Admissions cover-up alleged
University denies taking race of applicants into account, but professor’s report says otherwise
Anthony Pesce (Contact)
Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2008
A professor is alleging that UCLA illegally takes race into account when admitting black students and is accusing the university of hiding data in a cover-up.
Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science, authored an 89-page report outlining the above concerns and then Thursday resigned from his position on the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools, a faculty oversight committee on admissions.
By law, UCLA cannot consider race in admissions, but Groseclose charges that application readers are getting around this restriction because some students reveal their race in their personal essays.
UCLA administrators deny both using race to make admissions decisions and a cover-up.
Janina Montero, vice chancellor for student affairs, told the Associated Press that UCLA application readers are instructed to not consider race at all.
Tom Lifka, associate vice chancellor for student academic services, said that as a result of this report, UCLA is commissioning a study to determine whether black students or other minority students receive an unfair advantage in the admissions process.
Groseclose wrote that he requested the necessary data from the university to conduct the study himself, but he was denied the data on several occasions – constituting what he describes in the report as a cover-up.
Though students applying to any UC school have the option of revealing their race on the application, readers are not given that information. Instead, the report read, some students voluntarily share their race and other personal information in their essays – theoretically giving readers the opportunity to consider it.
Groseclose offered some circumstantial evidence to support his claim, saying that in 2006, a black student had an 11.5-percent chance of being admitted.
After UCLA adopted a holistic admissions model in 2007 that, among other things, placed a heavier weight on life challenges, the statistic went up to a 16.5-percent chance.
Lifka said these statistics are not evidence of Groseclose’s claim but are instead an outcome from which the professor is deducing a cause. Lifka added that the study currently underway should shed some light on the situation.
The university attributes this shift primarily to the adoption of the holistic admissions process, which administrators have said is fairer to applicants because it takes into account their personal background and experiences in addition to academic qualities.
In the past, however, other data have suggested that there may be a difference in the way minority students are considered. In 2007, the Daily Bruin obtained admissions data from the university that showed that black and Latino students who were admitted had significantly lower average GPAs and standardized test scores than the overall averages.
Groseclose’s report also stated that the pool of applicant readers had a disproportionately high number of people from the black community, allowing for what could be a conflict of interest from a community that has heavily criticized UCLA for its low number of black students.
Lifka did not directly challenge this claim, adding that roughly 40 of the 160 readers were black. He also said the black community was encouraging its members to apply to be UCLA application readers at the time.
But Lifka did say that this argument makes for a slippery slope.
“If you begin to hypothesize that a reader, because of their own conditions – be it racial conditions, religion, gender, whatever it is – that that’s going to lead them to make a biased decision in favor of whomever it is they’re reading ... and buy into that mentality that they’re not capable of being trained, and you can’t set up reasonable safeguards,” he said, “then all you’re left with is some mechanical, computerized system.
But Ward Connerly, a former UC regent and nationally known opponent of affirmative action, said the UC should just make a policy that prohibits students from mentioning their race in an application.
“Students reveal their race in essays, and then you have readers who are black and the system is therefore rigged to produce a certain outcome,” he said. “The only way to get around this is for UCLA to say that if you mention your race, it will be automatic grounds for a denial.”