Thursday, November 01, 2007

U.C. Is At It Again

I absolutely can't believe the article I read in today's San Francisco Chronicle. A committee of U.C. faculty have decided that the university's method of determining student eligibility for admission is "too rigid", and is therefore "unfair to some students." Their solution to this problem? Restrict guaranteed university access even further. The 1960 Master Plan for Education guarantees University admission to the top 12.5% of graduating high school seniors; the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools wants to reduce that guarantee to the top 4%.

The theory is, you see, that students in rural and inner-city schools are disadvantaged because their schools don't offer all the necessary college prep courses, and they don't have enough counselors to make sure they take the courses and do the required tests. This is all true, of course, and is further complicated by the fact that the inner-city kids also have a list of other well-known problems (low income, family breakup, constant danger from random shooters, etc.). But some of them do make it - and they are materially aided by the policy that the top 12.5% of graduates from their high school have guaranteed admission.

The faculty members are concerned that there are students (God defend us!) who now "slide in" to Cal by "doing the minimum work to be eligible." So they want to "improve standards" by raising the bar so these kids - who are now DOING the necessary work! - don't have guaranteed admission to Cal. Only the top 4% will get guaranteed admission, everybody else has to "compete" - including any of the rural and inner-city kids who might have been guaranteed a slot under the 1960 rules! Furthermore, nobody will be guaranteed a slot at a UC campus with available seats, as they are now; if your primary choice rejects you, you have to be re-evaluated again by your second choice campus, and so on.

I couldn't make this up if I tried. They are trying to expand the pool that gets into Cal by raising the bar for everybody below the top 4%? The whirring sound you hear is George Orwell, spinning in his grave at a level of doublespeak worthy of his masterpiece. And this does it for me - if this is how the faculty thinks, my donation to U.C. this year will go to Alumni Association scholarship funds, not to the general fund.

Also, someday I'd like someone to explain to me what's wrong with doing the minimum work necessary to make the grade. Does everyone have to be an overachiever? If you make the grade, you make it. The effort necessary to be in the top 12.5% of your school is not trivial; and the tests you have to pass - twice - are also not trivial.

To do them justice, the article quoted a number of faculty, and at least one regent (who has been actively involved in admissions and had never heard of this) who are as disturbed by this proposal as I am. So it may never come to pass, and a good thing if it doesn't. But it should never have seen the light of day as a serious suggestion.


  1. Another gripe I have about the UC system is the cavalier way they keep expanding the Berkeley campus, without regard for the convenience or comfort of city residents. In the 35 years since I went there, they've literally built the main campus up by about 40%, paving over woods, elminating parking, pushing their eminent domain out onto surrounding properties willy-nilly.

    Berkeley has been known for years to be anti-automobile, and their urban initiatives have resulted in the wholesale transformation of their main shopping streets (Telegraph, Shattuck, Solano, Fourth Street, University Avenue, College) from what were once fairly pleasant places into mostly franchised wastelands more suitable to shiftless, moneyed teenagers (and the homeless) than ordinary working adults.

    Why Berkeley needs to accommodate 35,000 students, on a campus that was designed to hold less than a third that number, is beyond me. John Galen Howard must be turning in his grave. When I was an undergraduate there, the architecture students used to joke about hiring oversize bulldozers and "clearing" the campus of its monstrosities. What would they say now?

    At this rate, the Berkeley campus will entertain 50,000 students by 2050, and Telegraph, Euclid, Hearst, Oxford, Bancroft and Campus Drive will all be INside the grounds proper.

    It all comes down to population and quality of life (as always). Do we want more and more and more forever? Why not a stable population with a steady enrollment limit of 20,000 at the Berkeley campus?

    Perish the thought!

  2. Actually, accepting your estimate of 35,000 students now, then Berkeley hasn't expanded nearly as much in the last 40 years as I would have thought. I remember, when I left Napa to go to Berkeley, being dazzled by the fact that there were about as many students at Berkeley as there were people in Napa - and the number in my mind is around 32,000. That means a net increase of only 3,000 students in 40 years, which seems low. But which also means that, even 40 years ago, they couldn't have kept the campus to 20,000 students.

  3. Anonymous8:52 AM

    Completely lost my comment to a power hiccup. Ah, well. I was on the Berkeley campus in early August of 1977. Two memories in particular: the Missing Link bicycle shop and those magnificent trees - Douglas firs, I think.

    Anonymous David

  4. Actually, K, the student population when we were at Berkeley was 27,000. I first saw the campus in about 1952, when my parents went into Berkeley to do their banking. My mom knew a photographer, Perry Ives, whose shop was where the Student Union building now stands. Telegraph Avenue used to meander right across the western edge of Sproul Plaza to the northern edge of the stadium where it met Oxford, cutting across what is now closed campus precinct. In those days that was a city retail street, believe it or not. My stats for the current Berkeley enrollment are 5 years old--I got that from a Google link. I believe the real enrollment is probably about 38,000 now--but that's just an educated guess. Have you seen the new dormitories on the northeast corner? Instead of expanding and expanding, they should just build another campus--maybe in Redding or Eureka, and call it a day here. Enough already!

  5. OK, Curtis, I buy 27,000 in the early sixties; 35,000 must have been Napa's population then. That means an increase in the student population of 11,000 over 40 years, assuming your estimate of 38,000 now is correct. I still say that's lower than I would have expected - it's a 40% increase over 27,000 - which is lower, I think, than the general increase in state population during that period (although I admit that's a SWAG and I haven't done the math).

    But if you seriously think they're going to open another campus in Redding or Eureka, and move people from Berkeley to there, believe me, you're hallucinating. In the first place, it took them 10 years to get a new campus sited in Merced (and I understand they've now decided it was the wrong place - too close to Davis!). Opening a U.C. campus is a major undertaking which they don't have the money for - it's all going to executive salaries. In the second place, how many students would voluntarily go to Redding or Eureka instead of Berkeley?? Would YOU have? Think about it...