University of California Can't Move Past Race-Based Admissions

The University of California administration and faculty senate appear to be making an end-run around the admissions policy which rejects race as an admissions factor. By proposing drastic changes to the policy, they contend they are merely trying to make the process “fairer” by eliminating some technical barriers to admission.

But the changes go far beyond removing a few “technical barriers.” Although key supporters of the proposals claim that changing the ethnic composition of the UC student body was not a basis for their action, they are employing the same methods used in other states to promote diversity, without directly using race as a factor.

Ward Connerly, a former president of the Board of Regents who opposes the changes, said,“In this case, the faculty senate is trying to devise a system that will admit more students from low-income and underperforming high schools, which will translate into more black and Latino students.”

Californians, however, officially established — by law — their desire for the state to be color-blind in such matters. In 1996, they chose to end affirmative action by voting Proposition 209 into law via the referendum process. Connerly, who spearheaded the successful campaign to pass the referendum, said there have been “continuing efforts to circumvent Prop 209,” and suggested the faculty senate proposals are one more such effort.

The proposed changes are on the agenda for the upcoming Board of Regents meeting on February 4. They will have at least three major effects:

1) Reducing the importance of standardized tests. The requirement to take two SAT II subject tests will be eliminated, because they and the SAT I reasoning tests are so strongly correlated that both are often unnecessary. The role of the SAT I tests will be also diminished.

2) Elevating the role of high school class rank as an admissions criterion.

3) Giving “comprehensive” or “holistic” reviews that include highly subjective, non-academic criteria such as “life experiences,” greater importance for many students than before.

Advocates for the changes focus their defense on the many worthy applicants currently rejected for failing to meet technical requirements, of which the SAT II subject tests are the most notable. Mark M. Rashid is an engineering professor at UC-Davis who headed the UC faculty senate while the changes were first proposed to the Regents. He said that the main reason for the new policy recommendations is that these requirements “exclude thousands of high-achieving CA-resident students from UC, while simultaneously guaranteeing admission to many others whose academic achievements are more modest than some of those excluded.”

While this is true, proponents do not want to simply remove the SAT II requirement. The talented students added to the applicant pool would raise the minimum SAT scores and grade point averages needed for admission in most cases. A UC administration document reveals political motives — it warns that making only this one change would “lead to severely negative consequences for the makeup of the applicant pool…”

“Negative consequences” means more admissions of whites (whose University of California representation matches their share of the population) and Asian-Americans (already demographically overrepresented in the UC system). Apparently, diversity bean-counters are not satisfied with diversity alone — they seek a student body with precise percentages of ethnic groups that meet their political needs.

The elevation of class rank as an admissions factor is clearly intended to side-step race-blind policies. The University of Texas system made class rank the central element of its admission policy — to address a drop in racial diversity — after affirmative action was declared illegal. This policy change deliberately favors students from low-income school districts likely to include high percentages of favored minorities. It falsely suggests that the top nine percent of students at the worst school in the state are academically equivalent to the top nine percent of students at the best school.

UCLA economics professor Tim Groseclose said of the new rules, “The proposed system will place less reliance on objective factors, such as grades and SAT scores, and more reliance on subjective factors, which students typically reveal in application essays.”
He added that the change to more subjective decision-making will “invite mischief.”

Groseclose has inside knowledge of how diversity proponents intend to achieve their goals without appearing to acknowledge race. He recently resigned from his school’s faculty admissions committee in protest of the committee leadership’s efforts to stack the deck with application reviewers who were likely to identify with applicants from underrepresented minorities. Because minority applicants often reveal their race in essays, the sympathetic reviewers are more likely to give them better assessments than they would non-minority applicants.

It is often in such implementation details where the damage is done. Instead of a move to “greater fairness,” as Rashid claims, these changes will perpetuate the divisive policy of government preferring one race over another — not what the majority of California citizens had in mind. Nor does it conform to the national consensus on race, as defined by Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech, that this is a country where people are “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”