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:
He does not meet with much success.