Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA, by Tim Groseclose (Dog Ear Publishing, 212 pp., $24.99)
Higher education is in free fall. At college campuses around the nation, protestors veto mainstream commencement speakers, students receive “trigger warnings” when exposed to uncomfortable ideas, and trendy radical dogma regularly displaces classics in the curriculum. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the higher education system has been taken over by left-wing zealots who will resort to extraordinary measures—including violating the law—to achieve their policy objectives, which include multiculturalism, identity politics, and “racial justice.” The latest example of academic politics run amok can be found in political scientist Tim Groseclose’s exposé of racial discrimination in admissions at the University of California at Los Angeles. The UCLA administration, with the active complicity of faculty members, violated the law by considering race. Groseclose blew the whistle on UCLA’s admission practices, which he chronicles in Cheating.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209, also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative, which amended the state constitution to prohibit the state from discriminating against, or in favor of, any individual or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Along with barring preferences in hiring and contracts, CCRI explicitly outlawed racially conscious “affirmative action” in university admissions. Despite the predictable legal challenges, both the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the measure. (A similar law passed in Michigan in 2006, which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this year in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.)
Proposition 209 requires that admission decisions at all public universities be race-neutral. Applicants must be evaluated on criteria such as grade-point averages and SAT scores. This sounds simple enough. Trouble is, the competition among applicants is so great at highly selective University of California campuses, and the qualifications of African-American and Latino applicants are so comparatively poor, that a purely meritocratic admission process would produce a disproportionately white and Asian entering class. The number of black students at UC’s most prestigious campuses declined each year after affirmative action was outlawed. In 2006, when the number of black students expected to enroll as freshmen at UCLA reached 96—20 fewer than the year before and a record low—demonstrations ensued. UCLA quickly adopted a “holistic” admission approach, pioneered at UC Berkeley, that included subjective assessments of applicants’ personal achievements or challenges.
This is where Groseclose begins his story. In 2007, the year following the adoption of “holistic” review, UCLA doubled the number of blacks enrolled in its freshman class. Despite his conservative political views, Groseclose had somehow been selected to serve on the faculty-oversight committee for admissions, which gave him a ringside seat from which to observe the shenanigans, until he resigned in protest in August 2008. Based on his observations on the committee and his subsequent independent review of applicant data—obtained with the assistance of UCLA law professor Richard Sander, co-author, with Stuart Taylor, of Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help and Why Universities Won’t Admit It—Groseclose concluded that UCLA administrators were circumventing Proposition 209 to favor black applicants. The mechanism they used to do this was a “second-chance” review built into the “holistic” process. Administrators submitted a disproportionate number of African-American applicants to the second-chance pool and then granted them admission at three times the rate of admission for Asians in the same category. Ironically, the “holistic” process did not result in the admission of more socio-economically disadvantaged students. UCLA’s subterfuge was designed to increase the number of black students, period. This had the perverse effect of reducing the number of more disadvantaged Latinos and Asians.
While on the committee, Groseclose, a statistics expert, had requested raw applicant data to verify his suspicions. His requests were refused. The book describes the machinations UCLA administrators concocted to deny Groseclose access to the data he and his fellow committee members were supposedly overseeing. But based on even the limited data available, Groseclose could tell UCLA was breaking the law. He ignored pressure to “look the other way,” assembled an 89-page report documenting his concerns, and “went rogue” by contacting the media. To the credit of California’s press corps, Groseclose’s findings were widely reported, forcing UCLA to go into PR mode. To rebut Groseclose’s report, the university even commissioned an “independent” study—which found significant evidence of racial bias. Groseclose’s findings may lead to litigation by applicants denied admission based on race.
Groseclose writes of his liberal colleagues:
If you want to understand college admissions, you need to understand a key fact about the academic left: They have extremely strong views about “diversity” and “racial justice.” To many of them, “racial justice” is even more important than all the other leftwing causes, including things like a clean environment, collective bargaining rights for workers, world peace, or making the rich pay “their fair share” of taxes. To them, racial justice is also more important than old-fashioned virtues, such as politeness and honesty. Consequently, to them, it is sometimes immoral not to lie about things such as race in admissions. That is, if a lie helps to increase racial diversity, then in their minds it is noble.
Elsewhere, Groseclose (who can speak candidly because he’s tenured) observes, “I suspect that . . . UCLA’s chancellors and other top administrators not only knew about the cheating but actually pressured staff to cheat.” And he believes that the scandal is not limited to UCLA, or to admissions: “[T]he problem is a symptom of . . . a culture of dishonesty that pervades American universities,” and which includes wealthy donors and politicians in addition to academic administrators. The admission scandal unfolding at the University of Texas is one example. Cheating is, in part, a heartening tale of what one person can accomplish with persistence and commitment. It’s also a harsh portrayal of today’s academic culture.