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Affirmative discrimination – nonadmission of African American students to the University of California in San Diego medical school – Speaking of Education – Column

One hundred and ninety-six African American students applied for
medical school admission at the University of California at San Diego.
Not a single one was admitted. At Boalt Hall, the University of
California Law School at the Berkeley campus, only fourteen students
were admitted, and just one – entering after deferring admission from
last year – will attend.

The so-called color blindness that some were so excited about when
Proposition 209 passed in November is now coming home to roost as
surely as the chickens Malcolm X referred to in 1963. The consequences
are so dire that even some proponents of Proposition 209 have got to
review them with some dismay.

Admissions policies in California and Texas create a hostile
environment for African American and other students of color. This is,
perhaps, why so few of those admitted are willing to attend these
universities. Further, it seems that admissions committees, in
attempting to be “race neutral” have taken everything except race into
consideration, moving beyond the legitimate criteria of grades and the
very questionable criteria of standardized test scores, to look at
things like volunteer work and socio-economic background.

Without suggesting that these factors should have no weight, let me
simply note that the lens through which admissions officers interpret
the admission process matters. In other words, if they are instructed
by their regents to be neutral (read hostile) to race, but sympathetic
to alumni status, VIP status, and certain types of volunteer work, then
they will.

I am amused and amazed at the reliance that some have on
standardized tests. Even the College Board would admit that these tests
are not predictive of professional success or performance, only of
first year success. But there seems to be a strong bias built into
these tests, and there also seem to be real questions about what the
test measures. I, frankly, would rather not see a physician who has so
specialized in multiple choice-think that she excels on standardized
tests but not diagnosis. I’d hazard to guess that people who have been
undiagnosed with ailments for long periods of time might feel the same
way, wondering if rote learning is any substitute for patient attention.

In the case of the University of California at San Diego, the
admission process flies in the face of the medical needs of our
nation’s most diverse state. There are, reportedly, a glut of
physicians in California, but the state’s African Americans and Mexican
Americans remain “medically under-served.” What is the meaning of this
mismatch in a state so eager to embrace the notion of “race neutrality”
or “color blindness?” Apparently some doctors prefer not to treat some
patients – or they haven’t been properly trained, haven’t had to answer
the right questions on their MCAT tests, or something. Still, African
Americans and Latino doctors are more likely than others to return to
their communities and reach the medically under-served with their

This ought to be a compelling reason to admit a diversity of
students into California medical schools. Instead of an exploration of
the return to segregation at the University of California-San Diego,
some proponents of Proposition 209 are almost celebrating
“nondiscrimination.” But the embrace of flawed admissions standards is
nothing more than affirmative discrimination.

If the Regents of the University of California were really
interested in both serving the medical – and other professional – needs
of the state while preserving merit in the admissions process, they
might have studied the process and proposed significant changes in the
admissions policy – including the elimination of preferences for alumni
and donors, who can buy their way into elite graduate and professional

They might have studied the efficacy of standardized tests, and the
possibility that other factors may matter in deciding whether an
applicant will be a good doctor or not. After all, any tuition a
student pays covers only part of medical school education. Those who
are admitted receive a hefty state subsidy for their education. There
is apparently no race-neutrality in the awarding of subsidies to
medical applicants. The signs seem as big as the ones that adorned
Southern water faucets a generation ago – signs that say “White” and
“Colored”, or implicitly, “no Blacks need apply”.

There are income distribution implications for this affirmative
discrimination, the new apartheid in college and professional school
admissions. Why should taxpayers of color pay for state educational
institutions that discriminate against their youngsters? This is an
income transfer program of the worst kind. The data suggests that
African American and Latino communities are medically under-served, yet
African American and Latino taxpayers must subsidize the medical
education for those who would not serve their communities! The tax and
income distributions implications of affirmative discrimination have
not been fully explored – but they must be.

When proponents of the inappropriately described “California Civil
Rights Initiative” who have now formed the “American Civil Rights
Institute” defend the new apartheid, they are showing their true
biases, and their “preference” (one of their favorite words) for
affirmative discrimination.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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