UC Berkeley Academic Senate discusses standardized testing, campus accessibility

Ashley Cole/Staff

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Members of the UC Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate discussed new frameworks to promote accessibility of campus resources, the role of standardized testing in admissions processes and students’ mental health at its meeting Monday.

At the meeting, Chancellor Carol Christ spoke to the importance of easing campus navigation by connecting students to programs that benefit them early on. To do so, she discussed four different sectors of engagement UC Berkeley plans to pay particular attention to: “Berkeley Connect, Discover, Engage and Reflect.”

“I believe that we have to enable our students not just to survive but to thrive,” Christ said during the meeting.

According to Christ, less than 0.6 percent of UC Berkeley’s student population identifies as Native American, 3 percent identifies as African-American and 14.5 percent identifies as either Chicanx or Latinx. This puts UC Berkeley significantly behind other UCs, of which six out of nine undergraduate campuses are Hispanic-Serving Institutions with a minimum of a 25 percent Latinx student population.

Chair on the committee of Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education Ignacio Navarrete brought up the topic of transfer admissions during the meeting and the possible re-evaluation of requiring standardized testing in undergraduate admissions. Because of UC Berkeley’s competitive admissions process, Navarrete suggested that requiring tests may be keeping talented, more diverse students out.

“Selectivity may lead to loss of interest, with students and parents thinking there is no chance they will be admitted,” Navarrete said.

To combat the campus’s lack of diversity, Christ said at the meeting that she has created a set of administrative “work groups” to improve outreach and yield rates, look carefully at admissions processes to ensure they do not have an unintentionally discriminatory effect and create programs that “enable every student to thrive.”

Christ also proposed the goal of hiring 100 new faculty members. She added that a comprehensive campaign is set to go public in late 2019 or early 2020 to determine priorities for fundraising by doing a “market test” with UC Berkeley’s donors.

Despite this proposal, ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Melany Amarikwa said during the meeting that the campus has failed to create a “conducive” environment for all students.

University librarian Jeff MacKie-Mason addressed the upcoming expiration date of the UC’s contract with Elsevier, a company that publishes journals and toward which 25 percent of the UC’s annual systemwide research budget goes, amounting to more than $10 million per year. An additional $800,000 is paid to publish open-access content from authors, which still only grants the UC system about 5 percent of open-access published articles, according to MacKie-Mason.

This practice, known as double-dipping, charges people to read as well as to publish, MacKie-Mason said, and generated about a 23 percent purchasing power loss per student since 2010, meaning the university spends much less per student.

Executive Director of the Disabled Students’ Program Karen Nielson spoke briefly about the hiring of the new Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer, Ella Callow, who is responsible for ensuring UC Berkeley remains an accessible campus. Over the past two years, Nielson said, the number of disabled students in the program has risen from 1,900 to 2,600 students, of which 87 percent possess nonvisible disabilities such as learning disabilities or mental health conditions. Nielson said she feels that this number is still low but also reflects better services offered in K-12 schooling that make getting to college more accessible.

Amarikwa suggested having more broad representation on the Academic Senate, including diverse faculty that is cognizant and accommodating of mental health.

“With the current climate of mental health, basic needs and housing, students are struggling to survive, let alone thrive,” Amarikwa said. “Students don’t feel well when the campus is militarized, when survivors aren’t supported, when their communities lack basic resources, when the faculty and staff ignore all of this. The current state of students’ wellness is abysmal, and the current practices only serve to perpetuate this.”

Contact Alexa VanHooser at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dailycalexa.