university admissions

this week the new york times has a feature article about UC-Berkeley and their admissions.  The article is largely devoted to discussing the disproportionate number of “Asians” (Asians includes Japanese, Indians, Koreans, Indonesians…a lot of different ethnicities and nationalities), 41% at the university in comparison with the Asian population in California as a whole, which is closer to 13%, i believe. 

Here is the article in full, but the most interesting thing that struck me about the whole article had to do with the university and its place in our society which is extremely unfair and discriminatory to minorities.  The discussion is fascinating, and i know that there’s not an end in sight on affirmative action…the quote that i thought was the most interesting was this:

One leading critic of bringing affirmative action back to Berkeley is David A. Hollinger, chairman of its history department and author of “Post-Ethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism.” He supported racial preferences before Proposition 209, but is no longer so sure. “You could argue that the campus is more diverse now,” because Asians comprise so many different cultures, says Dr. Hollinger. A little more than half of Asian freshmen at Berkeley are Chinese, the largest group, followed by Koreans, East-Indian/Pakistani, Filipino and Japanese.

He believes that Latinos are underrepresented because many come from poor agrarian families with little access to the good schools that could prepare them for the rigors of Berkeley. He points out that, on the other hand, many of the Korean students on campus are sons and daughters of parents with college degrees. In any event, he says, it is not the university’s job to fix the problems that California’s public schools produce.

Dr. Birgeneau agrees on at least one point: “I think we’re now at the point where the category of Asian is not very useful. Koreans are different from people from Sri Lanka and they’re different than Japanese. And many Chinese-Americans are a lot like Caucasians in some of their values and areas of interest.”

IF Berkeley is now a pure meritocracy, what does that say about the future of great American universities in the post-affirmative action age? Are we headed toward a day when all elite colleges will look something like Berkeley: relatively wealthy whites (about 60 percent of white freshmen’s families make $100,000 or more) and a large Asian plurality and everyone else underrepresented? Is that the inevitable result of color-blind admissions?

Eric Liu, author of “The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker” and a domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, is troubled by the assertion that the high Asian makeup of elite campuses reflects a post-racial age where merit prevails.

“I really challenge this idea of a pure meritocracy,” says Mr. Liu, who runs mentoring programs that grew out of his book “Guiding Lights: How to Mentor and Find Life’s Purpose.” Until all students — from rural outposts to impoverished urban settings — are given equal access to the Advanced Placement classes that have proved to be a ticket to the best colleges, then the idea of pure meritocracy is bunk, he says. “They’re measuring in a fair way the results of an unfair system.”…

I find it a fascinating discussion that actively turns talk about university admissions into what role the universities have within the larger community.  is preferential admissions process a more deeply ingrained town & gown issue than has been admitted?  the relationship between the university and the surrounding town is always under discussion, but i don’t find people talking about the fact that the admissions process itself helps to increase that gap in many cases.

if a university, as Hollinger says, decides that its not their job to fix the inequalities set up by our society, where does that leave the university in society?  does it believe itself to be in that ubiquitously described ivory tower, or somehow still believe in the notion of objective analysis, that it can be or must be separate from a/the community?

 so what is the role of the university in the community?  is it to provide educational opportunities for the whole community, or those that (regardless of the reason) have already managed to reach an elite status of being the best-educated?


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