Later this spring, the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to release a decision on whether to uphold race as a consideration in the college admissions process. The looming opinion comes just over 50 years since the policy’s introduction in Claremont and could potentially overturn affirmative action, a practice that faced several setbacks when initially established in 1965.
Following the Black Student Union’s (BSU) initial calls for greater diversity efforts at the 5Cs, the colleges’ presidents agreed in May 1968 to raise Black student admission to ten percent or higher at each college within the next five years. By 1971, however, admissions departments across the 5Cs were already shirking their responsibility.
In Feb. 1971, the Claremont McKenna College Admissions and Financial Aid Department released a statement that rejected the original enrollment agreement of 1968.
According to the Claremont Collegian, the CMC report stated, “[We] admit that the college agreed to offer admission to 10 percent of black students. [But] the College does not wish to commit itself to any set quotas of minority enrollments.”
By the time early BSU students activists had established the Black Studies Center and inclusive housing policies for students of color in 1969, Black enrollment across the 5Cs experienced a staggering decline.
The Pomona College Admissions Office reported less diversity on campus. In a 1972 TSL article, admissions counselor Cynthia Stork said, “Fewer minority students [are] accepting offers of admission to Pomona.”
The number of Black students at CMC began to dwindle even earlier, making up just six percent of the college’s student body by 1971. 5C admin
istrators appeared reluctant to put any fault on their admissions policies. Instead, faculty committees such as CMC’s Admission and Financial Aid Committee blamed financial burden and academic unfitness.
“The report says that the College believes that attempts to reach quotas could lead to a reduced academic quality,” Rob Langworthy wrote for the Claremont Collegian. “[The committee] adds that such students ‘must meet the usual standards of quality’ [and] ‘made it clear that money could be a critical limiting factor.’”
The faculty committee found no value in retaining the quota agreement for its admissions, a practice that California banned in 1978.
But students on the Committee on Alternative Education released a statement in support of quotas in admission policies.
“We urge all students to support the BSU in their struggle to attain the educational equality that has been promised them,” the joint statement on behalf of the committee read in a 1971 TSL guest-opinion .
The BSU’s admissions policies in favor of quotas also garnered support from faculty. Black Studies Center Director Donald Cheek spoke at a CMC faculty meeting in Mar. 1971, on behalf of the BSU, to advocate for the BSU’s original enrollment demands.
“The colleges have been looking for loopholes in the 1968 agreement, particularly in denial of scholarships for financial reasons,” Cheek said. “Because of the racist society we function in, Black and Chicano families will need more aid.”
TSL reported on CMC Assistant Professor Barbee-Sue Rodman’s eight page rebuttal addressed to CMC’s committee’s claims that affirmative action lowered the academic standard of applicants.
“[Regarding] reduced academic quality, Rodman observes that neither CMC nor other colleges admit students ‘simply on the basis of academic or intellectual merit,’” TSL reported. “Instead, Rodman says other considerations … are also used to determine an entrant’s potential contribution.”
According to the BSU, CMC’s report attempted to justify racial discrimination in admissions and avoid retention of Black students throughout the school year.
In a letter sent to then-CMC President Jack Stark, the BSU questioned whether the college lacked the funds to support a scholarship for students of color or had chosen not to. However, CMC’s Dean of Students Clifton Macleod and President Jack Stark rejected the BSU’s claims of any racial discrimination.
“President Jack Stark called the accusations ‘not true,’ [charging] that [the BSU] intended to ‘build tension and distrust,’” Bill Weirick of the Collegian wrote at the time. “According to MacLeod and Stark, the most frequent reason given for black students leaving was … ‘flunking out.’ However [MacLeod] said that he felt that anyone admitted to CMC should be able to make it academically [and] he ‘accepts the challenge.’”
CMC faculty opted to settle the quota contention with a mail-in vote, ultimately approving the CMC’s Admission and Financial Aid Committee’s admission and financial aid policy without any set quotas.
Less than a year later, the Educational Amendments of 1972 passed in the Senate signing Title IX protections or protections against “discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions” into law. With it, came more federal financial assistance.
The Educational amendments spurred a dramatic shift in the country’s admissions and financial aid landscape for women and students of color, opening the door for 5C discourse on whether to implement affirmative action at the 5Cs.
Administrators weren’t the only ones to oppose affirmative action policies. Professors did too.
In the fall of 1972, Pomona professor Charles King published an opinion against the practice to which student Jeanne Rosenmeir PO ’74 refuted.
“Mr. King spends 3 1/2 columns out of four discussing the case in which, of two people vying for the same position, the white male is clearly better qualified,”Rosenmeier wrote in TSL. “Mr. King is advocating a maintenance of the status quo until someone can come up with a scheme for helping women and blacks get a toehold without inconveniencing the white males.”
The faculty and student responses to affirmative action eventually caught the attention of 5C administrators. Just a month after the published opinions, the 5Cs held an “Affirmative Action Workshop” at Harvey Mudd College with a representative from the federal Office of Civil Rights and Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The full-day workshop discussed “new guidelines for higher education [and] explore problems in the application of the guidelines.”
Soon after, the Claremont University Center Affirmative Action Committee released an “Affirmative Action Plan” stating their support for equality in education.
“Claremont University Center recognizes … that affirmative action requires additional efforts to recruit, employ, and promote qualified members of groups which may have been formerly excluded,” CUC’s joint statement said. “In the case of both minorities and women, the figures have been reviewed and there does not seem to be evidence of clustering.”
The action committee found that only five Black professors of 63 total faculty members held “higher level administrative positions” across the 5C. Only one Black faculty member did not work as an administrator connected to the Black Studies Center or Chicano Studies Center.
“About 6% of the highest administrative jobs are held by minority persons,” the Committee wrote in their Affirmative Action Plan. “This exceeds the percentage that would be expected from the local labor market.”
Despite any student and faculty fervor regarding affirmative action, the 5C Committee was adamant that it was not necessary to use affirmative action to change enrollment and hiring policies. So, any effect on Black enrollment and employment was dismal after the enactment of the 5C Affirmative Action Plan.
Rosenmeier, who covered the 5Cs’ responses to affirmative action and graduated from Pomona in 1974, recently sat down for an interview with TSL. She recalled no interactions with faculty and students of color at all, following the 5C pushback in affirmative action and diversity recruiting.
“There weren’t very many Black students. I didn’t know anyone that was Black at Pomona. I don’t remember having an interaction of any kind, actually,” Rosenmeier said. “But I can say that as an outsider, the discrimination was not subtle. Oh God, it was everywhere.”
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