Saturday, February 27, 2010

Patrick Hayashi's Letter to the Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity

January 30, 2010

Dear Professor Lu,

Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts about UC’s new Freshman Eligibility Policy with you and other members of the University Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity.

First, let me introduce myself. I served as associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment at the Berkeley campus from 1988 to 1998. In that capacity, I was responsible for first strengthening and then dismantling the campus’s affirmative action admissions program. I participated in the development of comprehensive admissions at Berkeley. I then served as associate president under UC President Richard Atkinson from 1999 until my retirement in 2004. I worked with Dick primarily on admissions issues. I assisted him in extending comprehensive admissions to all UC campuses. I worked with him when he challenged the College Board to change the SAT. I have worked with the College Board in many capacities. I was a member of the national commission chaired by Derek Bok and David Gardner that examined the future of standardized admissions tests. I later served on a national commission that examined the Advanced Placement program. From 2000 through 2004, I served as a trustee of the College Board. After retiring, I launched a national campaign questioning the National Merit Scholars Program on the grounds that it was based on false notions of merit that were racially biased and educationally unsound. (See Brent Staples, “A Broader Definition of Merit,” NY Times, October 1, 2008.) I began by writing an article titled “The Merits of the National Merit Scholars Program: Questions and Concerns.” I later worked closely with Professor Michael Brown, then vice chair of the Academic Council, as he raised questions concerning the program’s fairness. I believe Michael would acknowledge that our joint efforts laid the basis for UC’s decision to stop participating in the program.

My academic training is in public policy where I did my dissertation on UC admissions policies under the direction of Martin Trow. Marty served as chair of the Academic Council in 1997-98. He strongly supported Proposition 209; I strongly opposed it. Marty and I disagreed on many things, but he was my mentor and friend. Marty showed me how to think about educational policy. He taught me to pay particular attention to negative evidence, evidence that might suggest that a strongly held position might be wrong. That is why I am writing.

I am deeply disturbed by UC’s new policy because I fear it could reverse all the good work UC has done over the past several decades to increase admission of minority students, particularly underrepresented students. UC’s latest simulations indicate that the new policy may result in dramatic reductions in minority student admissions at all or nearly all of the campuses. African Americans could be hit the hardest. They might drop by nearly thirty percent.

I believe that UC’s projections raise several fundamental questions that need to be asked and answered.

Why didn't UC do the simulations before adopting the new Freshman Eligibility Policy? These simulations would have sparked intense and important debate. All public policy is aimed at improving the future and an essential step in the development of all public policy is to estimate how that policy might impact different sectors of society. Such assessments will necessarily be rough approximations, but they are essential. To adopt a policy without estimating its future impact would be like buying a pig in a poke. Nevertheless, that seems to be exactly what has happened. UC adopted a policy without any clear idea about how that policy could injure the most disadvantaged groups in our society.

Why is UC ignoring its own analyses? UC sold the new policy on the grounds that it is fairer than the policy it replaces and will result in greater racial and ethnic diversity. Now its own analyses show the opposite, that the new policy could dramatically reduce racial/ethnic diversity. How can this be? One possible reason is that the new policy reduces the number of students guaranteed admission by 20 percent. Under the new policy, the top 10 percent rather than the top 12 ½ percent of high school graduates will be guaranteed admission. In other words, the new policy will lop off the bottom quintile of UC-eligible students who would have been guaranteed admission. It is likely that, as compared to white and Asian American students, a higher percentage of African American and Hispanic students would have been in this bottom quintile. If so, the new policy will have a disproportionately negative impact on underrepresented students as compared to white and Asian American students.

UC’s simulations indicate that the new policy could have disastrous effects on minority students, in general, and on underrepresented students, in particular. UC’s projections show that African Americans might suffer devastating losses. The drop in African American admissions might greatly exceed any that has ever occurred in UC’s history. African American admissions might decline anywhere from between 27 percent to 33 percent. By way of comparison, when implemented in 1998, Proposition 209 resulted in a decline in African American admissions of about 12.6 percent.

UC has said that these simulations should not be taken as precise numeric predictions but rather as indicators of the direction and magnitude of probable change. This is a reasonable caveat. Even so, the simulations show that the new policy could have a substantial negative effect on minority students. The new policy could have over twice the negative impact of Proposition 209 on African Americans admissions

What changes in applicant patterns would lead to an increase rather than a decrease in minority admissions?

UC says that its simulations should not be taken seriously because they do not take into account possible changes in application patterns that may result from the new policy. We must ask, therefore, what changes in applicant patterns would have to take place for minority students admissions to increase rather than decrease as predicted by UC’s simulations? For example, what changes in applicant patterns would have to take place for African American admissions to increase rather than decrease? The answer to this question is very troubling. For African American admissions to increase rather than decrease, African American applications would have to increase to a much greater extent than applications from all other groups. In addition, a large percentage of African American applicants would have to present higher than average grades and test scores.

At this point, some might argue that, on average, African American applicants are more disadvantaged than applicants from other groups and thus could receive preferential treatment in comprehensive review. African American applicants may be more disadvantaged, on average, than students from other groups. However, in sheer numbers, disadvantaged African American applicants would be greatly outnumbered by disadvantaged applicants from other groups. In addition, some of the admissions criteria in the new policy, e.g., the endorsement of the SAT-Reasoning test and the bonus point given for grades earned in Advanced Placement courses, are not only educationally unsound but are also racially biased. They have been shown to have a disparate negative impact on minority students, in general, and underrepresented minority students, in particular.

Do UC’s simulations underestimate possible decreases in admissions of underrepresented minorities?

I have sketched a dismal picture describing how the new Freshman Eligibility Policy could have devastating effects on underrepresented minorities. However, UC’s simulations may underestimate the negative impact the new policy could have on underrepresented students. The impact might be far worse than anticipated. Consider these possibilities:

1. The number of applicants for freshman admission increases substantially between now and 2012, but applications increase at different rates for different groups. During economic recessions, demand for higher education spikes upwards because students wisely decide that the best investment they can make is in their own education. However, the capacity to make this investment differs from group to group. It is possible, even likely, that Asian American and white student applications will increase at a greater rate than African American and Hispanic student applications.

2. The average number of campuses to which students apply increases, but at different rates for different groups. Without the safety net of redirection, many students may apply to more campuses, perhaps several more. It is possible, even likely, that Asian American and white students, on average, will apply to more campuses that African American and Hispanic students.

3. The yield rate of accepted students increases. Fee increases notwithstanding, a UC education represents a great value, arguably the very best investment a student can make. Moreover, the ability of students to attend private universities may be adversely affected by the economy. It is possible, even likely, that the percentage of admitted students who decide to enroll at UC will increase.

4. UC reduces spaces available for California residents either through enrollment reductions or increases in out-of-state admissions. I understand that UC is actively exploring these options.

I do not know if these possibilities have been explored in UC’s simulations, but if not, UC’s simulations may substantially underestimate possible drops in African American and Hispanic admissions.

Why is BOARS endorsing the racially biased SAT-Reasoning test?

UC’s unqualified endorsement of the SAT-Reasoning test is especially disturbing. UC’s own research has shown that racial and ethnic minorities and poor students score better on the SAT subject matter achievement tests. Moreover, admissions policies requiring subject matter achievement tests rather than reasoning tests send very different messages to prospective students. Achievement test requirements send the message that students should study hard and master their course work. Reasoning test requirements send the message that students should enroll in costly test-prep courses, learn test-taking strategies and master test taking tricks. This was one reason why BOAR adopted a policy favoring the achievement tests over so-called reasoning tests.

UC had a clear alternative. BOARS could have asked which kind of test is preferable from an educational and social standpoint. For guidance, they could have used the criteria developed by former UC President Richard Atkinson and former UC director of student research Saul Geiser in their paper Reflections on a Century of College Admissions Tests. Atkinson and Geiser state:

[W]e now have much better understanding of why assessment of achievement and curriculum mastery remains vital as a paradigm for admissions testing. Curriculum-based achievement tests are the fairest and most effective assessments for college admissions and have important incentive or “signaling effects” for our K-12 schools as well: They help reinforce a rigorous academic curriculum and create better alignment of teaching, learning, and assessment all along the pathway from high school to college. (Atkinson, Geiser, pg. 1)

Atkinson and Geiser’s statement should not surprise BOARS because it adopted a test policy for identical reasons:

[A]chievement-oriented tests are both useful to the University in identifying high-achieving students and philosophically preferable to tests that purport to measure aptitude (University of California, BOARS, 2002).

BOARS has chosen to ignore its own policy and instead endorse the SAT-Reasoning test and end the achievement test requirement because more students take the so-called reasoning test. BOARS’s reasoning resembles that used by high school cafeterias when they choose to serve French fries rather than vegetables because more students like French fries.

Rather than make its decision by counting heads, BOARS should have first asked which tests are better for students, which tests are superior from an educational and social standpoint. The answer is clear. The two types of tests are equivalent in their limited predictive power, but the SAT subject matter achievement tests have far less disparate negative impact on disadvantaged students and minorities than the SAT-Reasoning test. Many educators concerned with racial integration of the nation’s selective universities believe that the SAT-Reasoning test is one of the most difficult and unfair obstacles for minority applicants to surmount. BOARS itself has stated that the SAT subject matter achievement tests reinforce important educational values and goals that the SAT-Reasoning test subverts.

Why then did BOARS not work with the College Board and other testing agencies to develop a battery of subject matter achievement tests for use in admissions? It could easily have done so. UC claims that its test requirement does not constitute an endorsement of the SAT-Reasoning test. This is nonsense. High school students throughout California will regard UC’s policy as a strong, unequivocal endorsement of the SAT-Reasoning test. Over the next decade, because of UC’s policy, over a million students will be forced to take this racially biased test. Affluent students will take it several times. Through its admissions policies, UC generates more demand for the SAT than any other university in the country. UC could have easily worked with the College Board to develop a battery of SAT subject matter tests that included a writing test and a mathematics test along with other tests from which students could choose. The College Board would have had no difficulty in offering such tests because it already has them.

In sum, UC could have continued to use its stature as the nation’s pre-eminent public university to advocate for better, fairer tests. Instead of continuing UC’s leadership role begun by President Atkinson, BOARS chose to ignore its own policy and endorse the SAT-Reasoning test, a test that greatly disadvantages low-income students and racial/ethnic minorities. Why?

What percent of “entitled to review” applicants will be admitted?

If the number of applicants increases substantially, admissions spaces must first go to those students who are fully eligible and who have been guaranteed admission. The spaces available to those who are merely “entitled to review” will be reduced accordingly. Any reduction of spaces available for “entitled to review” students will hit underrepresented students especially hard because they are the students least represented among fully eligible students.

One key question is how many admission spaces will “entitled to review students” compete for? What percentage of these applicants will be admitted? If seventy to eighty percent of “entitled to review” applicants will be admitted, then the opportunity promised by the new policy is genuine. However, if only twenty to thirty percent will be admitted, then the opportunity will be illusory, cruelly so. UC has boasted that the new policy will greatly increase opportunity. However, the new policy might turn out to be one in which “many are called, but few are chosen.”

How can UC say that it will make quick changes to the policy should such changes be warranted?

UC’s most recent position is that the new policies should be implemented in 2012 and be given a chance to work. UC now reassures everyone that, if warranted, UC will quickly change the policy.

However, the new policy represents a fundamental change in how UC defines freshman eligibility. If UC wishes to change the new policy, it would take at least a decade to make any fundamental changes. UC would have to keep the new policy in place for at least three to five years. If UC wished to change it, Senate deliberations would take another three to five years. Then, if changes were made, high schools would have to be given at least three years advance notice. In other words, it is impossible to make fundamental changes to UC Freshman Eligibility Policy quickly. To say otherwise is disingenuous to the point of being deceitful.

Why didn’t UC consult widely before adopting the new policy?

For over fifty years, UC’s Freshman Eligibility Policy has been characterized by transparency, specificity and certainty. Every student who fulfilled basic curriculum, grade and test requirements was guaranteed admission to UC. Now, UC’s new policy will be characterized by opaqueness, vagueness and uncertainty. For the first time, determination of eligibility will rest, in part, on factors that cannot be verified. Some affluent students can and will pay thousands of dollars for help in crafting their personal essay. To justify its new approach, UC has adopted a marketing slogan coined by the College Board seventy-five or more years ago and has begun saying that the new policy will allow it to find the “diamond on the rough.” Searching for the uncut diamond may have made sense seventy-five years ago when a very small number of rural students were admitted to private colleges. But, it makes little sense now for a large, land-grant university with extensive information and outreach programs. Moreover, the responsibility of a public university to the citizens of its state is different from that of private universities. Anyone who has worked in UC admissions knows that, as a public university, UC’s most difficult responsibility is to be able to explain why it denies a student opportunity. Under the current policy, every eligible student is guaranteed a space at UC. Under the new policy, for the first time, thousands of students who fulfill UC’s basic requirements will be rejected completely without any explanation whatsoever. UC’s new policies will breed disappointment and distrust. Lawsuits will inevitably follow. Worse, for the first time in over fifty years, the question of how UC determines Freshmen Eligibility will become sharply and permanently politicized.

BOARS failed to understand UC’s civic responsibility in setting freshman eligibility standards. UC’s standards determine opportunity for millions of students. UC’s eligibility standards profoundly affect the curricular offerings and grading standards of all California high schools. UC’s Freshman Eligibility Policy has been the single most important factor in establishing and maintaining high academic standards among California’s high schools. The state has given UC authority to set its Freshman Eligibility Policy. However, UC does not set this policy for itself alone. Rather, UC sets it on behalf of all Californians. As such, UC had a solemn responsibility to consult widely before making sweeping changes to the policy. UC failed to fulfill this responsibility. BOARS did not engage in any significant discussions with political leaders or leaders of educational groups, civil rights organizations or community organizations who would have raised sharp questions about the possible effects of the new policy on disadvantaged students.

UC should listen to public concerns and rescind its policy.

I was a member of the group that called for a new freshman eligibility policy five years ago. This group included Michael Brown, Chris Edley, Bill Kidder, Jeannie Oakes, Mark Rashid and David Stern. I know that BOARS developed this new policy with the best of intentions. One of its key goals was to increase admissions of underrepresented minorities, a goal that I strongly support. However, UC’s own simulations show that this policy could have devastating effects on minority admissions. It is time for BOARS to acknowledge that it served up this policy half-baked.

Because BOARS is unwilling to listen to community concerns, UC is making it nearly politically impossible to change its new Freshman Eligibility Policy. UC has said that its new policy is educationally sounder and socially fairer than the policy it will replace. On what grounds could it later argue that the policy must be changed? On the grounds that the policy has suddenly become educationally unsound and socially unfair? If the new policy does result in drops in minority admissions, could UC then say that it wishes to change the policy because it does not like its racial/ethnic effects? In other words, by refusing to listen to public concern and by staunching defending this untested policy, UC is rapidly digging itself into a political hole.

UC is also digging itself into a legal hole. UC’s new simulations have established baseline expectations. They predict that minority admissions, particularly those of underrepresented minorities, will drop sharply at nearly all of the campuses. Any increases, rather than decreases, of admission of any of the minority groups on any campus, would have to be accompanied by disproportionate increases in that group’s application rates and enhancement of the students’ academic profiles. If they are not, many will suspect that comprehensive review has been used to conceal surreptitious and unlawful racial preferences.

Someone once said that if you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging. UC should heed that advice, rescind the new policy and hold the public discussions that it should have held three years ago before the new policy was adopted.

BOARS obtained support for the new policy by promising, in part, that it would result in greater racial and ethnic diversity. Now, BOARS’s simulations show that racial and ethnic diversity may instead be reduced substantially. UC is now attempting to distance itself from its own projections saying that they do not provide a clear picture of what will happen.

One thing is clear. The simulations show that BOARS did not think through what the policy’s unintended consequences might be. BOARS did not analyze the possible effects of the policy on minority admissions. It is not too late for BOARS to rectify its error and reconsider the policy.

Underrepresented students have made tremendous strides during the past decade and their UC-eligibility and admission rates have increased significantly. UC’s own analyses indicate that the new policy could well reverse all the gains they have made. UC’s own simulations show that the policy could far exceed Proposition 209 in the damage it does to underrepresented minorities. If UC implements the new policy and waits to see what happens, it risks sacrificing an entire generation of minority students

This would be unconscionable.


Patrick Hayashi

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