SAN FRANCISCO — The issue of which students are admitted to the University of California resurfaced Wednesday as UC President Richard Atkinson told regents he wants to evaluate new approaches to admissions in light of developments since the school scrapped affirmative action.
Atkinson did not go into detail about what he has planned, other to say that he will convene a conference on the issue in December, is sending a letter to faculty outlining his views and hopes to “encourage a focused discussion on admissions.”
Regents voted in 1995 to stop considering an applicant’s race or gender, a controversial decision that was championed by then Gov. Pete Wilson, who made repealing affirmative action a cornerstone of his brief campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Since then, the percentage of blacks, Hispanics and American Indians who enroll at UC has dropped from 22 percent to 16 percent, even though high school graduation rates for those groups increased slightly.
Regents were presented with those numbers in May, a report that evoked some dismay in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated in recent years on recruitment and training programs, generally referred to under the umbrella term of outreach, that replaced affirmative action.
Regent Ward Connerly, who wrote UC’s new admissions policy and went on to chair the successful campaign for Proposition 209 which dismantled most state affirmative action programs, reacted cautiously to Atkinson’s announcement.
“When I heard the president’s report I, in the back of my mind, had a question mark about the conference and what this is all about,” Connerly said outside the meeting. “I think we should all assume that it is in good faith and that this is simply an effort to honestly look at the standards.”
Connerly speculated the review was prompted by pressure from legislators unhappy with UC’s admission figures. But he thinks it’s a mistakes to focus on the numbers.
“California is a collection of minorities,” he said. “It’s just insane for us to be doing all this number crunching, figuring out how many of these and how many of those there are on campuses.”
On the other hand, Regent Bill Bagley, who was among the 10 who voted against dropping affirmative action, commended Atkinson for raising the politically thorny issue of admission policies
“Dick Atkinson is trying to address the problem,” he said.
Bagley does not advocate going against Proposition 209, which forbids affirmative action in public education, including universities, but he has long advocated revising UC’s 1995 decision as a symbolic gesture.
“Anything we can do to remove ourselves as having been the genesis of this nationwide movement is good,” he said.
One place to start, Bagley said, might be reviewing a clause in UC’s new admissions policies that requires schools to admit 50 percent of students on grades alone. Prior to July 1995, schools had discretion of admitting as few as 40 percent of their students by grades only. The rest are judged on grades and supplemental factors, which used to include race but now are limited to socio-economic elements such as poverty.
Connerly said he would oppose any attempt to revamp the race-blind aspect of UC’s current admissions policies.