Fuzzy Admissions at UCLA

Ward Connerly, Minding the Campus, September 12, 2008

If you like “whodunit” books and “perfect crime” plots, I heartily recommend the Tim Groseclose experience of trying to obtain the data to evaluate the “holistic” admissions process of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Groseclose is the political science professor who blew the whistle on what he considers to be UCLA’s violation of the California Constitution with regard to the use of race preferences in admissions to his campus.

As a regent of the University of California (UC), I supported the use of what we called “comprehensive review” as an alternative to over-reliance on standardized test scores. Yet, at the time of approval, I and others expressed concern that allowing UC campuses the discretion to view applicants for admission “comprehensively” opened the door to the use of subjective factors that could not be detected or proven; however, it was my belief then that UC administrators would resist the temptation to cheat and violate the California Constitution and that they would administer this new process with integrity. In the case of UCLA, I am now strongly convinced that my faith in the institution’s honor has been misplaced.

{snip}

Originally, UCLA reviewed applications for admission by determining the academic competitiveness of those in the applicant pool solely on the basis of academic performance. {snip}

The process worked well, except that it resulted in fewer black students being admitted. The reasons for this result are quite obvious. First, the pool of black students who are competitively admissible to academically select institutions of higher education, such as UCLA, is comparatively quite small. Second, {snip} while the black students in the admission pool have typically lower academic achievement, their academic performance cannot be traced to socioeconomic disadvantages inasmuch as Asian students, especially Vietnamese, can demonstrate greater obstacles.

In response to the lack of academic competitiveness on the part of black students, leading to their “under-representation,” black advocates complained that the admissions system was unfair to black students and needed to be changed. Predictably, UCLA administrators [implemented] the necessary changes to trigger higher rates of admission for black applicants. although they steadfastly deny that this was their rationale. {snip}

The first step was to merge the nonacademic factors with the academic ones, thereby creating a fuzzy process that is described as “holistic” review. {snip} Holistic review is a process that seeks to totally hide the motive for admitting any specific applicant.

While written essays were not of significant importance during the era of race preferences in California, once preferences were eliminated the essay became critical. {snip}

But, who is to read these essays and make the determination of which applicant, from among 51,000, would make a “greater contribution to diversity?” The answer for UCLA was to hire a disproportionate number of black high school counselors, as the “Groseclose Report” reveals (roughly a fourth of the application readers hired by UCLA for the 2007-08 review process were black). The rationale for this decision, I have no doubt, is that UCLA assumed that black readers would be more “sensitive” to applicants who are black. {snip}

In discussions that I have had with various UC admissions staff over the years, it is clear that the essay is the primary tool for identifying “under-represented minority” students. For example, if a student emphasizes that he was president of the “black student union” at his high school, the probability is extremely high that this student is not Vietnamese or Filipino. {snip}

To complete the perfect crime, UCLA assigns multiple readers to each application to create the false impression that each application has received sufficient objective scrutiny when, in fact, all readers are part of the same professional network and, thus, inclined to scratch each other’s backs.

So, we have a system which elevates subjective factors such as “adversity,” leadership, and community service to a status equal to that of the more objective standards of academic achievement. We include the requirement for an essay and make it critical that applicants tell the university about themselves in ways that particularly identify how the applicant might contribute to “diversity,” we develop and recruit a cadre of high school counselors who are primed to advise students about what to include in essays so as to reveal the essential race identification information, and then the university hires the requisite readers to complete the task. {snip}

{snip}

In short, it is the conclusion of UCLA that because black students were not as academically competitive as Asian and white students once race preferences were eliminated, UCLA was justified in questioning whether race-neutral measures “served UCLA’s compelling interest in ensuring equal opportunity.” (i.e. “diversity”).

What UCLA has done is indefensible, it seems to me, and I believe the campus knows it. That is precisely why the request of Groseclose for admissions data was denied, why the campus has been so jittery about its use of holistic review, and why an “independent evaluation” has been commissioned by the parties who conspired to prevent the requested information from being given to Groseclose.

Public universities across the nation need to start getting comfortable with the high probability that the era of race preferences is coming to an end, either due to a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, elections at the ballot box, or popular sentiment of the American people. {snip}

[Editor’s Note: The story of the Tim Groseclose’s resignation can be read here.]

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