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The new UC admissions guidelines will destroy the integrity of the admissions process
By Edwin A. Locke
With great fanfare the Board of Regents of the University of California have announced new university admissions policies. These policies will downgrade academic qualifications (grades and test scores) and will use a policy that includes factors such as the students' "struggle against poverty or athletic or artistic ability." The supporters of these changes promise that they will not use the new policies to promote raced-based admissions.
Speaking as a just-retired academic who spent 34 years at a major state university, I know how to translate academic code words into their real meaning. The real meaning and goal of the new California guidelines is the elimination of the concepts of fairness and objectivity from the admissions process. It is no accident that most colleges use the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and high school grades as the main criteria for admissions: these have been shown for decades to be the best predictors of scholastic performance. The SAT has the added advantage over grades that everyone takes the same test and the test is scored the same way for everyone. The SAT is objective; it is race-blind, gender-blind, age-blind, politics-blind, religion-blind, country of national origin-blind and sexual-orientation blind. This is precisely why the regents oppose it. They want the admissions process to be subjective. This means that hidden agendas can now be brought into the admissions process with the blessing of the regents.
For example, does anyone believe for a single minute that the new guidelines will not be politicized? Berkeley is one of the most left wing schools in the entire country. Ability aside, who is more likely to get admitted there under the new "flexible" guidelines: the high school radical who claims that the attack on the World trade center was our fault or the conservative student who supports our right to self-defense?
Does anyone believe for a single minute, despite explicit disclaimers to the contrary, that race will not be brought back as a factor? In May the regents voted to drop a six-year ban on affirmative action. Affirmative action is against state law but clearly the regents are sending a message by their vote. The new criteria will serve to protect the university system against discrimination charges by academically qualified students of the wrong race.
Previously, students who were discriminated against due to race could show that they should have been admitted because their test scores and grades were better than those who were admitted. Usually, if they took the case to court, they won. But this will not work any more. The university can now say, in its defense, "we used a holistic procedure based on numerous factors that vary from student to student and we decided that student X had a special combination of qualities that we wanted and student Y did not." Given the new, subjective guidelines, there is no way to protest such a decision in court.
The regents claim that the new procedures are superior to the old on the grounds that people like Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, who had serious learning disabilities, would be admitted under the new guidelines but not under the old. This argument is ridiculous on several counts. First, why would a university want to admit people with serious learning disabilities?
How could they do the work? Second, how could they know that Oprah and Whoopi, as high school students, would become super stars? Third, why would people like Oprah and Whoopi need a college degree anyway?
The regents claim that the new guidelines will now allow the admission of people with athletic ability. Who are they trying to fool? For better or for worse, good athletes have been given preference in admissions to colleges and universities for decades. And how does a "struggle against poverty," as admirable as that is, qualify one for college admission?
UC president Richard Atkinson claims that high school students can gain admittance if they work hard and take tough courses. But how can he promise such a thing if the new guidelines specifically de-emphasize academics?
Under the new procedures, it is impossible for a student to know what to do in order to prepare for college. The new "flexible" criteria can be anything the admissions office wants. The ones to suffer the most will be precisely the intelligent, hard-working, high-achieving students who most deserve admission.
The real hidden motive for the new admissions criteria is egalitarianism. The regents cannot accept the fact that some people are more academically qualified than others so their solution is to undermine the whole concept of academic competence. If they succeed, both students and universities will be the worse for it.
Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Motivation at the University of Maryland at College Park and is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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