New UC admissions policy gives white students a better chance, angers Asian-American community
By Lisa M. Krieger
Posted: 03/27/2009 07:55:18 PM PDT
A new University of California admissions policy, adopted to increase campus diversity, could actually increase the number of white students on campuses while driving down the Asian population.
Now angry Asian-American community leaders and educators are attacking the policy as ill-conceived, poorly publicized and discriminatory.
"It's affirmative action for whites," said UC-Berkeley professor Ling-chi Wang. "I'm really outraged "... and profoundly disappointed with the institution."
At an Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education conference Friday in San Francisco, Asian activists also noted the policy will result in negligible increases in African-American students and only a modest climb in the number of Latinos. But it's the drop in the already significant Asian count that has many in that community so upset.
Although Asians account for only 12 percent of the state's population, they now represent 37 percent of UC admissions — the single largest ethnic group. At UC-Berkeley, 46 percent of the freshman class is Asian. There are dormitories with Asian themes and spicy bowls of pho are served up in the Bear's Lair cafeteria.
Under the new policy, according to UC's own estimate, the proportion of Asian admissions would drop as much as 7 percent, while admissions of whites could rise by up to 10 percent.
"The UCs are a means of upward mobility," said Anthony Lin, a San Jose resident who is a graduate student at University of California-Los Angeles. "The University of California, because it is a research institution, is very prestigious."
Since its adoption by the UC Regents in February, the policy has triggered Asian suspicions of the UC entry system not felt since the mid-1980s, when a change in admissions policy caused a decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment. In 1989, then-UC-Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman apologized for the policy.
"I fear a general sense that there are too many Asians in the UC system," said Patrick Hayashi, former UC associate president.
In this newest overhaul of eligibility requirements, UC has eliminated SAT subject tests — which Asians tend to do well on.
Those critical of the proposed plan vow to get it reversed by appealing to those who hold UC's purse strings: state legislators. On Tuesday, two panels of the California Legislature will jointly hold a hearing to review the policy.
Meanwhile, supporters of the change, which results from a faculty study and is backed by president Mark G. Yudof, see it as a way to ease the widening achievement gap on their campuses. The impact of the new policy, according to UC's preliminary analysis, would be to simplify the application process and cast a wider net among promising low-income students.
It's a consequential shift for the UC system, reflecting its effort to make UC more accessible. The new policy applies to students entering college in fall 2012; they are now high school freshmen.
More than a decade after California passed Proposition 209, voting to eliminate racial preferences, university administrators have struggled to create a better balance on campus. The use of a strict meritocracy has been blamed on the rise of "the Asian campus." Some say it has come at the expense of historically underrepresented blacks and Hispanics — as well as whites.
"The president would not have supported the policy had he not felt it was fair and created opportunity," said Nina Robinson, UC's director of policy and external affairs for student affairs.
Many students — especially low-income and/or minority students — become ineligible to apply because they do not take the subject matter tests, she said.
But an analysis of the change predicts that the number of Asians admitted to UC could decrease because Asians tend to excel on the "subject tests," which are no longer part of the application.
The number of admitted whites could increase, because more weight will be given to the "reasoning SAT," which favors American natives.
African-Americans and Latinos could benefit slightly from the expanded class-ranking criteria because top students from troubled schools such as San Jose's Lick High School could be UC-eligible.
Critics say they are frustrated because UC has not made public the statistical analysis on which their decision was based.
But the report that created the data for that analysis, called the 2007 CPEC Eligibility Study, is deeply flawed, according to New York University education professor Robert Teranishi.
"It shows a wide margin of error for Asians. It is not a good predictive model, perhaps because the Asian population is very diverse. 'Asian' represents a lot of different demographic backgrounds," he said. "It should not be used to guide major policy decisions." Wang, who compared it to "peddling snake oil," complained that Asians had not been invited to participate in the process.
"The changes over the last two years took place inside the ivory tower and closed the door, without the public's knowledge," he said.
Added Hayashi: "A public university should be more responsive. Private schools can do anything they want. But public schools have a different set of objectives. "It will have a devastating impact on our community. It is a fatal mistake to think it will blow over."
The university has the power to set admissions criteria, said Steve Boilard of the California Legislative Analyst's Office. But the Legislature approves its $3 billion in funding every year.
"This is a dynamic where we need to work together to ensure its mission," he said.