Is U.C.L.A. Illegally Using Race-Based Affirmative Action in Admissions?

My friend and co-author Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A., thinks so.

Groseclose was a member of U.C.L.A.’s Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Relations With Schools until yesterday, when he resigned from the committee in a very public way and released an 89-page report documenting what he calls “malfeasance” and an “accompanying cover-up.”

The gist of Groseclose’s allegations is that Proposition 209 prohibits public institutions in California from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, but that U.C.L.A. nonetheless uses such information in admissions decisions.

My understanding is that the admissions form itself doesn’t include the applicant’s race, but that minority students increasingly use their essays to signal their race to the people evaluating the applications — and those readers then make race one of the factors they use in making choices. Groseclose asked U.C.L.A. to provide him data so he could test this hypothesis; they refused.

The Groseclose report makes for interesting reading. I suspect he is right that U.C.L.A. has put into place mechanisms that lead race to influence admissions decisions. Indeed, it seems that the adoption of the “holistic” approach to judging applications was designed precisely to accomplish that goal, as David Leonhardt has written about previously.

Statistics suggest the holistic approach did lead to a big jump in enrollment by African-Americans at U.C.L.A., which was accompanied by a sharp decline in the S.A.T. scores of the African-American students admitted.

I don’t know enough about the specifics to want to take sides in this argument.

On the one hand, I personally am a strong proponent of class-based affirmative action in education (as opposed to strictly race-based affirmative action).

My own experiences lead me to believe that if two kids have identical test scores, high school grades, etc., then the less privileged of the two has accomplished more and has greater long-term potential. Class-based affirmative action helps create equality of opportunity, in my opinion, and I think that is a goal worth pursuing. (Plus, I just like underdogs.)

I also favor class-based affirmative action over race-based affirmative action because the minority students who benefit the most from race-based affirmative action more often than not come from privileged backgrounds. The African-American kids in the toughest neighborhoods can’t compete with affluent African-Americans any more than they can with affluent whites.

On the other hand, California voters passed a referendum saying that race shouldn’t be used in admissions. Even though I don’t agree with that law, it is nonetheless the law.

Although this is, of course, a very serious issue, there is a bit of comic relief starting on page 82 of Groseclose’s report, when the transcript of a meeting shows Groseclose trying to use Freakonomics to persuade the committee of what should be done:

INSERT DESCRIPTIONTaken from the Groseclose report.

He does not meet with much success.

Latin stickler

Dear 12,

Assuming that you're using alumnus in the nominative singular, your wife would be an alumna, not an alumnae.

Simply put, unless you're 100% sure that the way you're using latin is correct, don't use it. The MLA actually prefers that you pluralize things using english suffixes. You don't impress anyone with a


The assumptions here are brutal.

Let's say that as part of their normal admissions thing, a college decides to accept the female physics student and the Black mathematician. Why does Groseclose assume affirmative action of some sort? Does he have any evidence beyond the fact that there are more minorities than he expected?

Understand folks, in the process of legally undermining race based affirmative action you made it illegal to pursue a claim of racism based solely on the disparate impact a procedure has on whatever demographic groups are your concern. Having a little to judge the case on as Groseclose himself I won't speculate on whether there are "racial preferences" in play...but just as you've formed all manner of opinions about my opinion based on that refusal, I can form an opinion based on the thinness of the support Groseclose can muster in support of his accusations.


"I honestly can’t wrap my head around this kind of logic."

This is funny, because I remember saying the exact opposite to a friend a year ago: I cannot contemplate how anyone could call affirmative action racist. I do think it is misguided if it sets minorities up for failure at universities where they do not have the background to compete, and that class-based affirmative action makes more sense.

However, the idea that bans on affirmative action are ANTI-RACIST borders on Soviet-style doublespeak; it reminds me of the quotation that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges." Even ignoring the problem that affirmative action is necessary to cancel out affirmative action for the rich (alumni connections which grandfather in descendants of students from years of whites-only admissions), there is the problem of a vastly unequal and unfair public school system. The idea that it is a racial injustice every time a white prep school kid has to go to Duke instead of Harvard is simply too absurd to contemplate.



"Under the guise of being “race-neutral” too many now use laws that were designed to ameliorate racism and its effects to now exclude Blacks and other racial minorities from higher education."

I honestly can't wrap my head around this kind of logic. How people can call laws that prohibits racial discrimination in college admissions a racist policy is beyond me. I can't help but think that these people don't really oppose racial discrimination on idealogical grounds. They seem fully content as long as it favors their particular ethnic group.

Roberto M.

I would like to pose a simple question: what do you do when race and class seem to be different sides of the same coin? That is to say, what do you do if economic disadvantage is strongly tied to race, and vice versa?

On another note, FooBar, in response to Tony Glover, wrote: "Most of the people benefiting from affirmative action policies are NOT the people you are talking about (students going to 99% minority schools), but rather students who are upper-middle class and use their race simply as a boost."

Exactly how do you know that? I teach at a major university, and I don't see what you are saying. Rather, most of the minority kids come from lower middle class or flat out from really underprivileged backgrounds. Yes there are some who come from more affluent families, but they are not a majority by any means.

I suspect that many of us (a majority maybe) clearly have preconceived ideas about affirmative action, and we project those ideas onto the facts, and then try to make them match. I guess, as has been discussed in this blog regarding other topics, this is common human behavior, but that does not make our rationalization any more true.



"Can you imagine if a school implemented policies that it researched as to the effectiveness of assuring greater admission of white students?"

That wouldn't really be a problem in a countries with a significant white population that's underrepresented in universities, which isn't the case here, so your language seems a little unnecessarily provocative.

Also, it reminds me of the situation here in Canada, where because of the shifting cultural attitudes, university entrants are now mostly female, and they ARE actively trying to implement policies that will ensure greater male attendance. Which is to say, fair and equal attendance.


@7 / Tony Glover :

The facts you state are valid, unfortunately what you fail to address is the fact that race ALONE is often used as a factor.

Most of the people benefiting from affirmative action policies are NOT the people you are talking about (students going to 99% minority schools), but rather students who are upper-middle class and use their race simply as a boost.

Economic affirmative action would address the core problem much much better. The schools that have 99% minorities are the same schools where most of the population is economically disadvantaged.

I go to a top 5 private school and I can tell you that most of the minorities here that got in come from upper-middle class or even upper class families and are often not of the same caliber as the other students. I don't blame them for it -- hell I'd take the advantage if I could -- but it isn't fair.

Martin Cohen

What is the graduation rate of the various groups?


I agree that class based affirmative action if far preferable to race based affirmative action. Anecdotally, at my (private) highschool there were a number of minority kids there on scholarships and a number of others who weren't.

The minority kids not on scholarship tended to go to better schools than the ones that needed financial aid to pay for highschool. It seems slighly absurd to me that an African American kid with two parents who are corporate lawyers is given the same admissions boost from his race as another black kid who lives in bad neighborhood and has bullet wounds.


Universities also favor applicants with a lot of extra-curricular activities. I always thought this was a sort of class-discrimination.

It's easy to get an impressive, unpaid internship if you (or rather your parents) have good connections and sufficient funds - not so much if you have to deliver pizzas to bring in some money.

Daniel Reeves

"if two kids have identical test scores, high school grades, etc., then the less privileged of the two has accomplished more and has greater long-term potential."

Just to add more to this, chances are that the less privileged student is a harder worker, and is thus more suited for college.

I also agree with post #33.


So if I want to get into UCLA, I should just write an essay that makes me look like I'm black?


The racial identity and advocacy industry used to make the argument that policies were "neutral in intent but discriminatory in practice", which meant that they didn't result in racial outcomes in proportional to the population, i.e. quotas. But the University of California, in response to Prop 209 searched for proxies that were anything but neutral in intent. Can you imagine if a school implemented policies that it researched as to the effectiveness of assuring greater admission of white students?

Indeed the academic elites consider themselves above the law and on a mission of righteousness, one that costs them nothing personally. But preferences and discrimination are the opposite sides of the same coin. I'm for racial preferences as long as we compensate the discriminated students from the incomes of these academic elites. Admissions to select colleges are of high value in society. We'll see just how important diversity is when professors are forced to pay for its costs.



Affirmative action is blatant discrimination and just as wrong as any other discrimination.[1]

You don't fix broken things by breaking more stuff!

[1] A child from a rich family still can have the home from outer hell and good grades, is that less of achievement than any other child with bad parents? Just because the kid has nice clothes it doesn't mean it has what it really needs. A child from a poor loving family is be more advantaged than a rich kid that is mere 'decoration' to keep up with the Jones.


"My own experiences lead me to believe that if two kids have identical test scores, high school grades, etc., then the less privileged of the two has accomplished more and has greater long-term potential."

You imply that this somehow is 'affirmative action'. It isn't. Affirmative action in practice is accepting into a college, group X with lower test scores and lower high school grades than the majority of acceptees.

Indeed in a case of identical scores I think that the vast majority of Americans would agree that the less privileged person should get the place. However this argument is often used as a 'decoy' for the ugly truth of very comprised academic standards.


"...if two kids have identical test scores, high school grades, etc., then the less privileged of the two has accomplished more and has greater long-term potential."

I think most people can get behind this idea in some form or another. Where I think people start to get upset is when the less privileged person gets in with test scores or grades that aren't identical.


The fact that UCLA changed its admissions system so more African Americans would be accepted (at the expense of Vietnamese students) is frankly unamerican.


A little first knowledge of results will help this discussion greatly. The Pruess School was set up by the UC system as a magnet high school associated with UC San Diego. The be admitted students had to be from a underrepresented racial minority (meaning exclusively black and hispanic), financially needy, and have no one in their family attend college before. Admission is based on lottery. Students benefit from close interaction with a university, lots of tutoring, mentoring, help on SAT, help applying to colleges, etc. After several years of operation, and many students graduated, they took some basic statistics of how the school was helping the students in their college trajectory.

Short answer: the school made no difference at all. When comparing the students who got into the school and the students who did not get in (lottery based), there was absolutely NO difference in SAT scores, students admission to prestigious colleges, or any other metric they could try.

For me that means that if a student wants to attend college, and puts in the proper effort, then it does not matter what race/financial background they come from. And honestly all the affirmative action helps we have in place now also don't work.

I assume that you are also aware of the survey of success of students who accept/reject Harvard admission. Again, no difference in salary, prestige, whatever. Pointing again to individual work as the segregating factor.



Non merit-based college admissions always have consequences. At highly selective institutions, Jews and Asians have always been discriminated against, and still are today: thus, you can be pretty sure that a member of one of these groups with a diploma from a well-known university is extremely bright and capable.

On the other hand, blacks, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and so forth have also been historically discriminated against. Now, however, they are accepted in the name of "fairness" even though they may lack the qualifications of others. Thus, their collegiate accomplishments are open to question, with all best wishes for their success.


"Pardon me for my ignorance, but why would a university or other institution of learning be intent on admitting members of any specific ethnicity over another? What is the benefit? What is the incentive?"

The truth it that colleges these days run themselves like a business. The make up of the student body is meant maintain/improve the reputation of the school. Admissions officers want to accept all qualified applicants but they have to keep in mind that the student body has to appear desirable to potential applicants. This means if you have more qualified female applicants than male ones, you can't have a class of 80% women because it will then become less desirable to many people of both genders. Diversity matters on a college campus because it makes the campus appear more progressive, more socially conscious. Students (and parents) often love to boast about the "diversity" on college campuses. It's all about making the school more attractive in order to draw more students.