Admissions Policy at UCLA

My colleague Prof. Reginald Alleyne's essay (Editorial Pages, Feb. 15) misses the central point of debate between many UCLA faculty members and the university administration over the effect on Asian-Americans of recent changes in undergraduate admissions policy. As someone who has participated in these debates, I wish to state briefly our concerns.

The University of California, as a public institution, has a responsibility to admit all academically qualified students from the three obviously underprivileged and currently underrepresented minority groups, that is, Afro-Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans. The university should not abandon its affirmative action goals regarding these groups.

Once a group has reached a reasonable level of representation in the student body, according to any one of several available measures, applicants from that group should be given an equal opportunity to compete on an equal basis with applicants from the general population. For years, the basis of that competition has been Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and high school grade point average.

Recently, the university quietly changed this basis of competition, by introducing new criteria in addition to these recognized standardized measures. Alleyne agrees with my view that it was the increase in the presence of Asian-Americans on the campuses that was perceived by the administration as a threat, which motivated these changes.

I do not oppose the change that eliminates exclusive dependence on test scores and grade point average for undergraduate admissions. There are well known limits on the usefulness of such standardized tests. What Asian-Americans do vehemently object to is that the rules of the game have been changed, but all players have not been told what the new rules are.

The new rules should be framed by a process that takes all interested groups into account, and permits full participation in a decision that is then stated clearly and publicly. Yet after numerous meetings between concerned faculty, student groups, and various administrators at UCLA we still do not have a full explanation of the new rules, beyond the bland and uninformative statement that the files of all applicants are read by the staff of the admissions office and faculty members of the Admissions Committee.

We are not told what these people are looking for, we only know that they will read the applicant's essay and background to find clues as to the future success of that individual. It is simply not permissible for the university to distribute a scarce public good without some clearly defined criteria for deciding who will enjoy the benefit and who will be denied it.

The unbridled discretion of committee and staff members,. however well intentioned they may be, is no substitute for stated standards. Members of minority groups have ample cause to be especially concerned by the use of such an unguided process to make decisions of vital importance to the improvement of our position in society through education. Such concerns are vastly magnified when no member of our group is included in those committees that make these decisions.

This concern is the central issue in the current debate: who will read the files; who will look for the clues; in other words, who will make the judgment to admit an applicant? Last year, after becoming aware of the policy changes, and after discovering that none of the Admissions Committee members are Asian-American or versed in Asian-American affairs, concerned faculty requested that such a person be put on the committee. Our request was not granted, although there remain unfilled vacancies on that committee. After learning that none of the admissions office staff who read the files is an Asian-American, we also asked that office to hire a person possessing some familiarity with Asian-American cultures. That request too was denied.

Asian-Americans now represent the largest ethnic group in the applicant pool of the university. Fair admissions decisions cannot be made by a process that uses subjective criteria to judge applicants' qualifications and potential, yet excludes participation by members of the largest group concerned from the committee that makes these sensitive choices.


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