Good News Hunting!

Good News Hunting!

Good News Hunting!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
April 2 1998 6:22 PM

Good News Hunting!

"ADMISSIONS PLUNGE AT U. OF CALIFORNIA FOR 3 MINORITIES." That was the headline over the lead story in the April 1 edition of the New York Times. A similarly disturbing message ("Acceptance of Blacks, Latinos to UC Plunges") topped the Los Angeles Times. The figures did seem grim. At UC's Berkeley campus, according to the NYT, the share of the three "underrepresented minorities"--blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians--fell from 23.1 percent of admitted freshman to 10.4 percent. Black admissions dropped 57 percent. At U.CL.A., the NYT told us, the three minorities' share fell from 19.8 percent to 12.7 percent, with blacks down 43 percent. The fears of opponents of Proposition 209, which eliminated racial preferences in California's public institutions, seemed to be coming true--despite the efforts of UC officials to compensate for the end of race preferences by giving an edge to students who have overcome economic hardships. "This shows that economics will not substitute for race," said Theodore M. Shaw, the director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

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But those were only the figures for two individual UC campuses; the university has eight campuses in all. Students who don't get into one campus sometimes get into another one. And today, two days after the release of the UCLA and Berkeley numbers, the university president's office released the figures for the entire UC system. The news wasn't nearly as grim. The total for the three minorities fell, but only from 17.6 percent to 15.4 percent. The Hispanic share of admissions fell, but only from 13.2 to 11.9 percent. The black share of admissions fell, but only from 3.5 percent to 2.8 percent--a loss of about 250 African-American students over all eight campuses. Even that number may be misleading, since it doesn't include blacks who chose not to check the optional box declaring their race. Indeed, the large increase in the number of students declining to give their ethnic origin was one of the more striking, and heartening, phenomena in the UC admissions stats (and one the NYT ignored in its April 1 story). University officials seem to believe that these "decline to state" students are overwhelmingly whites and Asians, but nobody knows for sure.

The point isn't that Tuesday's set of numbers was wrong and Thursday's was right. Presumably they're both right: Black and Latino admissions fell most at the most selective campuses. And if blacks are now more concentrated at UC's less desirable Riverside campus (or its famously gorgeous Santa Cruz facility), that's news in itself. But there was no "plunge" in the overall UC figures, as the April 1 headlines erroneously imply. ...

And why couldn't both sets of figures have been released on the same day? Why release the "bad news" first, then let the "good" news out two days later when it is sure to be buried under the wall-to-wall Paula-Jones-dismissal coverage? Call Chatterbox paranoid--you won't be the first!--but could it be that pro-preference university officials want to discredit Prop. 209 by painting its consequences as more dire than they actually are? ... Terry Lightfoot, a spokeman for the UC president's office, denies any "motive to tell a bad story." He says the release of admissions data has always been left up to the individual campuses, and it simply took a couple of days to calculate the overall university-wide figures once the UCLA and Berkeley numbers became available. ... Hmmmm. Almost convincing. ...

For the record, Chatterbox voted for Prop. 209. Even if the number of minorities at UC were cut by a factor of three, Chatterbox thinks 209 would be a good bargain, because those who are admitted won't have to worry why. If the decrease is only from 17 to 15 percent, it's a very good deal. ... Take it away, Stephan Thernstrom! ...