Asian professors at UCLA have launched a study to determine whether a two-year decline in Asian freshman enrollment at the university resulted from discriminatory admissions policies.
Asian freshman enrollment has declined from 815 (19.7% of the class) in 1982-83 to 630 (15.9%) in 1984-5, according to figures supplied by the UCLA Admissions Office.
“There appears to be a lid on Asian enrollment,” said Don T. Nakanishi, assistant professor of education at UCLA.
But Rae Lee Siporin, director of undergraduate admission at UCLA, said that the university is not discriminating against Asian applicants.
“I do not know how to deal with that kind of paranoia,” she said.
Nakanishi said that the professors suspect discrimination because the admission rate (percentage of applicants accepted) for Asian freshmen has dropped more than for any other group on campus, from 62.1% in 1982-3 to 40.7% in 1984-5.
By contrast, the admission rate for all freshman applications for the same period dropped from 62% to 53.9%. The admission rate for white freshmen, with whom Asians compare themselves academically, went down from 61.4% to 50%.
“The disparity between the admission rate for Asians and other groups goes against all other data involving qualifications for attending the university,” Nakanishi said. “A higher percentage of Asian high school graduates than any other ethnic or racial group is eligible to attend the University of California system.”
Looking for Reasons
The latest study by the California Post Secondary Education Commission shows that 26% of all 1983 Asian high school graduates were eligible for admission to the UC system, compared to 15.5% of white graduates, 4.9% of Latinos and 3.6% of blacks.
Nakanishi is one of about 10 Asian educators associated with the campus Asian American Study Center trying to find out the reasons for the decline in Asian student admissions to UCLA.
Lucie C. Cheng, professor of sociology and director of the center, said that most of the approximately 100 senior Asian faculty members at UCLA (out of a total of 1,827 senior faculty members) are “unaware of the admissions problem on campus.”
“We have only started to go public in the last month,” she said. “Our efforts up to now have been to get all the data.”
This summer, Nakanishi plans to review the student applications from 1983-84 to determine why Asian applicants were not admitted to UCLA and make his conclusions available to other educators concerned about the decline in Asian enrollment.
Siporin said that the decline in Asian and Caucasian enrollment resulted from the university’s mandated affirmative action program to make room in the UC system for under-represented minority groups.
The California Legislature has ordered the UC system to overcome ethnic, economic and gender under-representation in all of its campuses. And the Legislature later gave the UC system a time frame, according to Ed Apodaca, director of admissions and outreach services for the office of the president of the University of California. By 1990, the Legislature urged, the UC system should try to equalize the admission rates and the high school graduation rates of each ethnic group in the state.
“This is a goal of each campus,” said Apodaca, who served on the committee that last February prepared the latest University of California Undergraduate Student Affirmative Action Five-Year Plan.
Under-represented groups at UCLA and the other campuses in the UC system are determined by comparing the percentage of high school graduates in each ethnic and racial group in the state to the enrollment percentage of each group at a particular campus.
By those calculations, Latinos, blacks and American Indians are under-represented at UCLA. Latinos constitute 17.9% of the state’s high school graduates but only 8.7% of the students at UCLA. The figures for blacks are 8.9% of the high school graduates and 5.8% of the UCLA students. Indians make up 0.7% of the high school graduates and 0.06% of UCLA students.
“The increase in those groups can only come from two groups, Caucasians and Asians,” Siporin said.
Asians make up 6.2% of the high school graduates and Caucasians (excluding Latinos) make up 64.7%, according to preliminary figures for 1983 compiled by the California Postsecondary Education Commission.
Siporin also stressed that it has become “extremely difficult” to get into UCLA.
The university has been deluged with freshman applications in recent years--from 8,669 in 1981 to 10,550 in 1984--and has been forced to turn away large numbers of qualified applicants, including 3,200 in 1983-4 and 3,300 in 1984-5.
“We simply cannot accommodate all of the eligible students,” Siporin said, “and we cannot increase the size of the campus, so everybody is angry. We have a limited pie and only so many ways to divide it.”
Siporin stirred up concern among the Asian professors last fall when she expressed concern about a long-time decline in white enrollment at UCLA in a meeting of the campus’ committee on undergraduate admissions.
She said in an interview that she expressed her concern in a paper dealing with a variety of potential problems for the university because the white freshman enrollment rate had declined from 78.5% 1980-1 to 50% in 1984-5.
Asian professors said that her failure to be equally concerned by the decline in Asian enrollment had ominous overtones for Asian high school graduates.
“There seems to be no pressure at the university to protect Asian enrollment,” said Stanley Sue, professor of psychology. “We have to see that Asians do not slip through the cracks of that lack of concern.”
Siporin said that her concern about the decline in white freshman enrollment did not mean that she was not concerned about the drop in Asian enrollment.
“Our office is the one that gets the complaints from parents of Caucasian students not admitted to the university,” she said. “My point was that we cannot afford to ignore the complaints (from white parents), which are increasing, by the way.”
Must Be Concerned
She said that the university has to be concerned about declines in both groups.
“I can appreciate the concerns of Asian educators,” Siporin said, “but we also have to be concerned about Caucasians.”
The Asian educators concerned about the admission rate said that major factors influencing the decline among Asian students is the lack of Asian educators on campus committees dealing with enrollment, especially at a time of increased competition to get into UCLA.
“It is too late to get anyone on the committees this coming year,” Nakanishi said. “But it sure would help to have someone with our perspective to be available when admissions requirements are discussed.”
Norris C. Hundley, professor of history and a member of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Committees, which makes appointments to all committees at UCLA, said that it was too late this year to appoint members to the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions.
“By the time we were made aware of the concerns of Asian educators,” he said, “we had completed appointments to the committee for the 1985-86 year.”
He added, however, that members of both committees have been informed about Asian concerns and “we take them seriously.” He said that the committee on admissions plans to consult with Asian professors on the issue.
The Asian critics say that one form of discrimination against Asian students has been a greater university emphasis on verbal skills and less on mathematics skills, a source of strength among Asian students. They say that the switch has especially hurt recent immigrant groups, such as Vietnamese and Cambodians.
“The only group that change affects adversely,” Sue said, “is Asians. And the change may be used to exclude good students who in the past were admitted and did well at the university.”
Siporin said “it is hard to say” whether there has been a greater importance placed on verbal skills and the admissions process.
“To the extent that two students are equal in all other areas and one has superior verbal skills, it is reasonable to assume that the student with the better overall record has the edge,” she said.
Sue said the decline in Asian admissions is not limited to UCLA. “It is happening in prestigious universities throughout the country,” he said.
Admission policies for Asian students also are under attack at UC Berkeley, where a commission of Asian community leaders has been formed to find out the reasons for an Asian admission decline, and at Ivy League universities, where Asian admission also is dropping, Sue said.
“I cannot believe that the drop is occurring at random,” Sue said.
Nakanishi said that the Asian educators on campus will continue to investigate the university’s admissions policy, alert Asian parents to the issues at UCLA and “sensitize” UCLA administrators and faculty to the concerns of Asians.
Nakanishi and other Asian educators emphasized that they had no complaints with university efforts to increase under-represented minority groups at UCLA.
“We simply want it done equably among all groups,” he said.