UC must undergo essential reform in wake of admissions scandal

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: Reform is paramount to improve consistency, diversity, equity within admissions

Illustration of packed crowds of students entering UC Berkeley through the sides of Sather Gate, while a single person enters through the main gate, labeled with dollar signs
Genesis Cruz/Staff

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UC Berkeley has joined the likes of USC and Harvard as the latest prestigious institution with an admissions scandal. 

The California State Auditor uncovered that 64 less-qualified, predominantly white, high-income students were admitted to the UC system. Fifty-five — 13 of whom were student-athletes — were admitted to UC Berkeley. 

Chancellor Carol Christ described the “unacceptable” nature of the findings, but largely focused on the admissions improvements that occurred under her leadership. However, these gratuitous admissions display blatant issues within UC Berkeley’s admissions process. 

The UC system’s admissions system is overarchingly inequitable and inconsistent. The report asserted that thousands of qualified students were pushed out of the UC system from 2013 to 2019 because of an application process lacking clear criteria.

As a result, the exposure of the inefficiency of the admissions process is an opportunity for the university to pivot and build reforms to expand consistency, diversity and equity. 

Although this incoming class is the most diverse in UC Berkeley’s history, the campus must build diversity and inclusion safeguards into the admissions process. Broadly publicizing programs such as the “statewide guarantee” and encouraging high schools in underrepresented and low-income neighborhoods to participate would stimulate greater diversity in future incoming classes.

Another area ripe for reform is athletics. Recent changes in recruitment include checking student-athletes’ relationships to donors and administration, corroborating that athletes are “high-performing” and obtaining proof of at least a year of collegiate athletic participation. Unfortunately, a stunning lack of enforcement feeds the root of the problem: Athletics run on donations. 

Many Cal teams are not well funded; the onus of fundraising is stressfully placed on coaches, leading some to bend the rules when offered attractive sums. Reforming how various teams are funded — perhaps by redistributing cash allocated to football — would erase opportunities for athletics-based admissions corruption. 

Additionally, AB 697, which went into effect this year, requires schools to report to legislators preferential admissions, fighting admissions corruption governmentally. To further this fight, the UC system should institute admissions oversight committees, a la UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine

Other UC campuses must emulate UCLA to root out bias from within admissions systems. Filling committees with existing admissions officials, undergraduate and graduate student representatives, a UC administrator and an official hired to specifically sniff out possible points of corruption would increase public trust in admissions. Reexamining the sway of UC officials — for instance, UC Regent Richard Blum — is another paramount measure.

The University of California is a public institution meant to serve the state’s residents. Over the years, the UC system has become increasingly privatized, with only 14% of its budget coming from California. For the state of California to serve its residents and taxpayers, it must push the UC system to institute these reforms, among others — public higher education cannot become a wholly pay-to-play system.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.