Affirmative Action Special Report
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Black, Hispanic Admissions Plunge at 2 Calif. Campuses

By Rene Sanchez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 1998; Page A01

BERKELEY, Calif., March 31—The University of California's two premier campuses reported today that their first undergraduate classes chosen without the use of affirmative action will have an extraordinarily low number of black and Hispanic students.

At the university's Berkeley campus, admissions offers to black and Hispanic students for next fall's freshman class have plunged by more than half to the lowest totals for each group in at least 15 years. Of the 8,000 students who were offered admission, 191 were black, down from 562 last year. A total of 434 Hispanic students were offered admission, down from 1,045 last year.

The admissions trends are similar but not quite as extreme at UCLA. In its next freshman class, the number of black students who are being offered admission has fallen by 43 percent, and by 33 percent for Hispanics.

The numbers are down even though both campuses got more minority applications, with stronger academic credentials, than in previous years. And officials at both campuses said they expect the number of minority students who actually accept the offers to be even lower, since the students who are chosen tend to get offers from many schools.

The declines match the predictions that many university leaders in the state made when the University of California's board of regents, and later California voters, approved the nation's first and most extensive ban against racial preferences in college admissions.

"These numbers are worse than what we had hoped for," said Berkeley's chancellor, Robert M. Berdahl. "We still have to be a place of opportunity for all, but the law is constraining us very, very substantially."

College leaders nationwide have been anxiously awaiting the results from the University of California's first attempt in a generation to choose undergraduates without using race as a factor because many universities are also facing pressure to limit, or even abolish, affirmative action. The giant University of California system, which has eight campuses and more than 166,000 students, is one of the most prestigious public universities in the country -- and until now one of the most racially diverse.

Richard Atkinson, the president of the University of California system, said today that the new admissions figures at Berkeley and UCLA are "a source of great concern for the university, as they should be for all of California."

Across the nation, nearly all public universities still abide by a 1978 Supreme Court decision that allows colleges to use race as one among many factors that they use to choose students. So far only California and Texas have removed racial preferences from their admissions rules. But opponents of affirmative action in higher education are trying to get another potentially precedent-setting case to the Supreme Court.

If they succeed, many higher education officials say that the latest figures from Berkeley and UCLA could be a harbinger.

But critics of affirmative action said the stark new admissions figures from UCLA and Berkeley have exposed how much both campuses rely on a double standard in their process for choosing students -- one for whites and Asians, another for blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups. They also said the figures show how badly many minority students are being prepared by the state's public schools to compete for admission at academically selective colleges.

"These numbers will finally and conclusively put to rest the lie that we've heard for so long from these campuses that race is only one factor in how they choose students," said Ward Connerly, an African American member of the University of California's Board of Regents who first proposed the ban on affirmative action. "It's the decisive factor. They have been operating a two-track system. And this should be a wake-up call to everyone in K-12 schools. They have to do a far better job."

Although the latest admissions figures have been expected, some students here took the news particularly hard today.

Kevin Anderson, an African American senior who is majoring in political science, said black students on Berkeley's campus already seem scarce. "Right now, in my classes I'm usually only one of about three black students," he said. "If these policies remain the same, after a few years I feel like we're not going to see any."

At both campuses, the latest declines are quite similar to what the schools experienced last year when they had to ban racial preferences in law school admissions. At UCLA's law school, the number of black students who were offered admission last year dropped by 80 percent, for example.

This year, in the first test of the policy for incoming freshmen, most but not all of the University of California's other campuses also are experiencing significant declines in the admission of black and Hispanic students. Three other campuses had drops this spring of 40 percent, but two campuses that require prospective students to meet only the state's minimal academic standards for college reported an increase.

Berkeley is the most selective campus in the University of California system. Less than 27 percent of the nearly 30,000 students who applied for the freshman class this fall received admissions offers. Berkeley officials said they had to turn away more than 800 black, Hispanic and other minority applicants who had perfect 4.0 high school grade point averages and who had SAT scores of at least 1,200 -- which is exceptionally high -- simply because the school had other applicants with even better credentials.

Special correspondent Cassandra Stern contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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