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UC Regents Inject Race Into Admissions, Yet Again

Edwin A. Locke is a management professor emeritus at the University of Maryland at College Park and a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. E-mail: reaction@aynrand.org

With great fanfare the Board of Regents of the University of California has announced new admissions policies. These policies will downgrade academic qualifications (grades and test scores) and will include factors such as the students’ athletic or artistic ability or struggle against poverty. The supporters of these changes say they will not use the new rules to promote raced-based admissions.

The real goal of the new guidelines is the elimination of the concepts of fairness and objectivity from the admissions process.

It is no accident that most colleges use the SAT and high school grades as the main criteria for admissions. These have been shown for decades to be the best predictors of scholastic performance. The SAT has the added advantage over grades in that everyone takes the same test and the test is scored the same way for everyone. The SAT is objective. It is blind to race, gender, age, politics, religion, national origin and sexual orientation.

This is precisely why the regents oppose it. They want the admissions process to be subjective. This means that hidden agendas can be brought into the admissions process.

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Does anyone believe that the new guidelines will not be politicized? UC Berkeley is one of the most left-wing schools in the country. Ability aside, who is more likely to get admitted there under the new “flexible” guidelines--the high school radical who claims that the attack on the World Trade Center was our fault or the conservative student who supports our right to self-defense?

Does anyone believe, despite explicit disclaimers to the contrary, that race will not be brought back as a factor in admissions?

In May the regents voted to drop a 6-year-old ban on affirmative action. Because state law prohibits affirmative action in public hiring and admissions, the regents clearly were sending a message by their vote.

The new criteria will serve to protect the university system against discrimination charges by academically qualified students of the wrong race. Previously, students who were discriminated against because of race could show that they should have been admitted because their test scores and grades were better than those who were admitted. If they took the case to court, they usually won. Now the university can say, “We used a holistic procedure based on numerous factors that vary from student to student, and we decided that student X had a special combination of qualities that we wanted and student Y did not.” Such subjective guidelines offer a rejected student no chance of winning in a court of law.

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The regents claim that the new guidelines will allow the admission of people with athletic ability. Whom are they trying to fool? For better or for worse, good athletes have been given preference in admissions to colleges and universities for decades.

And how does a struggle against poverty, as admirable as that is, qualify one for college admission?

UC President Richard C. Atkinson says that high school students can gain admittance if they work hard and take tough courses. But how can he promise such a thing if the new guidelines specifically de-emphasize academics? Under the new procedures, it is impossible for a student to know what to do to prepare for college. The new “flexible” criteria can be anything the admissions office wants. The ones to suffer the most will be precisely the intelligent, hard-working, high-achieving students who most deserve admission.

The real motive for the new admissions criteria is egalitarianism. The regents cannot accept the fact that some people are more academically qualified than others so their solution is to undermine the concept of academic competence. If they succeed, both students and universities will be the worse for it.

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