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College students say admissions cheats minorities

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Friday September 06, 2002

Student activists criticized UC Berkeley’s admission practices and launched a campaign to boost minority student enrollment, at a press conference Thursday. 

“UC Berkeley is the most elite campus in the state,” said Yvette Felarca, a graduate student and affirmative action advocate. “It cannot be the most reactionary and segregated campus in the state.”  

Overall, UC Berkeley admitted fewer African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans this year than it did last year, with acceptances dipping slightly from 1,303 to 1,291. 

But the decline in “underrepresented minority” admissions coincided with a drop in studentwide admissions, from 7,601 last year to 7,393 this year, and minority representation actually climbed as a percentage of the overall total, up from 17.1 percent last year to 17.5 percent this year, according to university statistics. 

Activists rejected talk of a percentage increase, arguing that any decline in the actual number of minority students on campus is a problem. 

They also noted that UC Berkeley admitted fewer minorities than other universities in the UC system this year. The 17.5 percent figure put UC Berkeley behind the 19.1 percent average for the nine-campus University of California system. UC Berkeley officials did not return calls for comment. 

This year marked the first admissions cycle governed entirely by “comprehensive review,” a system activists hoped would draw more minority students.The system considers nonacademic factors like community service, leadership and overcoming adversity in addition to traditional academic factors like grade point average and SAT scores. Prior to this year, the university admitted 50 percent to 75 percent of students based on academic factors alone and used comprehensive review to admit the rest. 

Activists at the Monday press conference argued that GPA and SAT standards are inherently biased against minorities and said campuses should heavily weigh nonacademic factors to boost minority acceptance rates.  

Activists acknowledged that they have no direct proof of the weight that UC Berkeley admissions officers gave to nonacademic factors, but argued that officials must have undervalued those factors since they admitted fewer minorities than other UC campuses. 

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Felarca. 

Officially, the UC system does not view comprehensive review as a tool for boosting minority enrollment. UC spokesperson Hanan Eisenman said the process simply provides a fuller picture of all applicants. 

“It allows us to go deeper into our applicant’s full record than ever before,” he said. 

Conservatives have argued that comprehensive review is an attempt to get around a 1997 voter-approved ban on considering race in admissions.  

But Eisenman argued that the systemwide jump in minority admissions, from 18.6 percent last year to 19.1 percent this year – with comprehensive review in full swing – indicates that the procedure has had only a modest impact in swelling the ranks of underrepresented minorities. 

The student activists, including graduate students, undergraduates and members of the student government, said their campaign to boost minority enrollment will include a march and rally Oct. 24.  

The students will also seek to gather 10,000 signatures for a petition calling for “full integration of UC Berkeley.” The activists, who said they already have 2,000 signatures, including that of City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, plan to present the petition to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl by spring. 


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