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UC Campuses in Full-Court Press to Attract Minorities

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl fidgeted with a stack of business cards on his oversized desk as he made cold calls to California’s brightest black and Latino high school seniors.

“Congratulations on being admitted to Berkeley,” Berdahl told one after another. His pitch always ended with the same bottom line: “We really want you here.”

A day later at UCLA, students were working the phones, engaged in a similar courtship of prospective freshmen. “I’m trippin’,” junior Aldo Flores told a high school senior. “We really admire you guys. You got in without any affirmative action or anything.”

The day after that, UC San Diego recruiter Jaime Velasco took his school’s warm welcome literally to the doorstep of a hot prospect, making his second visit to the Los Angeles home of an African American teenager with a 4.1 grade point average. “That’s the nice thing about San Diego,” Velasco told her, “you get a lot of individual attention.”

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With the University of California campuses having been able to admit far fewer blacks and Latinos than before the state’s ban on affirmative action took effect, they now are mounting an unprecedented campaign to enroll as many of those students as possible.

Thousands of UC students, faculty, staff and alumni have signed up to slow the minority “brain drain.”

“We are going to recruit them like you recruit a 250-pound halfback who runs the 40 [yard dash] in 4.2 seconds,” said Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

A UCLA alum, the Los Angeles Democrat has written personal letters to all blacks and Latinos accepted by UCLA and Berkeley and is signing up fellow legislators to join him in a “call-a-thon.”

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“My biggest fear,” he said, “is that we are going to lose the best and brightest kids to the Ivy League schools unless we do something to get them to stay.”

But it’s not easy for the public UC campuses to win over these students when the private school competition--whether Stanford and the Claremont Colleges within the state or the historically black colleges and, yes, the Ivy League outside of it--can still embrace affirmative action and liberally offer scholarships to academically talented blacks and Latinos.

College recruiters regularly swoop in from around the country, some of them--UC officials bitterly complain--using California’s end to racial preferences like a wedge (“They really don’t want you”) to pull black and Latino students out of state.

Many competitors also fly promising minority students to their campuses so they can meet friendly students and stroll the grounds during spring blooms.

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However much politicians and talk radio debate the merits of affirmative action, these students are the unquestioned prizes of college recruiting--the kind ofsuper-smart minorities that all schools want to count among their alumni in a multicultural world.

UC admissions directors understand the game and this year launched all sorts of efforts to mimic the successful tactics of private colleges: Berkeley mailed a slick videotape last week to 2,000 potential freshmen.

UCLA’s Black Alumni Assn. on Saturday offered food, drink and various UCLA souvenirs at a hillside home in Los Angeles to toast African American teenagers sought by their alma mater.

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Sizing up the roomful of prospective freshmen, UCLA Alumni Assn. President Peter Taylor said they would be the next generation of leaders to follow in the footsteps of distinguished UCLA graduates: Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, tennis great Arthur Ashe and former Mayor Tom Bradley.

“When you look at African Americans who made a difference in this state, a majority of them came from UCLA,” Taylor said, suggesting that their path to greatness begins in Westwood.

But even in the good years, more than half of all students admitted to UC campuses ignore such rousing talk and decide to go elsewhere. So admissions officers double-book or triple-book each seat.

At UC Berkeley, the most selective of all UC campuses, only 42% of last year’s picks agreed to enroll, and the portion of black and Latino students who say “yes” has been a bit lower--about 38%--in recent years.

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So Berkeley expects to lose more than half the 191 African Americans and 600 Latinos among the 8,000 students offered admission for the fall. The school hopes that a total of 3,500 students will enroll as freshmen.

At UCLA, officials--who are trying to assemble a freshmen class of 3,850--are braced for similar rejection rates for the 280 African Americans and 1,001 Latinos among its 11,000 admitted students.

If they are going to lose most of these students, however, it won’t be for lack of trying.

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It was late Tuesday, and all employees in the Berkeley chancellor’s wood-paneled suite of offices had gone home, except for Berdahl himself.

Nearing the dinner hour--prime time for telemarketers--the man in charge of the 30,290-student institution and its nearly $1-billion budget peered down through his bifocals to read the next number on his roster.

“I’ve discovered that kids don’t spend much time at home,” he said, punching in the numbers, “and how many areas codes there are in California.”

After talking to a parent and a brother, and hanging up on an answering machine, he finally landed a live student. He congratulated her “accomplishment” of being admitted to what many consider the nation’s most prestigious public university.

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“You’ve been admitted to Stanford and where else?” Berdahl asked. “Penn? Those are both very good schools. I couldn’t say anything bad about either of them. But I’ve been on four campuses in my career, and no place has the same electricity as this place has. There is no more exciting place to be.”

He invited her to come to Cal Day, the campus’ upcoming open house, and encouraged her to seek him out and introduce herself.

Half a dozen fruitless calls later, Berdahl had another prospect on the line. He lauded the student for his academic achievements, then popped the question: “Have you decided what you are going to do?”

The chancellor rubbed his forehead while he listened and then fidgeted with a stack of business cards, turning them end over end. “Well, not only is Berkeley cheaper than Pepperdine, but it is a whole lot better place,” he said. “But I’m biased about that.”

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He answered some questions about financial aid, talked up the ranking of Berkeley’s business school, then made his closing statement:

“It’s tough to get into Berkeley. The competition for admission was really steep. Your admission reveals what a strong student you are--and you would be a strong student here.”

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Four hundred miles south, so many self-appointed recruiters wanted to make calls on behalf of UCLA that its undergraduate admissions director, Rae Lee Siporin, initially refused to release the list of admitted students.

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“My fear is that some students will be bombarded and harassed,” she told her colleagues at a strategy session.

By Wednesday, though, things were sufficiently under control to have dozens of alumni spend their evenings on the phones at UCLA’s alumni center, while student recruiters set up shop in Campbell Hall.

“The best salespeople are those who have been through UCLA or who are going through UCLA now,” UCLA administrator Adolfo Bermeo said in a pep talk to the volunteers.

In one office, Johnny Ramirez, a senior with a shaved head and large frame, used polite Spanish he learned as a youngster to talk his way past one senora, who was screening incoming calls for her daughter.

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Next to him sat Flores, a junior with a pencil-thin mustache and striking red tennis shoes. He was painstakingly reading from the script prepared by admissions officials, offering his congratulations, etc., until he couldn’t stomach one high schooler’s thoughts on where he might go in the fall.

“Come on man, Pepperdine?” Flores said. “Come to UCLA, man!”

He went briefly back to reading the script, encouraging the prospect to sign up for an on-campus conference, a reception, a night in the dorm or a personal tour.

“It’s free,” Flores said, improvising again. “You get a Bruin credit card, and you can eat all you want on campus. If you come here, you are going to get a tour by a student and find out what it’s really like. No b.s.”

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UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale will join the telephone campaign this week. He will begin by calling nearly 200 students who have been offered up to $5,000 in Blue and Gold Scholarships, which target Los Angeles schools that historically send few graduates to UCLA.

Under Proposition 209, the statewide ballot initiative that banned race- and gender-based affirmative action in admissions, UC officials are not allowed to award scholarship by ethnicity.

But university lawyers note that it is permissible under the law to target minorities in recruitment drives, “to tell them that they are simply welcome to come,” as UCLA deputy general counsel Gary Morrison put it.

And UCLA officials make no secret of the fact that most of those eligible for the $5,000 grants are black or Latino.

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The prospective freshmen have until May 1, the traditional deadline across the country, to declare which college they will attend. UC officials expect the level of activity to continue to rise as the deadline approaches.

Berkeley and UCLA have major events planned for their campuses. Both chancellors will even venture into some high schools to woo prospective students. Berdahl plans a visit Tuesday to the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, a magnet school.

Yet admissions officials are not sure if the stature even of a chancellor means anything to teenagers who may be more interested in the inside scoop on campus social life.

Berdahl said high school seniors sometimes get tongue-tied when he asks if he can answer any questions about Berkeley. “It’s hard for them to immediately understand that ‘chancellor’ is not my first name,” he said.

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Jaime Velasco turned down the street, hunting for the address of Wendy Dobbs, the African American teenager with the 4.1 GPA.

As UC San Diego’s outreach officer based in Los Angeles County, he had been to her house before. But that was in November. In the intervening months, he had visited scores of high schools and homes in his personal campaign to win over students, one at a time.

He had hoped to meet with Wendy and her parents during last weekend’s open house on the San Diego campus. He found himself too preoccupied, though, with a van-load of students he ferried to San Diego because they had no other ride.

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Now Wendy opened the door wearing a UC San Diego T-shirt. Velasco knew it was a good sign.

“I made my dad buy me this Saturday,” she said, tugging at the bottom hem.

Inviting Velasco into the living room, she reported that a tour of UCLA had not overshadowed her rosy memories of a weekend at UC San Diego with “nice, accommodating people who didn’t make me feel like a number.”

“I didn’t know anything about UC San Diego,” Wendy said. “It was a UC, so I applied. It’s surprising that it is my first choice.”

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Wendy had been accepted by four UC campuses, but was rejected by a fifth, Berkeley, the school she had considered her favorite last fall.

“I don’t even talk about Berkeley,” she said, raising her palms as if to signal a halt in the conversation. “It’s not that great.”

For the next hour, the two, joined by Wendy’s parents, Clifton and Carol, talked excitedly about the San Diego campus’ gorgeous sports complex, about when to declare a major, and whether Wendy should try for a single dorm room or accept a double with a roommate.

“Pretty rough place to live, right?” Velasco joked.

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“Yeah,” Wendy said, “right on the beach with an ocean view.”


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