Civil Liberties

Preferential Treatment


When the University of California system banned race-based admission preferences and the Hopwood decision effectively outlawed similar programs at public universities in Texas, affirmative action advocates predicted a huge drop-off in black and Hispanic university attendance in those states. They pointed to declining enrollments at U.C.-Berkeley's and the University of Texas at Austin's law schools to prove their point: Between 1996 and 1997, black admissions to Berkeley's law program plummeted from 20 students to one, while Hispanic admissions were halved from 28 to 14. U.T.-Austin saw similar declines: Black admissions went from 29 to four, and Hispanic admissions from 46 to 31.

Such figures, however, mask a more widespread trend: an increase in minority enrollments at many of the schools in those systems. For instance, between 1996 and 1997, black admissions to nonprofessional graduate programs at U.C.-Berkeley climbed from 77 students to 82, at UCLA from 102 to 108, and at U.C.-Riverside from seven to 17. Hispanic graduate admissions dropped from 137 to 107 at Berkeley but went up at UCLA and held steady at Riverside. Black and Hispanic admissions to medical schools at UCLA, U.C.-Davis, and U.C.-San Francisco also held steady. In Texas, undergraduate admissions of blacks and Hispanics declined at Texas A&M but remained the same or increased slightly at U.T.-Austin, U.T.-Dallas, and U.T.-Arlington. And minority freshman admissions shot up at the state-run University of Houston, going from 456 to 543 for blacks and from 494 to 660 for Hispanics.

The numbers reflect changes and differences in admissions policies. Berkeley's law school, for example, bases its admissions almost exclusively on LSAT scores and grades, while its non-professional graduate programs and medical schools have long considered a wider range of criteria, including socioeconomic background.

In Texas, most students were formerly admitted on the basis of test scores and previous grades, while others–including minorities and whites with weaker records–were put in a pool where race was considered as a significant factor. In the wake of Hopwood, however, all applicants go into the same pool, in which test scores and grades–still the dominant factors–are supplemented by two essays and information about extracurricular activities.

Critics suggest that broadening admissions criteria beyond test scores and grades is simply a way of perpetuating race-based admissions policies. But other preference foes–including U.C. Regent Ward Connerly–disagree. Relying on test scores and grades alone for admission to college and graduate programs is "absurd," Connerly told U.S. News & World Report. "You owe it to these kids to give them an individual review."