Although my years of service on the University of California (UC) Board of Regents were the most tumultuous years of my life, my pride in the Board and the university that it serves has, until now, never wavered. But, a recent meeting and action by the Board has caused that feeling of pride to diminish.
At several UC campuses, a variety of incidents occurred several weeks ago that were characterized as creating a “toxic” racial climate for black students. The source of the “toxicity” came in the form of an off-campus party called the “Compton Cookout” and a noose found hanging inside the library at the UCSD campus.
In a little over a three-week period, racial epithets were allegedly directed at black students at UCSD; and, at other UC campuses, a swastika was carved into a Jewish student’s door and derogatory graffiti was found at the gay and lesbian students’ center.
These alleged incidents resulted in a delegation of students, faculty members and UC staff attending a meeting of the Board of Regents in late March to complain that the Regents weren’t doing enough to create a climate that nurtures “inclusiveness,” for minorities, such as blacks and gays/lesbians. With no effort to validate the assertions, several regents gushed into a state of apologia, as is customary for university governing board members in such circumstances.
Somehow, and not surprisingly, the apology fest about “campus climate” veered into the issue of the number of blacks enrolled at all UC campuses. This was familiar terrain for Regent Eddie Island, whose singular focus as a regent seems to be the circumvention of the California Constitution and its prohibition against race preferences.
The cause of my growing disrespect for the board was the comment by Island that “it is our own standards and slavish adherence to grade point averages and SAT scores that have put us in this dilemma.” He continued, “We value those things higher than we value other human qualities that are just as important and that can make a contribution within the UC environment.”
UC President Mark Yudof chimed in that he would seek changes in admissions policy as well as the creation of scholarships for underrepresented minorities in order to “improve diversity.” Yoduf stated that all UC campuses needed to employ a holistic review – currently employed at UC Berkeley and UCLA – when screening applicants, rather than focusing on SAT scores and grade point averages in making admissions decisions.
The University of California is regarded, indisputably, as one of our nation’s premier systems of higher education. In virtually every category, one or more of UC’s ten campuses ranks within the top ten nationwide. This has happened precisely because of UC’s “slavish adherence” to academic excellence, not because of other so-called “human qualities.”
It is not uncommon for racial incidents and so-called hate crimes to be nothing more than pranks perpetrated by students in search of a little fun after a beer party. Worse, there have been many occasions in which individuals and organizations (who need not even be students) fake incidents of racism and hate to promote their own agenda by getting the attention of the university. Although these stupid and malicious acts can cause a lot of misery for many students, they do not warrant wholesale changes in admissions, apologies by regents for something over which they have little or no control, and pandering to the extent of providing special benefits for “minority” students.
In the late sixties, it was precisely this pattern that resulted in massive changes in curriculum and faculty hiring in universities and secondary education. When race advocates protested that they had no control over their “their” schools, school boards hired teachers and principals based on race and in disregard to competency. When these same activists claimed that students couldn’t learn the subject matter at college, university administrators hired faculty based on the “role model” theory so that “minority” students would have faculty who “looked like them.” Multicultural centers were provided to give certain students a “safe” place on campus.
The evidence is clear that secondary education has worsened as a direct result of what occurred during that era and university students are more segregated than ever because of the universities’ pandering. Ethnic studies curricula, the hiring of race activists to staff those positions, the creation of multicultural centers, the establishment of race-based freshman orientation and graduation ceremonies, as well as separate housing facilities on many campuses, have all served to segregate black students from others rather than create an integrated student body. Deja vu all over again at UC!
Apart from the embarrassingly sickening spectacle of a university board and president performing as they are with regard to this matter, there is also the question of what will happen to the quality of UC should they proceed with Yudof’s proposed approach to admissions. One possibility is that the quality of the students will diminish and the position of high esteem that UC has historically enjoyed will erode in the fullness of time. Some describe this as “dumbing down” the university.
Many seem not to recognize, however, that student admissions is largely within the purview of the faculty, for all practical purposes; and the UC faculty is very concerned about quality. They realize that if student quality suffers, a great institution will be no more. To head off such a possibility, it is reasonable to expect the faculty to assert its influence in such a way that overall student quality will remain high but a few more “minority” students will be admitted based on their life’s circumstances – “human values” as Island calls it.
This can only happen by the implementation of a double standard, which would be in direct violation of the California Constitution (Proposition 209), but which would be difficult to prove. “Holistic admissions” enables universities to demand high academic performance for Asian and white kids while accepting lesser academic achievement for “minority” students based on their life’s experiences – community service, socioeconomic background, and other nonacademic factors. While I strongly support policies which require that college applicants be evaluated comprehensively, as long as academic performance is a major consideration, I oppose the use of comprehensive review as a subterfuge for preferential treatment based on race and ethnicity.
It is encouraging that many students and faculty at the March meeting observed that changing the admissions process alone would not improve the racial climate at UC campuses.”Changing the admissions policy at UC San Diego is not going to change the problem,” said one student who addressed the board. “If you admit more black students, they are still not going to come to UCSD, knowing that the climate is going to be hostile towards them. You all should honestly be ashamed of yourselves if you are just going to increase the numbers and think that critical mass is going to change it.”
Dan Simmons, vice chair of the Academic Senate, and a prominent faculty member at UC Davis, expressed the view of many faculty members when he cautioned against expecting new admissions requirements to fundamentally alter racial tensions on campuses.
“It’s not our admissions process that carved swastikas on the doors in the students’ dormitory room; it’s not our admissions process that put a noose in the San Diego library,” he said. “I don’t want to see us misled into thinking that getting the board focused on admissions policy and process is going to solve our problem. Our problem is far deeper, far, far deeper than that.”
It is also significant that the controversial noose found on the UCSD campus, which triggered the reaction of the black students on that campus, was placed there by a “minority” student who came forward to apologize for her unwitting act. She stated that she had no racist intent when she hung the rope from a bookcase in the campus’ main library. In her words, “this was not an act of racism,” it was a “stupid mistake” that was not meant to intimidate black students with a symbol of lynching.
The “teachable moment” in all of this is that things are not often as they appear when it comes to race in the academic setting. We learn this from the Henry Louis Gates arrest as well as the UCSD noose. But, something tells me that Regent Eddie Island and my former colleagues on the UC Board of Regents have hard heads through which facts have a difficult time permeating.