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UC Admissions Study Fails to Resolve White-Asian Bias Issue

October 08, 1987|LARRY GORDON | Times Education Writer

White students have a slightly easier time than Asians in gaining admission to the University of California, Berkeley, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state auditor general.

However, the study's authors caution that it neither proves nor disproves allegations of anti-Asian bias in UC Berkeley's admissions policies.

Asian-American groups said the much-anticipated report did not ease their suspicions that Asian students have to be smarter than whites to enter the Berkeley campus. University officials, meanwhile, disputed some of the study's methodology but were relieved that the review found no clear-cut pattern of quotas to limit the Asian population on campus.

The 230-page document examined all freshman applicants at seven UC Berkeley colleges and programs in each of the years from 1981 through 1987, producing a total of 49 categories. The study, covering tens of thousands of applicants each year, found that the admission rates of whites were higher than that of Asians in 37 of the 49 categories, even though the whites had lower high school grades and entrance test scores in 12 of those 37 categories. Asian admission rates were higher in 12 categories, including only one in which they had lower average academic scores.

Asian applicants are hurt by special consideration given to athletes, who are more likely to be white than Asian, according to the report. In addition, the dropping in 1984 of an affirmative-action program for low-income and immigrant students affected more Asians than whites, the study suggests.

Get a Boost

Blacks and Latinos, thought to be under-represented, still get a boost in the admission's process if they meet UC Berkeley's minimum requirements.

About 26% of undergraduates at the school are of Asian ancestry, more than four times their state population percentage. Civil rights activists claim that Asian admissions are lower than they should be because of fear among whites about competition and the stereotype of Asians as over-achieving bookworms.

There is little debate that the Asians and whites with the best academic records are treated the same in the group selected for admission. The top 40% of the freshman class is judged on a basket of scores from high school classes, college admission tests and three achievement tests. A perfect score on all would give an applicant 8,000 points.

However, the other 60% must compete on those scores, as well as on other items, including the amount of foreign language study, laboratory science, essay writing, extracurricular activities and leadership potential. That is where the controversy begins, because, according to the report, Asians tend to score slightly higher in the supplemental areas. So, activists ask, why does that not translate into higher entrance rates for Asians.

The university argues that the study should have carved out a third group that receives special consideration, including Latinos, blacks, Filipinos (not included with other Asians), recruited athletes and the small number of students who show extraordinary promise or have overcome unusual hardships.

If those applicants are taken out of the bottom 60%, the university said, whites have only a 1% higher admission rate than Asians in the remaining middle group.

"That is not significantly different," UC Berkeley spokesman Ray Colvig said.

As it is, in the 37 categories where white admission rates were higher, the difference in more than half of those is five percentage points or less. However, the difference is as high as almost 31 percentage points in the chemistry department this year.

In 1984 in the department of chemical engineering, however, the admission rate for Asians was 6.7% higher than that of whites, even though their average on the Academic Index Scores was 44 points lower than that of whites. The report offers no explanation for this.

The university contends that too much of the study was based on incomplete applications and that it is unfair to rely so heavily on the 8,000-point Academic Index Scores because a different formula was used before 1985. The issue is even murkier because various colleges and departments have different standards.

The report by the state watchdog agency, which was submitted to legislators Wednesday, made no recommendations. Kurt R. Sjoberg, chief deputy auditor general, called the study "extraordinarily complex" but said he hoped that it would be useful in the continuing debate over Asian admissions. He said he realized that some people might be disappointed that it did not make a more forceful statement.

"We don't believe the facts in our report are sufficient to make the quantum leap to make charges of discrimination. Nor can we exclude that the potential (for bias) could be there," Sjoberg said.

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