Wild BOARS in California

Glenn Ricketts

It looks as if they’re at it again in California, where our state affiliate never gets the chance to rest.

I’m speaking of course of admissions policies in the state university system. You have to watch the officials very attentively.  Like three-card monte dealers, those officials will make their move the moment you blink. 

In this instance, it seems that a committee of the state system’s faculty senate - the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) - bypassed the ordinary procedures for changing admissions policy and placed a proposal for truly drastic changes before the UC Board of Regents. The complicated and sweeping changes—which would be imposed without advice, counsel, or consent from individual campuses or faculty, and with no public scrutiny whatsoever—include increasing from 4 percent to 9 percent the number of guaranteed admissions from each high school, as well as discarding the use of the SAT II admissions test now administered to all applicants. 

The 4 percent rule was itself a dodge adopted some years ago to blunt the effects of Proposition 209, which eliminated the use (or at least the legal use) of racial preferences in college admissions. By admitting the top 4 percent of students from all high schools, the colleges would sweep up more “underrepresented” minority students who had low qualifications compared to other students. In the eyes of the racially-minded BOARS officials, 4 percent was not enough. One problem is that school performance still tends to stratify by race, and even in minority-dominated high schools, members of the “wrong” minority groups eat up some of that 4 percent.  

The likely effects of moving the quota to 9 percent, of course, will be to lower standards still further and to burden the state’s system even more heavily with unprepared students in need of remediation and other special services. All of that, needless to say, will cost lots of money when the system is already in a severe budgetary crisis.   School politics California style, one could call it.

Our state affiliate leadership is working feverishly to alert the UC regents, local campus chancellors and state elected officials to this looming coup, since the proposal will be considered at the Regents meeting scheduled for February 3-5.  Additional support is needed, however. We’ve posted the relevant documents below. Please have a look, and if you’re able to help in any way – letters, phone calls, passing the word to your faculty colleagues, contacting journalists with a nose for scandal – it may help pull the UC system back from the brink of another educational disaster.

CAS Press Release, Statement, and Letter to UC Regents below

California Association of Scholars
817 Hanover St. #1
Santa Cruz, CA 95062—2250
www.calscholars.edu

NEWS RELEASE
To: Education Editors, Events & Calendar Editors, Talk Radio Producers/Hosts
Media Contact: John Ellis, President
(831) 476-1144 
[email protected]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 15, 2009

PROPOSED NEW UC ADMISSIONS STANDARDS

The California Association of Scholars is deeply concerned about the proposal currently before the Board of Regents that would fundamentally change standards for undergraduate admissions to UC. Our analysis of this proposal is attached.

Some highlights of our findings are:

  • Major provisions of this proposal emerged suddenly in a meeting of the Academic Council (the highest governing body of UC faculty) on May 27, 2008 and were approved immediately after being floated for the very first time--a hasty, ill-considered procedure.

     

  • The proposed changes in UC admissions standards are drastic: first, instead of giving automatic admission to the top 4% of students in every high school, the proposal would raise this figure sharply to 9% of each high school; and second, the traditional guarantee of UC admissions for the top 12 ½% of high school students statewide was lowered to 9%. These changes did not arise from prior study and analysis but were simply figures plucked out of the air.
  • The current plan was approved by the Academic Council without input from the campuses.
  • The proposal to end the use of the SAT II contradicts all prior opinion and research at UC, and the statistical support offered for this change is flawed.

     

  • The benefits claimed for a large and risky change are far from certain, and the large costs that it would incur are unacceptable in a time of budget crisis.
A great university should not take a step that may have the most profound effects on its quality and its intellectual standards without much greater care and preparation than we see here.
TO EDITORS/PRODUCERS: Available for interview:

John Ellis, (President, CAS), Professor Emeritus of German Literature, UC Santa Cruz, (831) 476-1144. [email protected]
Jack Citrin, (Board of Directors, CAS), Heller Professor of Political Science, UC Berkeley,(510) 642-4465. [email protected] 
Matt Malkan, (Board of Directors, CAS), Professor of Astronomy, UCLA (310) 825-3504. [email protected]

CAS Statement

STATEMENT BY THE CALIFORNIA ASSOCATION OF SCHOLARS CONCERNING THE PROPOSED NEW UC ADMISSIONS STANDARDS

We are alarmed by the proposed new admissions standards for UC now under consideration by the Regents. We believe that many serious objections to this proposal amount to an overwhelming case against it.

 

 

1. It is unwise to proceed with a sweeping set of changes that abandon long-standing features of university practice without thorough review by the campuses.

 

 To be sure, a proposal of some kind has been under discussion since 2007, and at certain points input was solicited. But during this time the proposal has changed so radically that it would be misleading to say that an earlier version of the final plan was put out for review. The current plan is a completely different one. For example, the proposal currently under discussion greatly increases the guaranteed admits for each high school from the previous 4% to 9%, but that was nowhere to be found in the plan that BOARS[1] circulated for review on the campuses in 2007-2008. When no fewer than six of the nine general campuses refused to endorse that plan it was changed in a quite drastic way not once but twice, with the result that the current plan was not reviewed by the campuses before it was adopted.

2. The current proposal was adopted by a procedure that has always been considered a road to disaster, one known as “legislating from the floor.”

            The original BOARS plan had proposed the elimination of the guaranteed 12½% admits statewide as established by test scores and GPAs. There was almost universal opposition to that proposal. Following this, BOARS did not follow the instruction it had in effect received to reinstate something like the older statewide guaranteed figure.[2]While claiming that it was responding to concern about abolition of the statewide guaranteed admissions figure, BOARS proposed something quite different. The new proposal employed the familiar 12½% figure, but in a completely different context: the present 4% guaranteed admits per high school would now rise to 12½%. This second BOARS plan was also judged unacceptable when it was presented to the statewide faculty senate’s Academic Council in late May of 2008, and instead a completely new plan (9% for both statewide admits and per high school admits), not the BOARS plan, was proposed in a motion from the floor.

            Now the Council made a serious mistake. Instead of referring this new proposal back to BOARS for study and analysis, with the expectation that the committee would return to the Council at a later date with a full account of its implications, the chair allowed what has always been considered folly: “legislation from the floor,” in which an idea that arises on the spur of the moment in response to a committee report is adopted within minutes of its being proposed for the first time. The result was a fairly narrow majority (12-7) for a sweeping proposal on a fundamental matter of university policy, adopted impulsively and without time for mature reflection, and in violation of a crucial principle of Senate procedure.  

3. The proposed increase in each high school’s guaranteed admits percentage from 4% to 9% flies in the face of prior UC discussions and research; it arose and was adopted in a capricious, ill-prepared manner; and it would be disastrous. 
            An increase in the 4% figure for each high school’s guaranteed admits has been discussed many times before, each time with a consensus that there were powerful arguments not to increase from 4% to 6%. The university’s own research demonstrated that quality drops off sharply once the 4% figure is exceeded. Yet suddenly in the spring of 2008 BOARS proposed a huge increase to 12½%, not as a result of an analysis showing the benefits of this specific figure[3] but instead to answer criticism of its dropping a quite different 12½% figure—that for statewide admits guaranteed by test scores and GPAs. This arbitrary substitution illustrates the capriciousness of the newer proposal. The process seems to have been: BOARS’s critics want a 12½% figure; very well, BOARS will give them one—never mind that it relates to something quite different.          
            But the substitute plan that now arrived out of the blue on the floor of the Academic Council in May is just as capricious. It has 9% for statewide guaranteed admits and 9% for per school guaranteed admits, both numbers plucked out of the air on the spur of the moment, and not (as they should have been) the result of careful study and analysis. And now if one asks why 9% is the right figure for the one case, and then the factually quite different question why is it also the right figure for the other, no answer can be given which arises from the different facts of each case. All we have, apparently, is a pleasing symmetry, without any further justification—as one might expect from a proposal that arose in the heat of the moment, without preparation. But the congruence of the two figures suggests something even worse: since the statewide 9% figure leaves little room for anything much more than 9% for each particular school, UC would virtually be saying to each high school that 9% is just about all they’ll get, regardless of differences between them. This is an indiscriminate and mindless egalitarianism. High schools differ greatly in their ability to draw outstanding students, in the motivation and hard work of those students, and in their ability to attract good teachers. The proposal seems to say to schools: don’t try to do a better job, because whatever you do will make little difference. The absence of any incentive to excel will sooner or later lower educational quality all round, as both teachers and students become less motivated. This involves a huge risk to the quality of the university, and to education in California in general. 

 

4. The erratic and unconvincing record of the key committee in this case gives very little grounds for confidence that its judgments can be the basis for a ground-breaking rewriting of a crucial aspect of the university’s operation.

            BOARS’s record in this matter does not inspire confidence. Its initial proposal was rejected by two thirds of the campuses, and when as a result it jumped to a completely different proposal, that too was rejected by the Council, in part because BOARS had refused to listen to the clear message from the campuses that the statewide 12½ % admissions guarantee based on test scores and GPAs should not be abolished. At that point the committee got behind a third and also sharply different proposal not of its own making but instead imposed by the Academic Council. This erratic record must raise the question: does this committee really know what it is doing? BOARS also proposed a lower GPA for UC entrance than that used by the state universities, something that others soon found silly and removed. Is this a record that UC ought to trust enough to make it the basis of an historic shift in admission standards? Surely not. It would be wiser to entrust the whole matter to a new BOARS membership, one more representative of faculty opinion.

5. The proposal to drop the SAT II departs from the consensus that has prevailed hitherto in UC. The statistical analysis that it uses has not convinced its critics.

            Several years ago President Atkinson proposed that UC no longer use the SAT I, but he and everyone else always accepted the usefulness of the SAT II. The committee uses countless pages of statistical analysis to discredit the SAT II, but this analysis again has not convinced those critics who see in it a classic example of the “restricted range” fallacy, that is, a restriction of the analysis to those cases where the SAT II adds little, excluding from it those cases where it matters more. Non-statisticians are at a disadvantage here, but (see point 4 above) the committee’s erratic and unconvincing record is certain to make the case made by its statistician critics more troubling. Moreover, BOARS itself admits that predictions of UC grades are at least somewhat more accurate when the SAT II is used.

6. It is by no means clear that any benefits claimed for a sweeping and potentially damaging proposal will in fact be realized.

            These far reaching and risky proposed changes appear to be in large part motivated by the aim of increasing the numbers of incoming minority students, but it is not at all clear that this will be the result. Although a significant number of new high school students might become eligible, no credible predictions of the ultimate effects on enrollment are available. It could well be that the new system will only result in several hundred applicants who would not otherwise have applied, and that of those only a comparatively small number might actually attend UC who would not have done so under the current system. As one campus senate chair has said, this proposal is a leap into the dark. For all its statistical pretensions, it rests ultimately on blind speculation about why some students apply to UC and some don’t.

7. The proposal will generate substantial new costs for an uncertain benefit.

            At the present time UC is facing a serious budget crisis. The proposal would add to the university’s budget by a factor that can not be predicted with any degree of certainty, but the increase will certainly be substantial. This is yet another reason to wait until we are sure that we know what we are doing.

8. There is no good reason to act until there is a reasonably solid faculty consensus, and that is conspicuously lacking at the present moment.

 BOARS was unable to persuade faculty opinion in its first attempt, and was unsuccessful again in its second. The third plan, that legislated from the floor by the Council, still did not persuade a sizeable minority. When we allow for the fatigue that inevitably sets in when an issue has been under discussion in various different forms for over a year, it is remarkable that so many still had sufficient remaining mental energy to refuse to sign on to what was happening: a third of the Council and a quarter of the Assembly. These are alarming numbers where a proposal of this importance is concerned.

To summarize: the proposal that suddenly arose in the Academic Council meeting of May 2008 was a hastily conceived, completely unprepared, and carelessly introduced plan that risks damaging the university’s academic standards and its credibility through pursuit of a goal that is far from certain. We suggest that the Regents have a responsibility to the citizens of this state to make sure that UC does only what it has adequately thought through.

 

For more information about the California Association of Scholars, please visit our website at www.calscholars.org.

 

 


[1 BOARS: the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, the faculty senate’s statewide committee dealing with all matters relating to admissions.  

 

[2 When proposing this radical change from its previous plan BOARS claimed to be doing something that was “fully consistent” with the suggestions of the UCB and UCSD campuses and the statewide Committee on Educational Policy, but that certainly was not the case, as was shown when those two campuses expressed reservations about this aspect of the new proposal.
[3]As the UCB campus pointed out, the computer simulations offered by BOARS in support of its proposal are weak; they are “subject to criticism as the assumptions of the simulations are not thoroughly argued.”

 

View CAS letter to UC regents in pdf file below

 

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