For 13 years, University of California officials have wrestled with a seemingly insoluble problem: how to sustain a student body that reflects the state's vast diversity without violating Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure banning race-based affirmative action.
The latest attempt to formulate a policy that is both legal and capable of increasing diversity is a controversial new admissions mandate that will take effect in fall 2012. ...
Currently, the top 12.5% of high school seniors in the state are guaranteed admission to a UC school -- something originally set out in the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education. More recently, the top 4% of students at all schools in the state have been assured a spot. Under the new guidelines, only the top 9% statewide are guaranteed spots, as well as the top 9% at every high school. The theory is that this will guarantee more spots for students at underperforming high schools where opportunities are not as great and more of the students are underrepresented minorities.
In other words, George W. Bush's Talented Tenth of Texas plan is being imported (which he shoved through when the 1995 Hopwood decision temporarily banned racial preferences in Texas), except in California it will be the Excellent Eleventh.
An old college friend who is a surgeon in Austin, Texas came out to visit Southern California colleges recently with his high school kid. I told him that my opinion is that you ought to go to college where you're most likely to end up so that you'll have your college friends around you when you are in your 20s and need a social set. And if you start out in Austin, which everybody says is a wonderful small city to wind up in (Is that because it's more German-American than the rest of Texas's cities?), then why not go to the University of Texas at Austin?
But his kid is only at about the 85th percentile by class rank in high school, not the crucial 90th percentile. Granted, that's the 85 percentile at the kind of high school that an Austin surgeon who went to Rice sends his children to, but the quality of the student body doesn't matter under GWB's Talented Tenth plan.
Parents finally got the Texas legislature to cut that plan back a little recently, but now they are bringing it to California.
The new rules also will create a larger pool of students entitled to be considered for -- but not guaranteed -- admission. To be considered, applicants must still take required college prep courses, have a 3.0 grade-point average and take the basic SAT exam. But they will no longer be required to also take SAT subject tests, something the plan's designers hope will benefit black and Latino students, who are less likely to take the exams.
One of the ideas behind having students take three SAT Subject exams is that one can be a foreign language, which makes it a gimme putt for immigrants. (That's bad for blacks, though, because they despise all foreign languages other than French, especially Spanish.) But apparently Hispanics and blacks have a hard time remembering to sign up to take the tests.
Actually, one reason for dropping these three extra tests sounds reasonable, in kind of a stupid way: As the College Board's biggest client, UC forced all sorts of changes to the main SAT, like adding the little-liked Writing test, dropping analogies, and upping the hardness of the math. In other words, a lot of stuff that UC was tracking through SAT Subject Tests has now been incorporated in the main SAT itself, so it might make sense to drop the SAT Subject Test requirements. Of course, screwing around with the main SAT was probably a bad idea, but what's done is done.
But as is always the case when admissions policies change, there will be winners and losers. The plan's critics say it is unlikely to bring in more black and Latino students and that white applicants will be the biggest beneficiaries.
It's hard to see why since so many Non-Asian Minorities go to schools that are overwhelmingly NAM. I would think the Excellent Eleventh rule would bring in lots more NAMs than the current Terrific Twenty-Fifth program.
Of course, right now the UC system has about a 1000 open spots each year it can't seem to fill at its new UC Merced campus that Cruz Bustamante had located out in the middle of Damn All on the theory that if you stick a research university out among a bunch of strawberry pickers, the strawberry pickers will turn into researchers by osmosis. Or something. They could have built the latest UC school near Napa Valley or near San Luis Obispo or Escondido or Eureka or at the serene old Camarillo looney bin where Cal State Channel Islands went instead, but, no, the Latino Caucus made them stick it in the Central Valley where Davis already is and nobody wants to go.
More important, they allege, it will slash the UC eligibility of Asian American students, who benefit by the current larger guarantee of placement for top students statewide.
Sacramento's 10-member Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus has proclaimed the plan to be outright discrimination against Asian Pacific Islanders. And many Asian Americans see the move as directly aimed at bringing down their numbers in California's universities.
I haven't seen much evidence presented for this popular theory, other than it's likely that Asians remember to sign up for three secondary tests when everybody else forgets. (You have to get UC applications in by October 31st, two months before Cal Tech applications, so lots of people forget.) Another possibility is that the Asian Caucus just figures that by raising a stink they'll remind people of their power, the way a baseball manager will yell and scream about an umpire's call not because he will get it changed but to get the next one shaded in his favor.
As I've said before, we no longer live in an Age of Ideologies where it's Capitalism vs. Communism, Democracy vs. Fascism. Like Francis Fukuyama said, Communism and Fascism lost. Instead, we now live in the Age of the Fine Print, where you have to read all the fine print to figure out whether some government action is out to get you.
Some people get Legislative Caucuses to read the fine print for them.
Will the Republican Party read the fine print for its supporters? Republican governor George W. Bush sure didn't.