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A call to increase black enrollment at UCLA

Times Staff Writer

As one activist described it, the reaction was disbelief when the African American community learned that this year’s freshman class at UCLA included only 96 blacks.

Akili, who goes by one name, told an audience at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church how he tried to fathom the news -- 96 out of about 4,800 freshmen.

“What? That can’t be,” he recalled saying to himself. Heads throughout the meeting room nodded, as if recalling their own similar responses.

Disbelief, along with anger and disappointment, were the dominant themes voiced when about 250 people gathered recently for a town hall meeting at the Los Angeles church to discuss what can be done to boost black enrollment at the university.

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“I’m embarrassed,” said Blair Taylor, a UCLA alumnus and president of the Los Angeles Urban League. “I’m embarrassed for the institution.”

Taylor is one of the leaders of the Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education, which formed after The Times reported the enrollment figure June 2. The creators of the alliance met five days later. The group includes a variety of organizations, including the Urban League, the Brotherhood Crusade, NAACP Los Angeles and the UCLA Black Alumni Assn.

Spurred partly by the concerns of the alliance and others, UCLA announced in September that it would shift immediately to “holistic” admissions, in which students’ achievements are viewed in the context of their personal experiences. UC Berkeley uses a similar process.

UCLA has said it must abide by Proposition 209, the 1996 initiative that barred the state’s public colleges from considering race in employment or admissions.

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In the often slow-moving world of academia, UCLA’s decision to change the admissions process was unusually swift. The Westwood campus is racing to implement the new system to handle applications for the 2007 freshman class.

The alliance has called on the university to admit 300 black freshmen next year, a goal Taylor and others described as reasonable.

Lawrence H. Lokman, a university spokesman, said he welcomed the assistance of the alliance, alumni and other community leaders, but “it would be unlawful to establish or endorse a specific target for the admission of students from any specific group or community.”

He added that UCLA was “determined to attack this problem in every way possible within the law.”

Lokman noted that UCLA accepted 103 African American transfer students this year. It’s a sign, he said, that progress can be made.

“The university is confident that by rolling up our sleeves and working together, we will make a difference and that our combined efforts will ultimately halt the decline and help ensure a sustained increase in the numbers of African Americans enrolled at UCLA,” he said.

UCLA has often noted the effects of Proposition 209. In the fall of 1995, according to university figures, the school admitted 693 black freshmen, 289 of whom agreed to enroll at UCLA.

For this year’s freshman class, UCLA admitted 244 blacks, with 96 enrolling. The number rose to 100, UCLA said, after some applicants appealed their rejections.

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Blacks make up 2.9% of the student body. Their population peaked on campus in 1985 at 9.6%.

Eric P. Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, acknowledged the 103 transfers but said the alliance wants to keep the focus on freshman admissions. And to keep up the pressure. The University of California regents will meet at UCLA this month, and the alliance plans a rally on campus Nov. 15.

Lee pointed out that 20 of the 96 freshmen were athletes on scholarship. Prompting cheers of agreement from the crowd, he said that UCLA found a way to admit students who presented a “moneymaking opportunity.” He likened the interest in athletes to hiring blacks to dance or entertain.

He did, however, give UCLA some credit. “They have moved,” he said. “But they’re not moving fast enough.”

Another speaker was the head of the UCLA African Student Union, who shared his surprise at arriving on campus and seeing so few black faces.

“I looked around,” said Doug Johnson, 28, an African American studies major. “I look around. I looked around one more time. Where are we?”

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steve.padilla@latimes.com

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