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Prop. 209 to Have Immediate Effect on UC Applicants

Education: Decision to drop race and gender as admissions criteria speeds up timetable by several months. Campuses expect difficulty in maintaining diversity.

November 09, 1996|AMY WALLACE | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

In the wake of Proposition 209's passage, 50,000 high school students who are applying this month for admission to the University of California will be evaluated without regard to race or gender.

UC Provost C. Judson King issued a letter this week to the nine campus chancellors advising that--barring a court order--race, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin will no longer be factors in undergraduate admissions decisions.

Similarly, financial aid programs using university or state funds will no longer take race and gender into account, effective immediately.

The change means the campuses--at least temporarily--may have a difficult time maintaining ethnically diverse student bodies.

King's letter hastens by several months the implementation of a 1995 resolution passed by the UC Board of Regents that banned the use of such preferences at the 164,000-student university system. Until this week's election, UC officials had been preparing a new set of admissions criteria that would first apply to students seeking to enroll in the spring 1998 term.

Instead, because voters approved the controversial ballot initiative, the ban on race and gender preferences will now affect students who wish to enter in the fall of 1997--the very students who are now rushing to meet UC's Nov. 30 application deadline. In addition to the high school students seeking to enter as freshmen, 20,000 applicants who hope to transfer to UC could be affected.

The accelerated timetable was not unexpected. UC officials had included a disclaimer in this year's application package that warned that admissions criteria could change if Proposition 209 passed.

In contrast, California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz said he had no plans to issue any changes in admissions policies at his 23-campus system.

"We're going to obey the law and see what happens in court," Munitz said, referring to legal challenges to Proposition 209 that have already been filed. "But I don't see the need at the moment for any changes."

UC's decision to move forward immediately may hinder--at least in the short term--the university's efforts to enroll a student body reflective of the California population.

Officials said Friday that admissions directors at the nine campuses have been working for months to design ways of evaluating applicants based on the educational opportunities available to them--what one official called their "learning circumstances."

For example, admissions officials could place a higher value on a student who had taken all five honors classes his high school offered than on a student who had six honors classes--but attended a school that offered twice that many.

Such new criteria, however, are still being refined and may not be ready by December and January, when the fall 1997 freshman class is chosen.

"The campuses are at different stages in terms of their selection criteria," said Carla Ferri, UC's systemwide director of undergraduate admissions. As a result, Ferri acknowledged, the need to comply immediately with Proposition 209 may force some campuses to eliminate race and gender from the mix of preferences they consider--without substituting new criteria.

"We're confident that we can do a fairly good job in terms of admissions," Ferri said. "UCLA and Berkeley and UC San Diego [the three campuses with the stiffest competition for spots] have a lot of experience. I'm really confident that they will do the best they can."

Margaret Heisel, UC's director of university outreach and student affairs programs, agreed.

"This is going to be refined over quite a period of time," Heisel said. "I don't think it will mature immediately. You need to enroll a class, see how well it turns out. It's not like it's a one-month process."

UC President Richard C. Atkinson, who issued a statement the day after the election pledging the university's continuing commitment to diversity, has said that if race and gender preferences are removed and not replaced by any other mechanisms, there will be a "great reduction" in the number of underrepresented minorities who attend UC.

There is some evidence that UC may already be becoming more homogeneous. Last year, the university received the highest number of applications in its history, but the surge was overwhelmingly from whites and Asians. The number of blacks applying went up only slightly, and the number of Latinos declined.

Moreover, UCLA and UC Berkeley released reports recently predicting that elimination of race and gender preferences in admissions would cut the number of underrepresented students at those campuses by 50% to 70%.

The struggle to maintain a diverse student population at UC is being complicated by continuing disruption among the university's top leadership. On Friday, officials announced that they will lose their fifth campus leader in less than two years.

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