Seeking to put to rest a five-year dispute, UC Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman apologized Thursday for admissions policies that caused a recent decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment and pledged to help change those entrance requirements.
"It is clear that decisions made in the admissions process indisputably had a disproportionate impact on Asians," Heyman said at a press conference here with leaders of the local Asian community. "That outcome was the product of insensitivity. I regret that that occurred."
Heyman said he could not determine whether officials who developed and implemented the admissions policies were intentionally trying to set a ceiling on Asian enrollment, as members of the Asian community have charged.
Asian community leaders participating in Thursday's press conference said they were optimistic after Heyman's apology and relieved to put behind them a long and turbulent conflict with the university.
"We're pleased with the statements the chancellor has made," said Lillian Sing, a San Francisco Municipal Court judge who in 1984 formed the Asian American Task Force to study the effects of admissions policies on Asian enrollment.
"We no longer need to be in an adversarial position because (Heyman) has accepted our findings and recommendations," Sing said.
The number of qualified Asian applicants to UC Berkeley has surged in recent years. Asians make up 26% of the campus' undergraduate enrollment. But some civil rights activists contend that even more Asians would be enrolled if whites did not fear academic competition from Asians, who they say are stereotyped as over-achievers.
Similar allegations have been made at other universities throughout the country. And the U.S. Department of Education is investigating alleged discrimination against Asian applicants at Harvard University and UCLA.
A recent report by a UC Berkeley faculty committee found that admissions policies caused a decline in the number of Asians admitted as first-year students in 1984 and 1987, but found no intentional bias against Asian applicants in those policies.
In 1984, the College of Letters and Science raised the required minimum grade-point average for admission on the basis of a combination of grades and test scores from 3.75 to 3.9. But it did not raise the test-score component of the admissions requirement. Asian applicants, who tend to have higher grades than whites but score lower on verbal achievement tests, were hurt by the change, the report found.
The report also found that UC Berkeley's foreign language requirement--which does not give credit for proficiency in Asian languages--is discriminatory.
Heyman said the university is studying ways to give credit for fluency in Asian languages. He also said he supports removal of the higher grade-point average standard.
At the prompting of the Asian task force, Heyman last year made public UC Berkeley's complicated admissions policies and appointed a committee to investigate the university's relationship with Asian students, faculty and staff. He also promised to actively promote Asians to higher management positions within the university. Heyman also apologized for what he called his administration's insensitive response to concerns raised over the decline in Asian enrollment.