In 2008 the University of California will increase the number of officially recognized Asian categories from eight to 23, nearly a three-fold increase. UC administrators and various student groups hail the move as a milestone of diversity and aid to outreach. That remains dubious but the plan confirms that the UC system is more ethnically obsessed than it was in 1996, when Californians voters passed Proposition 209.
That law bars the use of racial quotas in state education, employment and contracting. Some UC bosses are openly contemptuous of Prop 209 and look for ways to avoid it by downplaying the SAT, giving points for special life experience, and so on. Strictly speaking, the new UC plan is not admission by racial quota but the emphasis on ethnicity violates the spirit of that statute. The new categories seem a rather odd tactic since, in the politically correct ethos that prevails on UC campuses, Asians are not exactly an accredited victim group.
According to the most recent census, Asians constitute approximately 12.3 percent of the California population. The incoming UC freshman class, however, is 35.3 percent Asian, according to news reports, more than one third of all new students. This does not sit well with administrators who believe that every institution must reflect the ethnic breakdown of society, a view that ignores personal differences, effort, and choice. By this nonsensical but politically correct standard Asians are “overrepresented” – too many of them, in other words – at the UC. It carries no weight with UC brass that statistical disparities are the rule, not the exception, in California society. In any case, the new category scheme is rigidly one-sided.
The University of California is interested in Pacific Islanders, but not Atlantic Islanders, the ancestry of many Californians. It is interested in various kinds of native Alaskans, but not native Texans, Kentuckians or Floridians, a clear double standard. The UC remains uninterested in the particular needs of Irish, Slovenian, Scottish, Ukrainian and Finnish students. California’s African American students do not get new categories for Cape Verdeans, Ibos, or any other group. The new category scheme is also rather dated.
Since 2001, there is no ethnic majority in California. This reality prompted Cruz Bustamante, then Lt. Governor, to say that we should all just call ourselves Californians. Californians are all minorities now, and the timing of the UC ethnic expansion is also bad.
As this column has noted, the University of California leadership has been busy expanding their already high salaries and generous perks while raising student fees. In other words, UC bosses have made it harder for qualified but economically challenged students to get in. They should clean house, and may have to. Under Senate Bill 190, which takes effect in 2008, questions of executive compensation in the UC and Cal State systems will be moved to open session.
Meanwhile, the real problem with college admissions in general and UC admissions in particular lies not in a dearth of ethnic categories but in the K-12 system. As PRI noted last year in Not as Good as You Think, a book praised by Education Week, many schools touted as the best, in the most upscale neighborhoods, render poor results in college preparation classes and academic achievement in general. Far too many freshmen need remedial math and English.
Changing that will require hard work, high standards, and real reform, including expanded parental choice in K-12 education. Meanwhile, boosting the number of Asian groups from eight to 23 may help UC bosses feel good about themselves, but will do nothing to boost the college prospects of California students in general. Given our diverse population, it would make more sense to treat all students as individuals, without regard to ethnicity. That is the spirit of Proposition 209, which remains state law.