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EDUCATION | COLLEGE SCENE / KENNETH R. WEISS

Giving Locals an Inside Track at UC San Diego

April 21, 1999|KENNETH R. WEISS

Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, UC San Diego has become the second most popular college in California.

It drew 32,000 applicants for this fall's freshman class, not quite as many as UCLA, but more than the mother of all UC campuses, UC Berkeley.

Such popularity comes at a price. UC San Diego had the painful task of rejecting 19,000 students for lack of space. Now its admissions practices are coming under scrutiny.

None other than Ward Connerly, the UC regent who engineered the end of affirmative action, has sniffed out favoritism of a different kind: The campus gives an slight edge to local applicants.

Until this year, UC San Diego had a long-standing practice of giving extra points to high school seniors from San Diego and Imperial counties.

But the practice was abandoned, Assistant Vice Chancellor Richard L. Backer said, because "the outcries from L.A. and San Francisco have gotten a lot louder."

Instead, the campus this year launched its own version of the top 4% plan, guaranteeing admission to the top 4% of qualified students at every local high school.

That resulted in admitting about 90 local students who would not have otherwise made the cut, Backer said. Their grade-point average of 3.91 and average SAT score of 1,101 compared with the grade-point average of 4.05 and SAT average of 1,302 for the other 12,700 admitted students.

Backer defends the practice as a way to ensure that local students have an opportunity at their neighboring UC campus and believes it should be adopted at other UC campuses. "Local L.A. kids should have a shot at UCLA too," he said.

But Connerly condemns it as bad policy for a state institution supported by the tax dollars of all Californians to give regional preferences. "Obviously, students from places like the Central Valley and areas like the North Coast and Palm Springs are going to be disadvantaged because there is no campus there."

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Faculty members guard few things more jealously than the academic freedom to teach what they see fit. Or even how they describe what they teach.

So the University of Arizona's provost stirred up quite a controversy by suggesting that professors notify students in the syllabus "of course content that may be deemed objectionable."

Provost Michael R. Gottfredson made the modest proposal to preempt a "Truth in Curriculum" bill before the Arizona Legislature that, among other things, would forbid professors to require students to buy "obscene materials."

The legislation was inspired by the angry objections of one student's mother to the required reading list of a "Women and Literature" course, which includes lesbian authors discussing female sexuality.

Reeling from the campus commotion, Gottfredson quickly issued a memo to explain that he never meant that faculty should start giving their courses X, R or PG ratings.

"Any notion of 'warning labels' or course ratings has not been suggested by me," he said, "and is clearly unacceptable."

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Cutthroat competition--A pair of marketing professors found that convicted felons are more ethical than the average MBA student. Comparing survey results of 300 inmates in prison college programs to those of students in 11 MBA programs, researchers at Miami and Ball State universities found that convicts were less likely to "pirate" valuable employees from competing companies. Inmates worried more about customer service, while MBA students were focused on pleasing stockholders.

A home to phone ET--UC Berkeley's astronomy department has established the nation's first endowed professorship looking for little green men. William "Jack" Welch, former director of Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Laboratory, is the first to hold the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

Body-slamming academics--Wrestling with the University of Minnesota's decision to suspend basketball players caught cheating, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura suggested the easiest solution was to let the players skip classes altogether. "Why not let kids go to college and just be athletes while they're there?"

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