Regents apologize for racist incidents at UC San Diego

University of California leaders Wednesday apologized to black UC San Diego students for recent racial incidents at the campus and proposed changes in admissions policies aimed at boosting enrollment of minorities across the system.

UC President Mark G. Yudof and other UC regents acknowledged that the UC San Diego episodes, including an off-campus student party that mocked Black History Month, has brought attention to the low enrollment of African American students on the campus. About 1.6% of UC San Diego undergraduates are black, among the lowest such figures for any UC campus. The UC leaders promised to help create campus environments in which minority students feel more comfortable.

Speaking during a regents meeting at UC San Francisco, Yudof said he wanted all UC campuses to adopt an admissions process known as “holistic” review, in which applicants’ test scores and high school grades are considered in the context of their life experiences and personal accomplishments.

“I want a system that is less mechanical and takes a serious look at a range of talents and skills and history, and takes into account poverty,” Yudof said.

Holistic review is permitted at the university, but Yudof said he would like it to be required at all nine UC undergraduate campuses. UCLA and UC Berkeley now use the approach most extensively, while others, including UC San Diego, rely on a more rigid formula that allows less consideration of personal accomplishments and, Yudof said, may unfairly reject otherwise academically eligible low-income and minority students.

Such a change would need approval by the systemwide faculty senate, something that will be under discussion within a few months, officials said.

Last year, UC regents adopted sweeping changes in undergraduate admissions policies that were designed partly to boost the number of low-income and minority students without violating the state’s ban on racial affirmative action. Starting with freshmen entering in fall 2012, applicants will no longer need to take two SAT subject exams, although the main SAT test would still be required. The change also will widen the pool of students eligible to be considered for admission based on high school grades.

Seeking to show their concern about the racial incidents, regents Wednesday spent nearly two hours discussing the UC San Diego situation, which included the use of a derogatory term for blacks on a student television show, and other episodes elsewhere. At UC Davis, swastikas were spray-painted at several locations on the campus last month and one was carved on a Jewish student’s dorm door there; an anti-gay slogan was sprayed on a UC Davis gay and lesbian student center.

Regent Eddie Island extended an apology to all students who felt under attack. “We failed to provide a nurturing environment,” Island said.

But he also blamed UC’s admissions policies for artificially limiting the rolls of minority students. “It is the absence of inclusion that frees hatred, that frees bigotry, that allows it to go unchallenged. That’s our biggest problem,” he said.

Black student leaders from UC San Diego addressed the regents and said that the controversial party, a so-called Compton Cookout at which guests were invited to dress like ghetto residents, was just the tipping point after decades of blacks feeling marginalized on campus. David Ritcherson, a fourth-year international economics major who is co-chairman of the UC San Diego Black Student Union, said the regents probably wouldn’t be seeking to make amends now if “they didn’t get all this media attention, if the image wasn’t tainted.”

Ritcherson, however, said he welcomed the regents’ comments and the efforts they promised to combat bigotry. “It’s a good start,” he said.

In other business, the regents Wednesday took steps to protect the university from court challenges to student fee increases. A regents committee approved a statement that UC has a right to change its fees at any time and that the publication of fee levels does not constitute a contract or promise.

A Superior Court judge in San Francisco this month ordered UC to refund a total of $38 million to 2,900 professional degree students who enrolled in 2003 and were charged increases after being told their fees would not rise. UC probably will appeal that decision, a UC spokesman said. In 2007, UC lost a similar case involving $40 million that UC has since repaid.