Boosting Minority Enrollment and the SAT

Debjit Mukerji is a UC Berkeley alumnus. Respond at [email protected].

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In Hoku Jeffrey's latest dramatic letter to The Daily Californian ("Enrollment Unsatisfactory," Apr. 9), he demands immediate elimination of the SAT, and, by some unspecified admissions process, an instant increase in minority enrollment. Jeffrey cites as cause for alarm the decline in the number of admitted black students from 293 to 290-this in an admit class of 8,492 students for Fall 2002. Would anyone with the slightest proficiency with numbers please step forward and explain to Jeffrey that the "decline" is statistically insignificant?

Granted, the flat enrollment trend of underrepresented minorities at UC's flagship campuses is a legitimate cause for concern. But rather than acknowledging that shortfalls in minority enrollment are largely due to lack of preparation and poor instruction at the K-12 level, Jeffrey insists on charging the deficits to institutional racism at the highest levels of the UC system. Jeffrey claims the current admissions policy enforces "segregation" between the flagship and less selective campuses. It is difficult to identify such targeted racial discrimination in UC admissions, where applicants are judged not by their ethnic backgrounds but by proven records of academic excellence and leadership. Further, comprehensive review is a progressive measure that ensures that admissions are less numbers-based and significantly more subjective, taking into account personal hardships and adversities overcome. But because this process has failed to produce the level of minority numbers at UC Berkeley that Jeffrey desires, it has been decried as "not fair enough." Jeffrey's approach threatens to systematically strip the admissions process of all academic criteria until the college application is reduced to a single line: "State your ethnicity."

The SAT has its flaws. While there exists a socioeconomic bias in the SAT, due to the gap between those who can afford preparatory courses and those who cannot, the claim that the SAT unfairly discriminates based on skin color or culture is more difficult to prove. The welcome improvements the College Board hopes to implement, among them adding a writing section to the SAT, are also "biased" according to Jeffrey. I think an applicant who lacks basic writing skills (in that white-dominated language of oppression, English) should not be admitted to UC Berkeley, the nation's most prestigious public institution. Jeffrey would have us believe that any standardized exam places underrepresented minorities at an automatic disadvantage. He clearly lacks faith in the abilities of those whose rights he professes to uphold.

UC administrators have, without overtly violating their obligation to comply with state law, gone out of their way to boost minority enrollment. Their efforts have borne fruit-minority percentages in UC's admitted class this year are the same as they were in 1997, when affirmative action was last in place (19.1 percent versus 18.8 percent). Admissions statistics released to press no longer cite the academic strengths or exceptional talents of the incoming class. Rather, admits are neatly placed into ethnic bins and racial statistics scrutinized. The priority of the administration has clearly shifted.

Yet Jeffrey remains unappeased and demands "mass student action" to achieve his objectives. I also endorse a call for action, but for a different purpose: to ensure that student quality-and UC's status at the forefront of American higher education-never be compromised.

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