UCLA Accused of Admissions Coverup

Professor investigating race-based admissions says he was denied access to student applications.

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A UCLA professor who was a member of the admissions faculty oversight committee has resigned, charging that the university obstructed his attempts to get more information about whether the college was illegally using race in its admission decisions. The school has denied the professor's claims, which he has published online in an 89-page report.

Since 1996, it has been illegal for public universities in California to use race, gender, ethnicity, or religion in admissions, and for the decade since, UCLA has seen its black enrollment dwindle to as low as around 100 black freshmen in a first-year class of almost 5,000. Such numbers prompted the university to switch in 2006 to a more holistic approach to admissions, comparable to the one used at UC-Berkeley. Officials score all parts of the student's application as a whole as opposed to first considering personal essays separately from grades and test scores. Since the new process was implemented, the number of black enrollees has more than doubled, up to 230 students this year, an increase UCLA considers a sign of success.

But political science professor Tim Groseclose says the university could still be using race to admit students. His bigger grievance, though, has more to do with transparency than affirmative action and he says that is the actual reason he resigned his post on the committee just a few weeks short of the end of his term. In his sharply worded report, Groseclose states that he wanted to investigate the discrepancy between the admit rates for black students and other minorities, saying a higher percentage of blacks were being admitted in the new holistic process while the percentages of Latino, American Indian, and Asian students were going down. He says he also wanted examine other issues, such as possible religious and political biases.

Groseclose says he asked to see and research hundreds of raw student applications—looking to count, for instance, how often students mentioned race in their personal essays—but the university, citing federal privacy law, turned down his requests repeatedly over the course of several months. The university says the reason it did not hand over the files was because full applications—even with redacted names—would make students too easily identifiable, says Tom Lifka, assistant vice chancellor for student academic services. Lifka points out that the university was open to reviewing the admissions process, just not in the way Groseclose wanted. "What we tried to do is invite [him] to do a universitywide study," says Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs Kevin Reed. Instead, "he demanded he have access to the raw applications himself."

The dispute suggests that the use of race in admissions is still a hot-button topic, even 12 years after it was banned in California. UCLA will now proceed with its own evaluation of its two-year-old admissions process, a move that Lifka admits was catalyzed by Groseclose's assertiveness. Officials say Groseclose was invited to participate in this research but has declined.