UC Board of Regents discusses standardized testing, artificial intelligence in admissions

Audrey McNamara/File
The UC Board of Regents had its final day of meetings Thursday. The board heard public comment from community members during the meeting and discussed standardized testing and artificial intelligence in the UC's admissions process.

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The UC Board of Regents received public criticism on the lack of student voices in its voting process and discussed standardized testing and artificial intelligence during its final day of meetings Thursday.

The board heard public comment from 20 community members during the meeting, who brought attention to issues ranging from the university’s recently approved faculty wage increases and budget to their investment in development on native Hawaiian land.

Many expressed gratitude for the Board of Regents’ and UC President Michael Drake’s support of an increase to projected faculty pay scales for the upcoming fiscal year.

“This amendment helps in making us financially whole and moves the UC closer to truly being an employer of choice,” said Arlene Bañaga, Council of UC Staff Assemblies senior delegate for UC Berkeley, during the meeting.

Gwen Chodur, President of the UC Graduate and Professional Council, brought up the tentative agreement between the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, or UC-AFT, and the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, early Wednesday morning regarding ongoing demands including a fair assessment of workload, increased compensation and employment stability.

Despite celebrations, which were held instead of the planned strikes yesterday as a result of this agreement, Chodur alleged that UCOP is still arguing that student researchers, fellows and trainees do not perform the same work as other faculty members, thus prohibiting them from forming a union and having the same rights.

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the UC Davis pepper spray incident, Chodur noted, in which students protesting during the Occupy movement were pepper sprayed by UCPD.

“UCPD still commits harm and hinders students of color and marginalized identities from thriving,” alleged Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan, president of the University of California Student Association during the meeting.

During the public comment session, Quintero-Cubillan urged the UC to “demilitarize and defund” UCPD as a form of harm reduction for marginalized students.

Current and former UC students also called on the regents to endorse California State Constitutional Amendment 5, which would expand student voices on the UC Board of Regents, allowing for two student voting positions on the board instead of one voting and one non-voting.

“Inclusive governance is about ensuring that the decisions you make on behalf of this great system of education are made with the input of those who would be most affected by them,” said UCSC alumnus Colm Fitzgerald during the meeting.

The regents also faced criticism regarding the UC’s ongoing support for and investment in the Thirty Meter Telescope on the island of Hawaii, as in many previous Board of Regents meetings.

Following the public comment session, the regents received an update about COVID-19 in the UC system.

Executive Vice President of UC Health Carrie Byington reported that 99.15% of UC students and 97.2% of UC employees are currently fully vaccinated, in compliance with the systemwide vaccine mandate.

When asked about suggestions for students travelling during the upcoming Thanksgiving break, Byington advised campuses to strengthen testing infrastructure and ensure the testing of all students upon their return to campus.

The regents also discussed the findings of the Presidential Working Group on Artificial Intelligence, a group established to create responsible principles for and assess the potential risks of using AI in the university’s operations.

The university received a record number of applications this past year, leading to conversations about potentially using AI in the admissions process, according to Brandie Nonnecke, founding director of UC Berkeley’s CITRIS Policy Lab.

However, Nonnecke provided a “cautionary tale,” in which an AI system used in the University of Texas at Austin admissions office was found to be discriminatory against applicants from underrepresented groups, as the algorithm based its decisions on historical datasets that had ingrained biases.

The working group recommended a series of principles to be institutionalized, including transparency, reliability, nondiscrimination and shared benefit and prosperity.

The last discussion item in the regents’ morning session surrounded the elimination of the standardized testing requirement in UC admissions.

In January 2021, President Drake requested that the Academic Senate investigate the potential use of the Smarter Balanced assessment in place of the ACT and SAT, which were used in previous years.

The Academic Senate’s Smarter Balanced Study Group concluded it does not recommend the Smarter Balanced assessment to be used in the UC undergraduate admissions process, according to Mary Gauvain, co-chair of the group and chair of the UC Academic Senate.

“Converting (the Smarter Balanced Assessment) from a low stakes to high stakes assessment would lead to the development of testing centers, which would exacerbate inequity,” Gauvain said during the meeting.

President Drake noted the recent surge of applicants from more diverse backgrounds, which he attributed to the elimination of the standardized test requirement.

Student Regent Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza added that the UC is becoming a national leader and an example for other universities in terms of admission requirements.

At the following joint session of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee and the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood presented to the UC Board of Regents a detailed look at how the UCSF campus is aligning its long-term institutional goals with its financial plan.

During the presentation, Hawgood highlighted the campus’ three major capital projects, its success in philanthropy, its community investment program and a new educational partnership with UC Merced.

The presentation was part of a series in which the regents will look closely at one campus at a time.

“I think there’s lots to celebrate and lots to look forward to,” Regent Lark Park said at the end of the meeting.

Contact Lydia Sidhom and Alexander Wohl at [email protected].