When UC Regent John J. Moores criticized UC Berkeley last month for admitting students with sub-par SAT scores, many Californians wondered if Berkeley officials were engaging in racial preferences.
The practice has been banned at all UC campuses since 1996, but many have long suspected that at UC Berkeley, admissions officers have continued admitting minorities with below average grades and SAT scores, while hiding the true nature of admissions procedures to avoid legal challenge.
At first, the Los Angeles Times seemed to join those questioning Berkeley admissions officers, running a front page story that quoted Moores and noted the racial implications of the case.
But last week, the Times apparently joined whatever efforts are already underway to obscure the truth about UC admissions.
In an investigative article titled "Overall, Race No Factor for Low-Scoring UC Applicants," three Times staff writers began by reporting that the admission of students with low SAT scores apparently has nothing to do with race in the UC system:
Latinos with low SAT scores are admitted to the University of California at rates only slightly higher than whites and Asians, while blacks who score poorly are significantly less likely to get in, according to a Times analysis.
All told, the groups underrepresented on UC campusesAfrican Americans, Latinos and Native Americansare admitted with below-average SAT scores at the same rates as whites and Asians.
The Times then frames the debate, mentioning the controversy touched off by Moores, the average SAT score at UC Berkeley (1337), the debate surrounding the admissions process, and the charge by some that the university is making end-runs around the state's ban on affirmative action. Four paragraphs later, the Times analysis is introduced in more detail:
The University of California provided data pertaining to applicants with scores of 1000 or below who sought admission to freshman classes in the fall of 2002 and 2003. The Times calculated the percentages.
Among the findings:
Taken together, low-scoring blacks, Latinos and Native Americans were just as likely to be admitted as Asians and whites. The admission rate for both groups was 63%.
In all, 67% of low-scoring Latino applicants were admitted to at least one UC campus, compared with 65% of Asians and 60% of whites.
But only 49% of black applicants with similarly low scores were admitted.
Phew, opponents of affirmative action might think. Race seems not to be a factor here. Not so fast: an astounding 12 paragraphs into the story, after the jump in the newspaper's print edition, the story continues:
The picture was different at the university's two most competitive campuses, where Latinos and blackswho make up a smaller share of the student body relative to their numbers in the state's population
were more likely to be accepted.
UC Berkeley, the original focus of the admissions debate, admitted low-scoring blacks and Latinos at twice the rate of Asians and whites with similar scores.
UCLA was about a quarter more likely to admit low-scoring African Americans and Latinos than whites and Asians.
Nothing like burying the news! At the UC system's flagship campusthe very campus whose controversial admissions policies prompted the article in the first place
minorities are twice as likely to be admitted with sub-par SAT scores.
Those facts may not prove that UC Berkeley officials are violating the state's ban on affirmative action. But they certainly point to that conclusion more than any other. Yet the Associated Press sent the following copy to newspapers across the nation, citing the Times story as its source:
Overall, members of minority groups that are traditionally under-represented on UC campuses
blacks, Latinos, and American Indians
are no more likely to be admitted despite low scores than whites or Asians.
The findings help deflect allegations that a disproportionately large number of low-scoring minority students are admitted despite the university's ban on affirmative action.
(Later in the AP story, the findings about UCLA and UC Berkeley are noted, much as in the Times story.)
Of course, the Times findings suggest just the oppositethat two UC campuses, with admissions standards and staff distinct from the UC system as a whole, use race as a factor in admissions.
In gauging the absurdity of the Times story, it is useful to imagine a situation in which UC Berkeley was found to reject black applicants twice as often as white applicants with identical SAT scores.
How would that story be presented?
Would the Times analyze the UC system as a whole, and minimize the lower standards for whites at a single campus by mentioning it low in the story, in passing?
Or would it report, as the primary news, that a UC campus seemed to be discriminating on the basis of race, a clear violation of California law, its own stated policies, and basic principles of equality?