Trustee Out, Diversity In?

John Moores is a friend of mine. When I was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, John was my closest ally. Occasionally, we found ourselves on different sides of specific issues, like student fees. But, more likely than not – and especially on other fundamental issues – our perspectives and our votes were in accord. I grew to respect John as one of the most dedicated and talented Regents with whom I had the pleasure of serving during my twelve-year term.

On November 12 of this year, John tendered his resignation, nearly a year and a half before the scheduled expiration of his term. With the resignation of John Moores, California is losing an extraordinary public servant. Because of his stature as an icon in the San Diego community, one of California’s most distinguished citizens, and one of America’s most generous and successful entrepreneurs, it is useful for us pause and reflect on the reasons for the early resignation of John Moores.

I have not talked with John about his exit from the Board of Regents and he gave no reason in his one-sentence resignation letter. In a true reflection of his no-nonsense style, John’s letter to Richard Blum, chairman of the UC Board of Regents, was one sentence: “Dick, please accept my resignation effective this date. Best regards.”
While many of the problems that have characterized the k-12 public education system for decades have not yet taken root in our colleges and universities, there are strong indications that serious trouble is around the corner for America’s system of higher education. For example, fees are spiraling out of control. Questions are being raised about matters relating to academic freedom. Administrative salaries are frequently viewed as unnecessarily high. Questions relating to academic quality are increasingly raised. At the core of many of these problems is a belief that ineffective governance is the culprit.

With very few exceptions – notably John Moores at UC and T. J. Rodgers at Dartmouth – university trustees seem to be rubber stamps of the administration. They are frequently more interested in the adulation that accompanies being a trustee, such as getting prime seating at football games and attending the lavish dinners sponsored by the university president, than they are about providing independent oversight of university operations. This culture annoyed John.

In addition, it is my belief that John Moores became frustrated with the incessant attempts on the part of UC’s faculty and administration to reinstate some form of race preferences at UC, despite the public’s opposition to such practices as expressed by the passage of Proposition 209. There is no doubt that the John Moores I know is not one who walks away from an assignment unless he believes he is wasting his time. Were I now a Regent, I would be sorely tempted to do as John has done. There are some good people on the Board of Regents, but there are also many who fall far short of being good fiduciaries of a great institution.

John was the first one to call attention to the fact that UC was violating its responsibility to admit only the top 12.5 percent of graduating seniors. He found that UC was admitting as much as the top 16 percent in some years. He and I were convinced that UC Berkeley was admitting significantly lesser qualified “underrepresented minority” students over more academically qualified Asian and white students. He financed out of his own pocket a substantial study that documented this fact. Long before the New York Times, just a few months ago, suggested that UC was probably “breaking the law” with regard to the use of race preferences, John shared his concern that the pursuit of “diversity” had assumed a position of supremacy in relation to the pursuit of academic excellence at UC. When he asked questions about this matter, UC administrators stonewalled and his colleagues on the Board of Regents (excluding yours truly and a few others) voted to censure him. He could rarely obtain timely answers to the questions that he raised about UC operations.

Recently, the UC faculty announced that it was seriously looking at proposals to eliminate the SAT I and to give less emphasis to honors courses – all of which is driven by the compulsion to increase “diversity.” Rumors are also circulating that the UC Berkeley Chancellor is leaning on the UC Berkeley Alumni Association to establish a scholarship program for “minority” students only, because he fears that too many talented minority students are being attracted to Stanford, Harvard and other Ivy League institutions. What a pity!
Prior to the elimination of race preferences at UC, the general perspective was to take the best students who applied and lower the standards merely for a handful (perhaps 5-6 percent of “underrepresented minority” students) to “build diversity.” With the effort to give preferences based on race being severely restricted by Proposition 209, some Regents, including certain appointees of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC administrators and select faculty members have sought to craft policies that might serve as proxies for race. Finding that difficult to do, because there are no such factors, UC now seems determined to relax its standards across the board to achieve “diversity.”

“California is becoming more and more diverse, and we’re worried we’re not looking as representative as we would like,” said UCSD physics Professor Kim Griest, who chairs UCSan Diego’s faculty senate committee on educational policy.

This telling comment reveals the overarching desire and objective of UC decision-makers to make UC “representative” – an objective that begs the question of why the taxpayers of California are giving UC approximately $14,000 per/year to subsidize each UC student. It is not UC’s primary mission to be “representative.” The mission is to attract and admit the highest academically qualified students possible. That is why UC is supposed to admit only those students in the top 12.5 percent of their graduating class. California has a three-tiered system of higher education – UC, CSU and the community colleges. If UC wants to become a glorified community college system, then we should provide them only with the amount of money that we give to the community colleges, which is about a fourth of what we give UC on a per/student basis.

For those students who study hard to gain an edge that might qualify them for UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, arguably the most academically competitive campuses in the UC system, the clear message is “stop studying so hard because it probably won’t make a difference.” The better course of action is to leave home, move in with a household that has social problems, acquire a few “obstacles” and pad your application with adversities to enhance your chance of admission to the UC campus of your choice. Don’t count on the governor, the Legislature, the Regents or others who are entrusted with the responsibility of defending the California Constitution (which contains a prohibition against using race preferences) to protect the academic quality of the institution. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

With the departure of John Moores, the people of California have lost a true guardian of one of their most cherished institutions, and high-achieving students have lost a champion. Over time, the results are likely to be an erosion of quality as well as a fast track to mediocrity and the academic degradation of a once-great university. A similar fate awaits other great institutions that elevate “diversity” over quality.

Thank you, John Moores, for fighting the good fight!


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