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California

UC regents are frustrated that campuses haven’t made bigger strides on diversity

Freshmen admissions to UC campuses
The University of California admitted a record number of California freshman for fall 2016.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

University of California regents Wednesday bemoaned what they called disappointing progress on efforts to increase diversity among students and faculty at the system’s 10 campuses.

Last month, UC officials announced a 36.7% increase in admissions offers to Latinos and a 31.9% jump in offers to African Americans. Those improvements were part of a significant boost in admissions of California students.

Overall, the percentage of underrepresented minorities in freshman classes across UC campuses has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, from 15% in 1999 to 28% in 2014.

But UC officials who presented an annual report on diversity to regents at their three-day meeting here acknowledged making less progress with graduate students and faculty. In the fall of 2014, the percentage of African American tenure-track faculty members at UC campuses ranged from 2% to 4%, and for Latinos it was 2% to 12%.

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Regent John A. Perez challenged those figures. Many Latino faculty members are international scholars, not Americans, he said. That means the true number of underrepresented minorities is actually lower than UC officials claimed.

“These are incredibly troubling numbers,” he said.

Other regents joined the critique, blaming chancellors for inadequate efforts and complaining about a lack of accountability for progress and a paucity of fresh ideas.

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“We lament how terrible these numbers are but it will be the same next year unless we do something very different,” said Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

UC President Janet Napolitano said that increasing diversity was a critically important goal that she discussed with chancellors every month and addressed through numerous efforts.

Some regents were clearly unaware of these efforts, however. One of them suggested that UC “adopt” high schools to help students become more competitive college applicants. UCLA is doing just that with 20 campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Napolitano suggested that diversity become a standing item for discussion at every regents meeting, not just the subject of an annual report.

“We need guidance, direction and insight about what more we could and should be doing,” she said.

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The UC president also announced a new effort to provide about $25 million over the next three years to support the roughly 3,000 to 3,500 students who are in the country illegally and are not eligible for federal financial aid.

The funding includes $5 million a year for loans, $2.5 million for fellowships, staff support, textbooks and other needs and $900,000 for campus-based legal service centers to aid students and their families with immigration issues.

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The new dollars will replace a $5-million fund Napolitano established shortly after she became chancellor in 2013. At the time, she faced a wave of criticism from those who opposed her deportation policies as secretary of Homeland Security. She continues to draw some protests at her public appearances, including one at UCLA last month.

“We are building a firm path forward for undocumented students at the university,” Napolitano said.

Regents also discussed a 14-point plan to improve graduation rates for student athletes.

The effort was led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio regent who said he was alarmed by reports that fewer than half of football and basketball players at UC Berkeley graduated in 2013 and 2014. Since then, he said, Berkeley has launched several reforms and appears on track to significantly improve those numbers.

Newsom noted that fewer than 2% of college basketball and football players make it to professional leagues, underscoring the need to make sure athletes have the academic preparation to pursue other careers.

The plan, which will be voted on by the full board Thursday, would mark the first time UC has adopted a systemwide set of practices for student-athletes. They include requirements that struggling students meet with academic counselors; continued scholarships for injured athletes to help them complete their education; improved career counseling; and consideration of athletes’ academic performance in job evaluations for athletic director and coaches.

Most of these policies are already in effect on most individual campuses.

The plan sparked some debate, with some regents saying that college sports should not be undervalued. Regent Norman Pattiz, for instance, said that some students are able to attend UC only through athletic scholarships and cautioned against any effort to restrict access.

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Newsom told regents that he attended Santa Clara University on a baseball scholarship and had “profound respect” for college sports.

“That’s why I want to save them from themselves,” he said, referring to student athletes. “We have a unique responsibility to educate them.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeresaWatanabe for more education news.

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