The charter school was created after a contentious public debate, In which the concept for the school and tacit definitions of equality, of social responsibility, and of the university itself became objects of conversation. The analysis reveals (a) the constitutive social processes by which particular meanings of equality and social responsibility are constructed and institutionalized, and (b) the role of higher education policy in reconstituting meanings of equality in the wake of affirmative action’s political retreat.
KEYWORDS: affirmative action, educational equity, politics of representation. Entirely in numerous states since the mid-asses. These developments pose a new political challenge for selective public universities, given the “achievement gap” between White students and historically disenfranchised students (I. E. , Black, Latino, and Native American students): how to create 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.
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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 leslies Downloaded from http://are]. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 Rosen and Mean and resolve conflicts about their legitimacy. The reflexive relationship between meaning making and political action is the central concern of this article.
We examine the processes of legitimating, competition, and political compromise that shape how new interpretations of social inequality come to have power in situations of political change. We present a case study of the controversy surrounding the establishment of the charter school at the University of California at San Diego (SCUDS) as the focus for our analysis of these processes. By highlighting the negotiated and often contested character of the charter school dispute, our article contributes to theorizing about public policy in general.
Our discussion reaffirms the constitutive view that public policy is a socially constructed process, in contrast to the technical-rational view that has long dominated both lay and scholarly analyses. The technical-rational view posits policy as a linear, abstract process in which policy is formed by elite decision makers and proceeds through distinct sequential stages from formation to implementation. The constitutive position, in contrast, regards policy as a continuing process of constructing and negotiating meaning in concrete contexts.
In organizational settings, policy actions both shape and are shaped by organizational norms, routines, and standard operating procedures. Politically, policy is a mechanism that powerful actors use to manage contested perceptions by focusing attention on some conditions rather than others and promoting a particular interpretation of those conditions. It is also a means by which powerful actors legitimate particular meanings, which acquire a sense of authority once they are lidded in policy. Finally, policy works to shore up institutional authority by communicating an institution’s commitment to particular values and ideas.
The Press School, a public charter school on the campus of SCUDS, was created in 1998 in response to the elimination of affirmative action in University of California (ICC) admissions statewide. The purpose of the charter school is to prepare “disadvantaged” and “underrepresented” students to compete for admission to the US system without benefit of “racial preferences” in admission to either the charter school or the university. After students’ low-income status is ascertained, they are selected by a lottery constructed to be consistent with state laws.
The Press School was created after a contentious public debate, in which not only the concept of the 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] Deed. Her areas of special interest are educational change and the social context of education policy. HUGH MEAN is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gillian Drive, La Jolly, CA 92093-0533; e-mail [email protected] Du.
He directs the Center for Educational Equity and Teaching Excellence (CREATE), which combines his commitments to research and practice concerning educational equity. 656 Downloaded from http://are]. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 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 Dies African American and Latino communities had proposed the creation of a charter public high school on the university 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 SCUDS or its new chancellor, Robert Dyne’s. 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 organization over the school, partnerships with public schools, and a unit to evaluate the university 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 and the university’s response to the controversy is informed by a constitutive theory of social action: the premise that human social activity, including public policy discourse, both expresses and constructs meanings that define the social world.
These constitutive social processes often involve the “politics of representation”-??competition between differently situated actors for the power to define the situation for others (Suffused, 1996, 1981; Holiest, 1984; Elevations & Sutton, 2001; Shapiro, 1988; Specter & Kitties, 987; Mean, 1997; Rosen, 2001). At the same time, social actors also cooperate to construct meanings for the social world through bargains and compromises that integrate multiple interests to create diverse political coalitions in support of particular actions. In the process, the meanings ascribed to particular objects are modified and sometimes transformed.
The details of our analysis are organized along two dimensions: organizational 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 dimension emphasizes the aspects of organizations that promote stability, particularly mechanisms that work to restore equilibrium in response to a disturbance such as that created by the charter school controversy.
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 practices. Our analysis employs an organizational lens to monster 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 Downloaded from tapeworm. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 657 Rosen and Mean school proposal that did not fit well within dominant organizational norms or routines. The political dimension of our analysis draws attention to how the university response to the controversy worked to regulate social conflict among groups with competing claims on university resources.
From a political perspective, policy mediates social conflict by authoritatively allocating scarce resources among multiple and competing interest groups. Likewise, the relative power of particular groups mediates their ability to influence policy. We demonstrate that the charter school controversy constituted a competition among various interest groups for material resources (such as state funding, faculty time, and space on campus) and symbolic resources (such as recognition within the definition of the university mission).
On the political dimension, we highlight how processes of competition and compromise, as well as differences in power, influenced the course and outcome of the debate. For example, we argue that the charter school proposal represented 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 conserve 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 harder school debate had two constitutive effects: (a) It validated a particular definition of inequality in higher education, one that treats the lack of diversity among students at selective universities as being primarily a problem of academic preparation; and (b) it redefined the mission of public research universities, and specifically SCUDS, 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 of the university not in spite of, but because of, the controversy surrounding 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 its admissions policies: equal representation of the state’s diverse population and selection of students based on academic merit.
Before its ban, tempered the embrace of pure meritocracy with the recognition that the persistence of systematic racial discrimination requires admissions criteria beyond test scores, grades, and other purported measures of merit. The compromise defined diversity as valuable end in itself and implied an understanding of equality in university admissions that regarded individuals 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 658 Downloaded from http:// ears. Era. Et at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 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 (Mom & Want, 1994, up. 128-136; Refold & 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 fundamentally contradictory, and have rejected the possibility of compromise teen 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 SCUDS was not simply about upholding a purely meritocracy 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 admissions formula while leaving unquestioned the other considerations that can also influence admissions (e. . , athletics, state residency, students’ political connections). Critics of affirmative action also challenge the legitimacy of equal representation as a goal for the university because it discriminates among individuals, Judging them not on the basis f their achievements but on the basis of characteristics such as race or gender. The critics hold that if equal opportunity for all to compete is assured, then a more diverse student body will naturally 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 exaggerated it, by exposing and aggravating conflicts both within the university and between the university and the surrounding immunity.
Among those conflicts was the one between two implicit definitions of Scud’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, 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 resolution helped to strengthen the latter definition.
The debate also created a crisis of institutional legitimacy, because the initial decision not to build a harder school made the university appear indifferent to the problem of equal access to higher education among students from various racial or ethnic groups. The appearance of indifference created a political problem for the university, because not only the San Diego community but Downloaded from http://are]. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 659 Rosen and Mean also the media, the Regents, and the California Legislature were looking to the university to take some constructive action to increase the diversity of the student body once affirmative action had been outlawed. Moreover, many argued that a deeper involvement by the university in K-12 education was precisely the solution.
Ward Connelly, a regent of the University of California and chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative, the group that campaigned successfully for the ban on affirmative action in California, was among those who argued that the university should take more responsibility for the improvement 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 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. (Connelly, personal interview, August 4, 2000) In this climate of heightened political expectations of the university, the decision not to build the charter school upset multiple constituencies-??leaving the university in a literally vulnerable position.
Failure to take some action to increase diversity after the outlawing of affirmative action would prompt further charges of elitism and hypocrisy (charges frequently leveled by members of the media and other critics after the initial rejection of the charter school proposal). At the same time, any action that the university took would also have to affirm its commitment to meritocracy, the linchpin of public support for the university competitive admissions system.
Support would be withdrawn if large portions of the public came to see university admissions practices as arbitrary or biased toward particular students on the basis of their race or gender. To extricate itself from this situation, the university needed to affirm its commitment to diversity without compromising the principle of meritocracy and also resolve conflicts about resources and values. We argue that the university accomplished these tasks by incorporating the charter school into its existing administrative structure and institutionalizing a new set of meanings to Justify the charter school and the university sponsorship of it.
The new set of meanings public school students. The resolution of the crisis had contradictory effects, however, affirming a narrower understanding of inequality while promoting a more progressive definition of the university. The contradiction was itself an effect of the processes by which the debate was resolved: the integration of diverse political interests in support of a solution-??improving the academic preparation of underrepresented students-?? that appealed to actors across the political spectrum.
These processes of meaning making through political compromise are a central concern of our article. 660 Downloaded from http://are]. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 Reconstructing Equality on New Political Ground Our data were drawn from a range of texts related to the debate (transcripts 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 know the interrelated contexts or conditions surrounding it.
These include (a) a national political context that is characterized, on the one hand, by the rejuvenation of conservative ideas by the New Right and, on the other hand, by an education reform movement that has arisen partly in response to criticism of public education by New Right groups; (b) a state context defined by a series of political decisions that eroded both the credibility and the legality of affirmative action in California; and (c) a local context that is characterized by a historical disconnect between the elite SCUDS amp’s and the broader San Diego community, particularly its poor neighborhoods and racial and ethnic minority communities. The National Context: The Rejuvenation of the Right The SCUDS charter school debate occurred in the aftermath of the “conservative revolution” in the U. S.
Congress, when the national political conversation was focused on reevaluating many of the liberal social programs instituted in the asses, 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 Ignoring trumpeted “personal accessibility’ rather than state intervention as the solution to problems of social inequality. The following statement by Connelly is representative 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: Ward Connelly,” 1996, p. 65) attacked the practice as “patronizing” and subversive of cherished values such as hard work, equal opportunity, competition, and classifiable. Both affirmative action and welfare were charged with encouraging laziness and parasitic dependency on the state. Critics argued that affirmative action was not only immoral but also ineffectual, because it did not Downloaded from http://are]. Era. Net at UNIVAC 661 Rosen and Mean provide individuals with the skills necessary to succeed in social competition without “special treatment. Governor Wilson was adamant on this point: 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 beginning 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 [emphasis added]. Q: Pete Wilson,” 1997, p. 65) Affirmative action programs were also declared unjust because they gave benefits to some citizens at the expense of others, providing a “free ride” to minorities and the poor while hurting Whites and Asian Americans, and “hard-working” citizens not eligible for “special treatment”: The status quo in the US system [affirmative action] is breeding dangerous 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 art work. (“Ending Favoritism,” 1995, p. 14) This period brought a renewed enthusiasm for values such as freedom, individualism, limited government, and “free-market” solutions to social problems, instantiated in the argument that government should ensure the fairness of social competition (for example, by removing barriers to equal opportunity) but that the outcome of such competition should be determined strictly by the merit of individual competitors. During the same period, the national conversation on education was also characterized by a dual focus on personal responsibility and reduced overspent as mechanisms for achieving social and educational equality. The dual focus was manifest in enthusiasm for curricular reforms such as the standards movement (which emphasizes hard work and high academic expectations rather than compensatory programs as the route to educational equality) and structural reforms such as the charter and voucher movements (which emphasize free-market values such as limited government, innovation, entrepreneurial, and competition).
Support for structural reforms is strong among parents of historically disenfranchised children, a fact that Connelly emphasized in editorials linking the educational inequality. For Connelly and others, structural reforms were superior to affirmative action because they addressed more directly the root causes of social inequality: Parents of minority youths understand the need for innovative solutions. That’s why 57. 3% of African Americans support school choice. 662 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. (Connelly, 1998)
This line of argument-??that inadequate public schools are a root cause of inequality -??was given institutional support by the resolution of the charter 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 Bake case (Regents of the University of California v. Bake, 1978), the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a White student who had sued the state after being denied admission to the US Davis School f Medicine despite having higher grades and board scores than underrepresented 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 stimulating educational environment. Overriding Bowel’s reasoning, the US Regents decided in 1995 to eliminate the use of race entirely in US admissions and to encourage US campuses to devise innovative ways of achieving diversity 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 “underrepresented problem” and, on the other hand, to preserve a meritocracy admissions process. Similar challenges to institutional legitimacy increasingly have been leveled at universities across the country and have provoked similar institutional responses. As Legman (1993) observes: Universities have fallen victim to critics across the political spectrum, who bewail everything from university finances, to their cultural conservatism or, alternatively, their “political correctness,” to their failure sufficiently to address and perhaps even remedial the problems of health, urban decay, civic indifference, and education that our society faces today. In response, many] universities have made once, and more and more are considering the improvement of neighboring public schools an appropriate province for university “service. ” (p. 6) As the following discussion will show, SCUDS responded to such challenges by creating a new definition of the university to accompany the new Downloaded from tapeworm. Era. Net at UNIVAC CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO on August 7, 2009 Rosen and Mean definition of equality in university admissions that emerged from the charter school debate. The Local Context: Suspicious African American and Latino Communities These national and state events, combined with Scud’s already onuses relationship to the city’s African American and Latino communities, formed the local context for the debate on the charter school.
SCUDS 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 Dies African American and Latino communities that SCUDS, 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, SCUDS 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. Scud’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, he controversy surrounding the proposal to establish a charter school on the SCUDS 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).