The LA Times had an interesting piece yesterday that appears to have been prompted by last week’s US Supreme Court decision in the affirmative action case, Fisher v University of Texas. The headline on the article by Larry Gordon was “UC Programs in lieu of affirmative action show limited success—UC has struggled to enroll more blacks and Latinos since a state ban on race-based admissions, an issue central to a recent Supreme Court decision.”
The article takes its cues from the headline and attempts to document how the University of California’s “color blind” admissions policies since Proposition 209 banned race conscious remedies in 1996 “have only limited success.” “Success” being defined, from the article’s perspective, as increasing black and Latino admissions percentages at UC Berkeley and UCLA.
Had Gordon been interested in offering Times’ readers a fuller (and more accurate) understanding of what has transpired in the 17 years since Prop 209 passed there are ample data that could have easily buttressed a conclusion similar to one The New York Times’ drew in a lengthy article on minority admissions in May of this year,
California was one of the first states to abolish affirmative action, after voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996. Across the University of California system, Latinos fell to 12 percent of newly enrolled state residents in the mid-1990s from more than 15 percent, and blacks declined to 3 percent from 4 percent. At the most competitive campuses, at Berkeley and Los Angeles, the decline was much steeper.
Eventually, the numbers rebounded. Until last fall, 25 percent of new students were Latino, reflecting the booming Hispanic population, and 4 percent were black. A similar pattern of decline and recovery followed at other state universities that eliminated race as a factor in admissions.
The New York Times chose not to simply focus on Berkeley and UCLA but the UC system as a whole which has seen African American enrollment jump from 945 (4.2% of all enrollees) in 1995 to 1,416 in 2012 (4.2% of all enrollees), Latino enrollment jump from 3,432 in 1995 (15%) to 8,755 in 2012 (26%) and Asian Americans increase from 7,910 in 1995 (35%) to 13,720 in 2012 (41%). It’s a bit odd that increasing minority enrollment in the system on the scale of 49% (African Americans), 150% (Latinos) and 42% (Asians)---without utilizing race preferences--- is termed a “limited success.”
The only conceivable set of data that would permit that conclusion to be drawn with a straight face is African American admissions to Berkeley and UCLA. Admittedly, a less sunny data set.
It is true that they have lagged behind the general trend in the UC system----Berkeley enrollment of Blacks decreased from 202 in 1995 to 129 in 2012 and Latino enrollees were static (514 compared to 516), while at UCLA the numbers were 259 black enrollees in 1995 compared to 169 in 2012. But they are the two most selective schools in the system and the Times chose only to focus on the percentages of minority enrollees rather than the absolute numbers of enrollees where the increases are significant.
The logic that underpins the Gordon article is that the percentage of African Americans that attended UCLA and Cal pre-209 is somehow sacrosanct and that not matching those numbers is a failure. The piece fails to address the more profound challenges that universities face in admitting applicants with lesser credentials into a difficult and complex environment. Wands can’t be waved, reciting abracadabra doesn’t do it---it’s a tough slog. As The New York Times pointed out, it is a tedious, expensive and long-term process that begins way before the SAT and no one does it better than the UCs (as the NY Times acknowledged). The fact that the percentage of Black students is now matching the pre-209 levels without racial preferences is truly impressive.
One final criticism might be that since Berkeley and UCLA are lower in their percentages of Black enrollees they must be “elitist enclaves” that are unfriendly to diversity. In fact, as we have written in the LA Times, UCLA and Berkeley are the two most socio-economically mixed research universities in the entire nation---nearly 40% of incoming freshman come from low-income families and nearly 40% come from families where neither parent has a four-year degree.
The impression a reader would get from the recent Times’ article is distorted and more closely resembles a polemic to buttress the argument that nothing short of race conscious admissions can solve the challenge of increased diversity than a dispassionate exploration of a difficult and nuanced topic. In fact, the UC’s have figured out how to meet the challenge without engaging in discrimination and with great, not “limited success.”
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