Regents Discuss Changing UC Admissions Policy in Light of 'Toxic' Racial Climate

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SAN FRANCISCO-Talk of a "toxic" racial climate across the University of California system took center stage at Wednesday's meeting of the UC Board of Regents as the board heard reports from students and administrators about alleged hate crimes targeting black and homosexual students that occurred at UC Davis and UC San Diego.

For the first half of the meeting at UC San Francisco, regents, administrators and students discussed how best to respond to the incidents. Proposals included altering UC admissions policy to increase minority representation as well as instituting full university funding of minority recruitment and retention centers.

Calling the current system of admissions at the 10 campuses "uneven," UC President Mark Yudof proposed changing the admissions policy to focus less on test scores and more on an applicant's history.

"I want a system that is less mechanical," Yudof said. "That takes a look seriously at a range of talents, at skills and history."

Recent incidents in the UC system that prompted the discussion include an off-campus "Compton Cookout" party at UCSD, the discovery of a noose in a campus library and graffiti found sprayed on the UC Davis Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.

Yudof proposed changing admissions policy across the UC system to adopt a holistic approach--which would take into account a student's personal history in his or her UC application rather than only using a points-based system currently employed by many campuses--to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities at UC campuses, a move that Yudof said was the first step in improving the university's racial climate. Currently, only UC Berkeley and UCLA employ the holistic approach.

"It is our own standards and slavish adherence to grade point averages and SAT scores that have put us in this dilemma," said Regent Eddie Island, drawing applause from the audience, which included students, faculty and staff. "We value those things higher than we value other human qualities that are just as important and that can make a contribution within the UC environment."

Yudof said the proposed admissions policy would be set to take effect for applications of the incoming class of 2012-13.

He said that though the UC must abide by Proposition 209--which passed in 1996 and prohibited state institutions including the UC from considering race, sex or ethnicity in applications--policies such as the proposed holistic approach to reviewing applications would increase the voice of minorities in the university.

Some students and faculty at the meeting, including Fnann Keflezighi, co-chair of the Black Student Union at UCSD, disagreed with the effectiveness of the admissions policy.

"Changing the admissions policy at UC San Diego is not going to change the problem," she said when addressing the board. "If you admit more black students, they are still not going to come to UCSD knowing that the climate is going to be hostile towards them. You all should honestly be ashamed of yourselves if you are just going to increase the numbers and think that critical mass is going to change it."

Keflezighi and other students said the series of incidents stemmed from a lack of "things like African-American resource centers, recruitment and retention centers, things that other campuses have and that function and that work that UCSD lacks."

Adopting holistic review for the entire UC system is currently being reviewed by the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, a committee of the UC Academic Senate, according to chair of the senate Henry Powell, adding that each campus decides its own admissions policy.

Powell, who is also a professor of pathology at UC San Diego, said that other factors contribute to the minuscule number of black students at UC San Diego, who make up 1.4 percent of the student population, the lowest number in the UC system.

"The large number of people who are admitted decide not to come," he said. "I think that is a bigger problem than admissions."

The campus's yield rate for black students--the percentage of students who accept their admissions offer--is about 12 percent according to the annual sub-report on admissions presented to the regents at the meeting.

Dan Simmons, vice chair of the Academic Senate, cautioned changing the admissions policy based on the incidents at the UC campuses, saying the real problem was far greater.

"It's not our admissions process that carved swastikas on the doors in the students' dormitory room, it's not our admissions process that put a noose in the San Diego library," Simmons said. "I don't want to see us misled into thinking that getting the board focused on admissions policy and process is going to solve our problem; our problem is far deeper, far, far deeper than that."


Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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