A professor recounts how UCLA blocked his investigation of its racial preference policy

The school motto of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is fiat lux, Latin for “let there be light.” That is a fine motto for a university, which, after all, is supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of truth. You can’t very well do that in darkness.

Yet when an esteemed faculty member at UCLA sought to find out the truth about the school’s admission policy to determine whether it was in violation of state law, he ran into one roadblock after another. That professor, political scientist Tim Groseclose, has written an extremely illuminating book entitled Cheating which recounts his battle with the university.

While the details of UCLA’s admission policy are important, the book’s bigger message pertains to the culture of institutional dishonesty Groseclose uncovered. That is his term for the pervasive refusal to admit that the university is so deeply committed to the educationally dubious and legally forbidden policy of admitting students from some groups (surprisingly, only blacks at UCLA) that officials resort to evasions and denials.

Here is one glaring example. While the university refused to give Groseclose access to admissions data for a long time, it did give the data to another professor, Robert Mare, who had been selected to write a report. When Mare’s report was finally released, it did find evidence of substantial racial bias in UCLA’s admission policy—but the university’s press release about the report claimed that Mare had found no bias.

What really made Groseclose a pariah at UCLA was his insistence on being honest about the school’s policy. “My preferences,” he writes, “are that UCLA should have a fair, transparent, legal, and honest system. Given those constraints, I hope the system admits as many black students as possible. However, if it does not, then I’m not willing to sacrifice any of the former values to increase diversity.”

For daring to criticize UCLA’s system, colleagues snidely suggested that he must be a racist for wanting a lower percentage of black students. To that, Groseclose replies, “I can see how reasonable people might value diversity above honesty. What bothers me is that many of my colleagues cannot fathom the opposite preferences—that a person could value honesty more than diversity.”

So, just what led Professor Groseclose into bitter conflict with the UCLA administration and fellow faculty members?

By enacting Proposition 209 in 1996, California voters wrote into law a prohibition against the use of racial preferences. UCLA officials, however, kept saying things to make Groseclose think that they were violating the law. Particularly revealing were comments by Chancellor Norm Abrams to the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions on which Groseclose served. Abrams said, “I want to report to you what we are hearing from the outside world. Several constituencies of UCLA are very distressed and upset about the very low numbers of African American freshmen. The political angst and concern is enormous….The numbers of underrepresented minorities on campus are too small.”

Abrams also observed that the UC system’s other flagship school, Berkeley, used a “holistic” admissions system and had “better” diversity; he told UCLA admissions people to adopt the same system.

Thus, while the law was against using race as a factor in deciding whether or not to admit a student, UCLA officials were clearly intent on doing exactly that. And the following year, the number of black students admitted doubled (from 102 in 2006 to 204 in 2007).

Could that have been coincidental? Or were UCLA administrators flouting the law? Groseclose wanted to look at data.

But when he – a member of the very committee that oversees admissions – asked for a sample of 1000 files for analysis, Professor Sylvia Hurtado, the chairwoman of the committee denied his request. At the next meeting of the committee, Groseclose pressed his request and she berated him: “Why do you want the data? What do you want to examine? You want to study race, don’t you?”

“Let there be light”? Not if the result of study might hurt the sacred belief in social engineering for diversity.

As noted above, UCLA eventually decided that Professor Robert Mare would conduct a study of the university’s admissions system, but that no one else would be allowed to examine the data he would work with. That edict led to the following exchange between Groseclose and another member, Jeannie Oakes:

Groseclose: “That’s outrageous. Not only can we not test our own hypotheses, we won’t be allowed to replicate any of the hypotheses that the independent researcher conducts. Why not allow everyone on the committee access to the data?”

Oakes: “Because I don’t want some minority report being floated around the media.”

True scholars, of course, do not try to suppress varied analyses and minority reports.

Groseclose decided to resign from the committee and make his reasons for doing so public. That led to a modest amount of publicity for his stance, but more than a modest amount of ugliness from leftist faculty members who hated that he was trying to expose the truth about UCLA’s admission policy.

Later that year, Grosclose met another UCLA faculty member who had the same interest he did in analyzing the school’s admission policy—law professor Rick Sander.

Sander had stirred up a great deal of controversy by arguing that racial preferences for top law schools, including UCLA, led to mismatching of students and schools. That is, many of the favored minority students were not able to handle the difficult workload and therefore did poorly in law school, with the result that there were fewer minority lawyers than there would have been without preferences.

But when Sander published his findings, he was also treated as a villain, or even a traitor since his “liberal” credentials were impeccable. The efforts at discrediting Sander (which Groseclose recounts in detail) were quite vicious.

The two professors teamed up to request the admissions data that they wanted from UCLA and the administration, apparently fearing the bad publicity of a legal battle, gave in.

Grosclose has painstakingly analyzed the data and the results are available on his website.

In short, what he found was that the “holistic” system was just a smokescreen that obscured the real manner in which UCLA dramatically increased the number of black students, which was through “second chance” reviews by a select committee.

Toward the end of the book, Groseclose shows that UCLA could have gotten the “diversity” it so desperately wants through legal means, if it admitted a high percentage of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The result of that approach, however, would mean a 300-point drop in average student SAT scores, putting UCLA on the same plane as UC Riverside or Montana State.

I doubt that UCLA would accept the trade-off that such a commitment to “social justice” would necessitate.

For his persistence and willingness to take a lot of abuse for pursuing the truth, Tim Groseclose deserves a round of applause. His efforts will make it more difficult for advocates of racial preferences to keep getting their way.