Berkeley and Barriers

Ashley Thorne

A reader commenting on my post "Teaching Can Be Dangerous" wrote:

Speaking of politicization, I have a friend who is applying to a PhD program at Berkeley. He sent me the “personal history statement” that is required from all applicants: “Please describe how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups.” This is apparently part of the general Berkeley graduate school application; i.e., it’s not just for political departments like social work. So if you want to be a graduate researcher on, say, the biology of sponges, you have to explain how your research focuses on underserved populations. (I suppose sponges don’t get nearly enough attention.) If this question isn’t a political loyalty oath I don’t know what would be. I hope NAS will look into this and see if it indeed is a required part of every Berkeley graduate application in every subject.

I did look up the Berkeley application for graduate admission, and the cited question is indeed part of the general app (see page 29). It is, as the commenter points out, a political litmus test, and it sounds very much like Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences requirement that faculty members prove their service to "diversity" as a condition for promotion and tenure. It's also interesting that the question is phrased in terms of "barriers to access in higher education," when the very question itself is posing a barrier to Berkeley admission for those who do not pledge their allegiance to political correctness.

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