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UCLA accused of illegal admitting practices

A professor resigns as an admissions panel member, saying race is being factored into applicants' acceptance.

August 30, 2008|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Arguing that UCLA admissions policies are being manipulated to circumvent the state's ban on consideration of applicants' race, a professor there has resigned from a faculty committee that he says refused to allow him to study the matter.

Political science professor Tim Groseclose resigned Thursday from the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools, saying high-ranking university administrators and fellow committee members are engaged in a "coverup" to block illegal activity from being discovered.

"A growing body of evidence strongly suggests that UCLA is cheating on admissions," he wrote in an 89-page report posted on a UCLA website.

University officials called the report unsubstantiated and argued that Groseclose took a rise in the university's enrollment of black students as evidence that admissions officials were tampering with the process, without considering other factors such as increased outreach activities.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 04, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA admissions: An article in Saturday's California section about a professor's allegations that UCLA admissions officials are illegally considering applicants' race inaccurately described Proposition 209 as barring public universities from considering religion, among other factors. The 1996 voter-approved ballot measure forbids universities and other state entities to consider race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.

"He's taking an outcome and from that deducing a cause," said Tom Lifka, associate vice chancellor for student academic services.

Proposition 209, a 1996 voter initiative, bars California's public universities from considering race and other factors such as religion in the admissions process. In ensuing years, the number of black students at UCLA and many other UC campuses dwindled. By 2006, only 103 entering freshmen and 108 transfer students at UCLA were black, the lowest level in more than three decades.

Prompted by campus and community concerns about the lack of student diversity, UCLA decided in 2006 to move to a "holistic" application process, in which applicants' grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and other factors were no longer reviewed separately. Rather, achievements could be considered in the context of their personal experiences, Lifka said.

UCLA officials have said the new process is fairer to all applicants, and they have emphasized that admissions officials continue to abide by the restrictions imposed by Proposition 209.

Yet, since the admissions change was implemented, starting with the class that entered UCLA in fall 2007, the number of black students on campus has edged up. This fall, for example, 230 of 4,889 freshmen are African American, along with 100 transfer students. University officials attribute this increase to the holistic approach, as well as community outreach.

But Ward Connerly, a former UC regent who helped lead the drive for Proposition 209, said Groseclose's report buttressed his suspicions that university officials may be violating the law in their efforts to boost the number of black students on campus. His organization, American Civil Rights Institute, will probably file suit against the university in coming months, he said.

"They caved under the pressure from the NAACP and others in Los Angeles who want to see an increase in the number of black students," Connerly said. "There are so many ways you can rig the system."

Attempts to reach Groseclose on Friday were unsuccessful, but he wrote in his report that admissions officials often learned of students' race in personal essays that are part of their applications, and factored it into admissions decisions.

"It is obvious that the admissions staff was under intense pressure to admit more African Americans," he wrote.

He noted that black applicants' chances of admission increased with the holistic approach, while acceptance rates of other low-income students declined, particularly among Vietnamese, a point Lifka did not dispute.

Groseclose said in the report that he requested access to student applications to study the matter but was denied because of what he was told were privacy concerns. The university turned to another UCLA professor to conduct the research.

"Because I cannot properly conduct the duties with which I am charged as a member of CUARS, I am therefore resigning, in protest, from the committee," Groseclose wrote. "To do otherwise would condone and make me complicit in what appears to be illegal activity."

Lifka responded that the university uses 165 application readers in the admissions process and that they are told not to consider race. Each application is randomly distributed to two readers, so their ability to collude would be difficult, he said.

Lifka said it was vital for the university to pick a researcher who did not have a stated position on the admissions debate. "This is a highly charged political issue," he said.

The subject of whether Groseclose ought to have access to the data divided the committee. Attempts to reach several committee members were unsuccessful, and one said she had been told to refer media calls to the university.

Duncan Lindsey, a public affairs professor and a committee member, said he disagreed with Groseclose's beliefs that race was factored into admissions decisions, but strongly supported allowing him access to data. "We're a public university," Lindsey said.

In his report, Groseclose wrote that he favored affirmative action programs as long as the process was transparent. He also said diversity could be increased without violating Proposition 209, perhaps by admitting students who finish in the top 1% of their high school class.

Connerly said students ought to be told that any mention of race in their UC application essays or extracurricular activities would be grounds for denial.

University officials called that idea untenable and noted that Proposition 209 also bars admissions based on other factors, such as gender.

"Where do we draw the line?" UCLA spokeswoman Claudia Luther asked.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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