primary election
(but failed). These facts attest to the power of policy (e.g., law) to shape dis-
course about, and therefore interpretations of, equality.
This discourse shift-from a focus on compensating for past group
oppression and present discrimination to academic preparation and school
change-appeals to those on the political Right and the political Left. The
idea of a school that provides deep academic preparation for educationally
disadvantaged students is attractive to political conservatives for two reasons.
One, it privileges the agency of poor students-hard work, positive attitudes,
and individual effort-a construction that validates key conservative values.
Two, it suppresses the bogeymen of affirmative action-set-asides and quo-
tas. Observers on the political Right, being committed to individualistic and
competitive versions of meritocracy, were pleased with the charter school
strategy because it shifted the paradigm from achieving diversity for its own
sake to academic preparation, with diversity as an anticipated byproduct.
The school also won grudging acceptance from political liberals.
Although many voiced concern that charter schools would undermine pub-
lic education (because they were not union shops and were like a camel’s
nose of privatization intruding under the tent of public schools), liberals sup-
ported the effort because at least a core constituent group-educationally
disadvantaged students-would be served. Because observers on the polit-
ical Left know that race and class are inexorably linked in U.S. cities, the uni-
versity’s decision to build a charter school to attract low-income students was
seen as clever way to conduct an end-run around affirmative action.
This joining of strange bedfellows was possible because the goal of aca-
demic preparation is sufficiently general to allow multiple and even contra-
dictory interpretations and to justify a range of possible actions. For example,
at the hands of political conservatives, the call for academic preparation as
a solution to problems of social inequality has served to narrow the public
conversation about achievement by promoting an individualistic discourse
on equality that directs attention away from social and cultural processes of
systematic disadvantage. However, other groups have broadened the dis-
course on academic preparation and school improvement to include an
analysis of how institutionalized beliefs and practices in urban schools can
systematically disadvantage particular students, a point to which we return
in our conclusion. Not everyone was content with the new political alliances
that emerged in support of the charter school. Jorge Mariscal (1997), a pro-
fessor of literature at UCSD, wrote in a letter to the editor of the San Diego
Union Tribune. “What the faculty liberals at UCSD who support the charter
school need to ask themselves is why they find themselves in the same camp
as Pete Wilson, Ward Connerly, and the Union Tribune. Has it occurred to
them that the concept is on the road to the privatization of the public school
system?” (p. B7).
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Rosen and Meban
The focus on academic preparation, however defined, provide answer to the diversity horn of the diversity-meritocracy dilemma, leaves unquestioned the criteria for judging academic “preparation” hence, merit. The current mode of measuring merit uses primarily tradit measures such as standardized test scores, which may well be biased therefore set up students from nondominant groups for failure. The curr discussions within the University of California concerning the approp ness of using SAT scores as one criterion for admissions, of reviewin admissions files comprehensively, and of setting up dual admissions p (Atkinson, 2001) are examples of the continuing tensions inhere reasserting the delicate balance between diversity and meritocracy.
Constructing New Official Meanings of the University
The formation of CREATE as the center overseeing the Preuss School adding a research component to CREATE also helped to incorporate charter school into the existing scheme of university priorities. Defining creation of the school as an activity of research rather than an activity of munity service (as did the original proposal) helped gain the support o full faculty and the university administration. This approach validated th ditional definition of the university as primarily a center for knowledge duction and only secondarily as one providing public service. By no m was this meaning-making process one-dimensional, however. The cent of the charter school also worked to redefine the university. Specifically, incorporation or centering of the charter school within the central unive administration defined research and intervention in K-12 public educ as a significant institutional priority, now part of the university’s missio The construction of new official meanings of the university did o vitally important institutional work as well. It preserved and affirmed the imacy of the university in the face of debate about its mission and quest about the faculty’s commitment to the San Diego community, to underre sented students, and to the goals of diversity and equality more generally centering the school within the university administration and surroundin with the discourses of research-driven community service and acad preparation, the university was able to reestablish its legitimacy (by appe ing committed to the values of both diversity and meritocracy), whi asserting control over both its public image and the charter school itself. Legitimacy was established partly through a process of incorporat as the university administration succeeded in enfolding the charter within its existing administrative structures. That process domesticat more radical aspects of the original charter school proposal. For exam the representatives of local African American and Latino communitie helped create the original proposal were replaced by more mainstream leaders on the school’s governing board. By thus placing the school w the university’s existing, more traditional bureaucratic and political s tures, the school was able to gain support from the full faculty and admi 678
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
tration, while becoming more accountable to major donors and representa-
tives of mainstream civic groups than to less powerful actors who were rep-
resentatives of the communities that the school was intended to serve. This
centering brought forth substantial university and extramural resources, such
as the time and attention of the chancellor’s personal staff in support of the
school, and private funding for the school buildings and equipment. The
effect of that support was to strengthen the new definitions of both the uni-
versity and the underrepresentation problem by giving those definitions offi-
cial status and institutional weight.
Contributions to a Constructivist Theory of Social Policy
In closing, we would like to make a more general point about public policy
theory. Our discussion reaffirms the idea that public policy is both a process
and a product of constitutive human activity (Hall & McGinty, 1997; Datnow,
Hubbard, & Mehan, 2002; Rosen, 2001). As a process, policy is a means by
which statements about value and definitions of reality are constructed,
asserted, validated, and negotiated. As a cultural artifact or product, policy
is the material residue of those actions. Policies are cultural objects that
“embody the authority to define goals and command means” (Levinson &
Sutton, 2001, p. 5), legitimize and reinforce particular views of reality, and
grant those definitions some form of “official” (i.e., institutionalized or pub-
licly recognized) status. From this constitutive point of view, there is no dif-
ference between a solution to a political problem and the language that is
used to legitimate it; the action and the language are linked reflexively.
This constitutive, or social-constructivist, perspective stands in stark con-
trast to the technical-rational perspective on the public policy process. The
latter takes Weberian notions of technical rationality seriously, probably too
seriously, and incorporates principles from classical management theory,
which assumes that authority and responsibility flow in a clear unbroken line
from the highest executive to the lowest worker. In the technical-rational
“grammar of implementation,” the causal arrow of change travels in one
direction-from active, thoughtful designers to passive, pragmatic imple-
menters. As the authors of one of the seminal works on government policy
implementation succinctly stated, “Implementation is the ability to forge sub-
sequent links in the causal chain so as to obtain the desired results” (Press-
man & Wildavsky, 1973, p. xv). In this model, people further down on the
policy chain are relegated to “carrying out the plans,” that is, completing the
predetermined goals and objectives of the design team. If things go wrong,
then the people on the ground-the “street-level bureaucrats” (Lipsky,
1982)-are often blamed for circumventing or openly subverting well-
intended reforms. They may be accused of acting irrationally, protecting their
own interests, or failing to follow directions.
The constructivist perspective depicts social action in the public policy
process quite differently. Street-level bureaucrats are not regarded as com-
pliant, passive actors. Actors in “the seats of power” are not necessarily seen
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Rosen and Mehan
as rationally or intentionally calculating courses of action for their under Rather, people at all levels are attempting to make good organizatio choices in uncertain social situations. Especially in times of crisis, w choices must be made quickly, social actors may act in a variety of ways. agency of all social actors, from top to bottom, is part of a complex dyna shaping and shaped by the structural and cultural features of the social in tution and the society of which it is a part.
Applied to the current context, we have said that the ultimate dec to create a charter school at UCSD was not simply a response to an ob tive problem-the lack of diversity on the campus-but actually parti pated in its construction, or definition. Our statement supports constitutive position, because the plan that was ultimately approved the rhetoric surrounding it, worked to promote a particular interpret of the “underrepresentation problem.” On the one hand, attention w directed toward some aspects of the problem (students’ lack of prep tion, poorly equipped schools in low-income neighborhoods) and div from others (race- and class-related privilege or power, the climate o university itself, limited economic opportunity, racism) that also influenc the numbers of underrepresented students in the UC system. On the hand, CREATE, through its interpretation of the problem of academ preparation, attempted to bring questions of culture and power back the conversation about academic inequality: for example, by problem ing the beliefs of teachers, parents, and students about students’ abili learn and by helping schools to build capacity to offer rigorous coll preparatory classes and the academic scaffolds to support them (Jon Yonezawa, Ballesteros, & Mehan, 2002). This act of reinterpretation trates that definitions of equality and inequality are not static but are tinually constructed and negotiated in relation to changing national, s and local contexts, and in light of shifting institutional interests and figurations of political power.
This article is based on a paper presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the Am can Anthropological Association, in Washington, DC, November 2001. The writing of paper was supported, in part, by a Spencer Foundation Mentorship Grant. We are ful to Mica Pollack, Paul Drake, Richard Madsen, F. G. Bailey, Janise Hurtig, Bradley son, Armine Ishkanian, Nicole Holland, and Raquel Farmer-Hinton for their insig comments on earlier drafts.
‘In fact, the Regents allocated $1 million annually to the UCSD charter school after
eventually approving it-a decision that rankled the UC systemwide administration, which
usually resisted the earmarking of funds for specific purposes. Although the administra-
tion may have appreciated the allocation of funds for this particular purpose, they feared
that the Regents would earmark funds for other projects without the administration’s sup-
port. The administration preferred that the university receive its funds from the state with-
out strings attached.
2Madsen’s challenge to the university was reinforced by other UCSD professors. One
wrote in a letter to the San Diego Union Tribune: “[Chancellor] Dynes has chosen to ally
himself with those who hold the narrowest conception of the university’s mission to soci-
ety. We are told that such a school might impair UCSD’s basic education functions, as if
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Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground
taking the lead in rethinking the theory and practice of secondary education in California
was not part of the university’s mission” (Parrish, 1997, p. B7). Another wrote, to the same
newspaper, “I see our present historical situation as one marked by increasingly antago-
nistic divisions of race and class, and a loss of American faith in … education as a path
of inclusion in the American dream” (Doppelt, 1997, p. B7).
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Manuscript received March 21, 2002
Revision received August 12, 2002
Accepted October 23, 2002
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