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UC Chief Defends Admissions Rules, Cites Diversity as Goal

He says the public needs more information about schools' rationale for accepting some students who scored low on SATs.

October 24, 2003|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — University of California President Robert Dynes offered a vigorous defense Thursday of admissions practices that allow many students who score below average on the SAT entrance examination to attend the system's most prestigious campuses, even as high-scoring students are rejected.

In a 30-minute speech to an education conference, Dynes said that creativity, imagination, motivation and work ethic must be taken into account along with traditional standards such as the SAT in judging any student bound for the UC system.

He argued that diversity of students remains an extraordinarily important goal for a sprawling university system that represents one of the most varied places on the planet, saying, "We still have a long way to go."

Dynes also said the university had not done enough to educate the public on the intricacies of the admissions system and explain the rationale for favoring a lower-scoring student over others who scored very high on the SAT.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 29, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 2 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
UC admissions -- Articles on University of California admissions that ran in the California section on Thursday and Friday incorrectly implied that UC's two-year-old "comprehensive review" policy emphasizes personal achievements more than grades and test scores in considering applicants. Under the policy, UC considers personal factors as well as academic ones for every applicant, but academics remain the top priority in the procedure.

"I need the help of all those who share the vision of an institution that is both excellent and diverse, an institution in fact that is excellent in part because of its diversity," he said.

The admissions controversy began when The Times reported the findings of a confidential report to the UC Board of Regents that strongly criticized UC Berkeley's admissions practices. The main author of the report, regents Chairman John J. Moores, argued that admitting less-than-qualified students could erode the quality of the system's top campus.

UC Regent Ward Connerly, who led the successful effort to ban racial affirmative action, has suggested the new procedures could be a back-door return to race-based preferences. UC officials deny that allegation. Moores' report did not contain racial or ethnic breakdowns.

Over the past two years the system has shifted to a procedure called comprehensive review, an approach that places less emphasis on test scores and grades and more on such factors as leadership, socioeconomic challenges and personal achievement.

At UC Berkeley and UCLA, several thousand students with SAT scores exceeding 1400 were not admitted to some programs in recent years while hundreds of others with below-average scores gained entrance to the prestigious campuses. Earlier this month Dynes agreed to launch a broad analysis of admissions at UC campuses.

Speaking Thursday to college educators in a packed hotel conference room on the banks of the Sacramento River, Dynes conceded that the UC system needs to be "receptive to criticism" and fix any problems in its procedures. "This issue taps into some very real feelings among the public that we can't ignore," he said.

The UC president, who stepped into the system's top job in June after more than a decade shepherding the UC San Diego campus as its chancellor, strongly backed the thrust of the system's approach to admissions.

Dynes took care during his speech not to mention the controversial topic of race-based admissions, sticking to a broader definition of diversity as the effort to draw students "from all walks of life," with varied experiences, cultures, achievements and socioeconomic circumstances given weight in the selection process. But when questioned about the university's commitment to boosting faculty and student enrollment to better reflect the state's booming Latino population, Dynes said, "I truly believe we have to reflect the population we serve," adding that Latinos "represent the evolution of California."

At UC, all entering freshmen in the top 12.5% of their high school graduating class are guaranteed a place in the system. But Dynes said other factors weighed against some of the high-scoring students denied admission at the top campuses. He said those factors included entering the system from out of state, trying for highly competitive majors such as engineering or being dogged by low grades in high school.

Dynes noted that the U.S. Supreme Court recently validated just such an approach in a case involving the University of Michigan. "And I think it's the right approach" for UC, he added.

"If they don't get in at UCLA, they may get in at Santa Cruz or Davis or one of the other campuses," Dynes said after his talk. "There have always been frustrated parents, frustrated grandparents, upset that a student didn't get into the campus of their choice."

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