New Report Finds Berkeley Admitting More Minorities Than Predicted
Findings provide new platform for debate over affirmative action, ‘comprehensive review’ policy
In an announcement aimed at blunting attacks from its board chairman, the University of California released a study conceding that more Black and Latino students are being admitted to some UC campuses than a statistical model predicts.
According to a computerized analysis, Berkeley should have admitted 234 African American and 1076 Chicano freshmen last year, but in fact, the campus offered seats to 355 Black and 1222 Chicano students. Whites and Asians, conversely, were admitted in numbers slightly lower than predicted by the model, the announcement said.
In a presentation to the board of regents at their March meeting, UC Senior Vice President Bruce Darling characterized the differences as small, and noted that the statistical model does not include some of the qualitative elements that UC campuses consider along with quantitative measures like grades, SAT scores and family income. Officials are still studying the differences between the predicted and actual admissions rates to determine whether the campuses are inappropriately considering racial factors.
Berkeley officials were cautious in their discussions of the report, because of its controversial nature, but former admissions director Bob Laird noted that the differences are not surprising since the comprehensive review admissions process cannot be modeled statistically.
“There are some big things they can’t quantify,” Laird said. “They can account for whether a student is low-income or high-income, but they can’t look at the degree of poverty, or at circumstances like homelessness, or whether a student comes from a very large family with one or no parents, or medical conditions that have influenced the well-being of the family. That’s what comprehensive review in part is supposed to look at. There’s something highly questionable about evaluating a highly qualitative process in a quantitative way.”
Insiders said that the report was released in an attempt to put the data in context and minimize the impact of more far-reaching accusations from Regents Chairman John J. Moores that campuses, especially UC Berkeley, continue to use affirmative action in violation of state law. But the report and a presentation of the findings did little to quell the controversy, instead providing another platform for Moores to air his accusations and for opponents on the deeply divided board to fire back.
Moores’ charges began with a report leaked to the press last October and continued with an opinion piece in the March 29 issue of Forbes magazine. The piece repeats Moores’ earlier accusations — which focus on SAT scores as the sole factor for evaluating students — and asks, “How did the university get away with discriminating so blatantly against Asians?” (See Black Issues, Jan. 1.)
He continued the accusations at the March meeting, blasting administrators for concealing earlier versions of the admissions analysis. In response, UC officials provided reporters with copies of the regression results, a highly technical internal document that nevertheless revealed that any discrepancies in actual and predicted admissions outcomes at Berkeley were actually diminished after the comprehensive approach was adopted.
At their March meeting, the regents voted 8 to 6 to affirm the current admissions process and effectively censure Moores for his comments in Forbes. Many of those who voted for the measure said they were troubled that Moores’ comments would be read as representing the entire board.
“Who believes that that article was not damaging to the university?” asked Regent George Marcus. “I don’t believe any regent should endanger the reputation of the university.”
Regent Odessa Johnson added that she was troubled by reports from African American students at Berkeley who said they felt singled-out on campus in the wake of Moores’ campaign against Berkeley’s admissions practices.
Berkeley’s chancellor Dr. Robert M. Berdahl was noticeably absent from the meeting, but his response to the Forbes article was circulated.
“I cannot allow to stand the accusation that Berkeley discriminates against Asian Americans,” Berdahl wrote. “Asian American students comprise 42.5 percent of the undergraduate population and are a vital part of the campus. The University of California process is called ‘comprehensive review’ precisely because our admissions decisions are based on a broad and inclusive assessment.”
Berdahl notes that more than 95 percent of all freshmen at Berkeley successfully continue, and that no student in the group analyzed by Moores was dismissed for academic reasons.
Officials announced that Berkeley and perhaps other campuses will begin striking applicants’ names from the forms reviewed by admissions readers, implying that the move would lessen the chances that readers could consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity. But professor David Stern, chairman of the Berkeley faculty’s committee on admissions policy, said the decision was driven by concerns about privacy and security, not by the need for race-blindness.
Officials said that the move to online admissions was making it easier to remove names than it would have been previously, though observers noted an irony in the decision: The move was one that Ward Connerly, a Black Republican on the board, had pressed for in the mid-1990s after his successful drive to abandon affirmative action at UC.
Last month, Connerly refused to back the measure against Moores. But his remarks sounded mild in comparison.
“We’ve had a very profound change,” he said. “We all knew it would not happen overnight. I have supported comprehensive review. Sure, I still have some suspicions about the possibility that academic measurements will be outweighed by non-academic measurements. I hope we reach the point where we no longer preoccupy ourselves with how many of these and how many of those got in. I think we’re getting there. Comprehensive review, administered with integrity, makes sense.”
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