UCLA's Loyalty Oath


Californians like to be in the forefront of things, and they have lately been particularly daring about affirmative action: In July 1995, the University of California regents voted to end race-based admissions and hiring on their campuses; last November, the state's electorate approved the historic California Civil Rights Initiative, striking a further blow for equal opportunity. But that doesn't mean that every Californian is playing ball; at the University of California, Los Angeles, those wishing to be tutors must take a loyalty oath—to affirmative action.

Alvaro Cardona learned this the hard way. Last November, he applied for a $ 12.43-an-hour tutoring job in the university's Academic Advancement Program (AAP). He was turned down because he wouldn't sign on to AAP's official endorsement of race-based affirmative action.

By objective measures, Cardona would seem a perfect fit for the job: He is an honors student with two years' tutoring experience at another college. He is also an immigrant of humble origins, which would seem to conform to AAP's professed mission of serving "historically under-represented students," in part by providing tutors who can "serve as role models." A 30-year-old with three children, Cardona has enough life experience to set an example for the 18-to-20-year-olds he would be tutoring. But during his job interview for a position as a writing tutor, he wasn't asked a single question related to English composition. Nor did his interviewer simulate a tutorial session, something AAP claims is standard procedure for all interviews. Instead, she used the half-hour to ask him such questions as, "How do you feel about affirmative action," and, "Do you believe there is institutionalized racism at UCLA?"

Cardona, who aspires to teach at a community college, was honest, answering that he hadn't experienced racism at UCLA and that affirmative action, "while it does help a lot of people, can be carried too far, bearing people on its shoulders rather than giving them an elbow on which to steady themselves." Says Cardona, "I was being candid about my political beliefs. I didn't think that they would have repercussions for my job." But they did. Cardona was told that he didn't get the job because he "couldn't understand the needs of AAP students." The woman who delivered the news told him that he would be the kind of person who stresses academics, which is only 50 percent of the job. The other 50 percent? Validating students' feelings.

It is illegal, incidentally, for employers to query job applicants about their political views. Although UCLA's legal-services department told Cardona he had an actionable case on First Amendment grounds, the school did not offer help. The American Civil Liberties Union turned him down, too, mailing a form letter that cited insufficient resources.

Cardona's experience is not unique. Most of those who seek to become tutors know that they must repeat the party line on affirmative action. AAP's director, Adolfo Bermeo, denies it, but the word on the street is otherwise. Grad student Brandon Lu said to the Daily Bruin, the school's paper, "I was flat-out told by an AAP tutor to say I was in favor of affirmative action or they wouldn't hire me. Everyone going in knew to say this. I'm just wondering what this question has to do with tutoring students."

Bermeo (who did not return phone calls for this article) defends his program's emphasis on affirmative action because, as he told the Daily Bruin, "employees need to really believe that people who are here belong here. That's a pedagogical issue, but not a litmus test." But why should tutoring and a belief in colorblind decisionmaking be mutually exclusive? And why can't "diversity"—academia's golden calf—cover Alvaro Cardona, whose background and classically liberal views undoubtedly enrich the life of that community?

It is time for University of California regents to clean house. Programs such as AAP should be reconstituted-opened up, made reasonable, released from the grip of the ideologues—or shut down. Then California could lead the way once again.