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More on UC Admissions


George today and Candace yesterday had posts regarding the February 4 vote by the University of California regents on lowering admission requirements. After the jump is my own take, an updated version of a podcast I did last year.

There is a movement afoot to have the University of California’s Board of Regents vote on February 4 to get rid of the SAT II as part of UC’s admissions process. The reason, predictably, is to change the racial makeup of the student body currently being admitted.

And here’s an interesting twist: While designed to increase the number of blacks, getting rid of the SAT II will apparently hurt not only whites but also Asians and Hispanics. State assemblyman Van Tran recently wrote that the proposed move “could diminish opportunities for tens of thousands of UC applicants from minority, immigrant, and disadvantaged families.” Former U.S. Representative Doug Ose agreed, in this op-ed for The Berkeley Daily Planet.

Actually, this twist is maybe not so interesting; it’s becoming old hat. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently proposed reinstating racial preferences in its federal highway contracting.  And it proposed that, from now on, these preferences would include blacks and exclude not only whites but also Hispanics and some Asians. And if you don’t get a preference when others do, of course, then the fact of the matter is that you are discriminated against.

Tension between blacks and Hispanics in California is not news either. A few years ago, California lawyer Nicolas C. Vaca wrote The Presumed Alliance, the subtitle of which was “The Unspoken Conflict between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America.” More recently, New America Media published a survey that highlighted the extent to which there are tensions between Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans.

These inter-minority tensions are not exactly inspiring, but they do point to an obvious solution, which is.

As America becomes an increasingly multiracial and multiethnic society, a legal regime that sorts people according to skin color and what country their ancestors came from becomes increasingly untenable. Accordingly, we must embrace without further delay the colorblind ideal rather than a divisive racial spoils system. As a prerequisite to mutual respect, everyone must know that everyone else is being judged by the same standard, without discrimination.

And make no mistake about it: Getting rid of selection criteria (like the SAT II) because they don’t give you the racial numbers you want is a form of discrimination.

Suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and the Regents were being urged by whites to stop using a test that was resulting in “too many” blacks being admitted. One hopes that the Regents would simply tell this crowd to get lost.

And, indeed, there is precedent for rejecting such schemes as illegal. The Supreme Court long ago ruled that the infamous “grandfather clauses”–which superficially might appear neutral but were deliberately designed to help whites register to vote at the expense of blacks–were unconstitutional.

The inconvenient truth is that students in some groups (like Asians) are reaching the age of 18 with, on average, better academic credentials than those of students in other groups (like blacks). The reason for this is not that the tests are unfair. Rather, the main reason is that more than 7 in 10 blacks are now born out of wedlock, versus fewer than 2 out of 10 Asians and Pacific Islanders.

As the Educational Testing Service has warned (in a study published in fall 2007, quoting from “the most recent and large-scale synthesis of research on single-parent families in the United States”): “Studies demonstrate quite conclusively that children who live in single-mother families score lower on measures of academic achievement than those in two-parent families.”

Since the tests are perfectly valid, what is unfair–to those who have worked hard and therefore do well on them–is to throw them out because “too many” students of one color have scored high. Harvard, Stanford, and other top schools recognize the value of the SAT II. Harvard’s dean of admissions recently announced that the university’s own internal studies have proven the efficacy of the test in predicting academic success, noting it is a better predictor than high school grades, for instance. Prof. Keith Widaman, who heads UC Davis’s faculty committee on admissions, likewise defended the SAT II in this recent Sacramento Bee article.

Accordingly, the University of California’s Board of Regents must refuse to jerry-rig the undergraduate admissions system to ensure a predetermined, politically correct racial and ethnic mix. Instead, educators ought to figure out what criteria will select students with the most willingness and the greatest ability to do the school’s academic work, and then apply those criteria to all students, without regard to race or ethnicity–and let the chips fall where they may.What’s wrong with that?

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