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Bad news in Berkeley: 800 Black, Latino students with 4.0 grades and 1200-plus SATs denied admissions

800 Black, Latino students with 4.0 grades and 1200-plus SATs denied admissions

Berkeley, Calif.–The dreary, still weeping sky of El Nino set a
somber scene here as the University of California-Berkeley announced
that it has admitted 1,079 fewer under-represented minority students
for the incoming fall class, with the most substantial decline
occurring among African American applicants.

Moreover, among the 4,514 Black, Chicano/Latino, and Native
American applicants denied admission for fall 1998, some 800 had grade
point averages of at least 4.0 and SAT scores of 1200 or better.

Overall, the university admitted 400 fewer students than it did in
1997, but admission of under-represented students fell precipitously,
from 23.1 percent last year to 10.4 percent. The nearly 13 percent
decline occurred despite an overall increase in applications, including
those from under-represented students.

“I can tell you that, personally, I am very disappointed that our
entering class will not better represent the impressive diversity that
distinguishes this state,” said UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl
at a news conference.

Among the 8,034 students whom Berkeley admitted from among nearly
30,000 applicants, 191 are African American, 434 are Chicano, 166 are
Latino, and 27 are Native American. Last year, when affirmative action
policies were still in place, the institution admitted 562 Blacks,
1,045 Chicanos, 221 Latinos, and 69 Native Americans. University
officials blame the decline on the restrictions placed on them by the
new affirmative action ban.

“The students to whom we could not offer admission will go to other
excellent universities, including other UC campuses, and to prestigious
private institutions. This is especially true of high-performing
minority students,” Berdahl continued. “I believe this will be a loss
for Berkeley and, if they leave the state, for the future leadership of

Dr. William Banks, a professor of African American Studies here, said the true “horror story is yet to come.”

“We’ll be lucky to get fifty of the Black students who’ve been admitted to come here,” he said.

The freshman class is expected to include a total of 3,500
students. Banks anticipates that most of the Black students Berkeley
has admitted will likely opt to attend more prestigious institutions.

“These kids could, and probably will, go anywhere,” Banks said.

While Berkeley is the flagship campus of the UC system and the
nation’s most selective public university, it is still widely viewed as
less prestigious than competing private institutions such as Stanford,
Harvard, or Brown. Banks adds that Black parents will be reluctant to
send their children to an institution where they are so vastly

Berdahl conceded that Berkeley is in stiff competition for these under-represented students.

“There is no question that the students admitted by Berkeley are in
high demand. But we believe that this is an excellent university and
the best deal in the U.S. for higher education,” he said.

The chancellor would not speculate about how many of the students
admitted will eventually enroll, but he did commit to personally
calling as many of the under-represented students as he can in an
effort to persuade them to enroll.

In the past, Berkeley has yielded roughly 30 percent of all
admitted applicants. Students with the highest test scores and grade
point averages generally enroll at a lower rate.

Berdahl dismissed suggestions by reporters that the current
admissions statistics prove that university’s previous affirmative
action policies had resulted in the admission of “unqualified” students.

“Minority graduation rates have improved each year and our minority
alumni have gone on to be successful leaders,” he said. “To suggest, by
implication, that they should not have been admitted in the first place
is to devalue their experience and their contribution.”

Berdahl said his admissions staff did as much as was legally
permissible under the new restrictions to modify its admissions
strategy so as to maximize the diversity of the incoming class. Without
access to affirmative action strategies, however, he said his hands
were tied.

“As an individual, I have supported affirmative action in the past
and nothing has changed that,” he added. “[However] as a public
official, I am not in a position to defy the law. We will obey the law.”

Reactions on campus to the news were mixed. One university employee
who works in the admissions office and who asked to remain anonymous
said the new admissions results are just the newest manifestation of
how California is failing its under-represented minority students.

“They jack these kids from the time they’re five [years old] and it just gets worse as they grow up,” the employee said.

“I am outraged,” says Jeremy Blasi, a sophomore sociology major.
Blasi, who is White, came to Berkeley from the racially diverse Echo
Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. “For me, affirmative action was a
drop in the bucket. It helps, though, and it was the best thing we had.”

Senior Maria Poblet, leader of a student solidarity coalition that
preempted the chancellor’s announcement by leaking a preliminary
admissions report at a press conference the day before, is outraged not
only by the admissions outcomes, but by Berdahl’s unwillingness to meet
face-to-face with her constituency.

“Chancellor Berdahl is not representing us, the students, and we
are his main constituency,” she said. “His stance in support [of
affirmative action] is a stance in words only, it is not one of action.”

Dr. Ronald Takaki, an ethnic studies professor at UC-Berkeley, agrees.

“My reaction is one of moral dismay,” said Takaki. “I don’t believe
[Berdahl and the admissions staff] did all that they could have done.
We should have de-weighted SATs, we shouldn’t give extra points for AP
courses. I think we should have just taken the top third of all high
school students and put them into a lottery and let the lottery
decide…. Our measurements of merit are not precise to begin with.

“The exclusion of Latinos and African Americans from this
university is morally unacceptable,” he continued. “This country is
dedicated to the notion of equality. To have a racially tiered system
of higher education results in a system that is separate and unequal.”

Freshman Arian White, an African American who is currently
competing with 100 other students for election into one of twenty seats
on the student senate, says his story is testimony to the good
affirmative action can do.

“I had a 3.2 GPA and scored 1160 on the SAT,” said the
self-described beneficiary of affirmative action. “Now I have a 3.7
GPA. What really matters is not what you do before you get here, but
what you do when you get here…. Without affirmative action, I want to
say [UC is] missing out on students who would add to the prestige of
this university.”

“I believe this will continue to be an outstanding university,”
Berdahl said. “We will not become homogeneous. But I do believe
diversity is important. To the extent that this leaves us less diverse,
I think it diminishes us.”

Freshman Admits to UC-Berkeley (Fall 1997 and Fall 1998)

Fall Fall Number Percentage
Ethnicity 1997 1998 Change Change

African American 598 255 -343 -56.6
Native american 77 47 -30 -37.9
Chicano 1,143 619 -524 -44.9
Latino 268 233 -35 -11.6
Asian 3,866 3,861 -5 +1.6
White 3,598 3,508 -90 -0.8
International 297 273 -24
Not given 627 1,586 959 157.3
Total 10,707 10,509 -198

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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