A Californian who voted for Proposition 209 in 1996 expecting it to be the beginning of a new era of merit rather than political considerations being the dominant factor in UC admissions would have been sorely mistaken. The regents, laughably criticized as reactionary conservatives by radical leftist groups like BAMN, approved in February a plan that would eliminate the SAT Subject Test (popularly known as the SAT-II) requirement starting for the current high school freshman class. In so doing, they eliminated a measure that is both useful and fair: two one-hour tests on a Saturday morning, with fee waivers for those who cannot afford it.
A little thought experiment for those questioning the need for Subject Tests: individual A goes to a large public school where achievement is high, while individual B, otherwise equally qualified as individual A, goes to one where achievement is low. For whom is it going to be easier to achieve the more stand-out grades?
To adequately evaluate applicants, the university needs to differentiate between students A and B. The Reasoning Test is closely correlated with IQ, which in turn was successfully demonstrated by Harvard Professor Richard Herrnstein’s tour de force, The Bell Curve, to be indicative of many forms of human economic and social potential. But intelligence is not the only criteria the university has to take into account. It must also make sure that its students have been both academically well-prepared and have a track record of exerting effort in their studies. An IQ test like the Reasoning Test fails to do this, and so comes the utility of the Subject Tests, which tests academic preparation to a greater degree. Indeed, the most widely cited anti-SAT study, Saul Geiser’s 2001 study for the University of California Office of the President, even states that the Subject Tests are a better predictor of freshman grades than is the SAT-I.
If the regents truly wanted to remove a barrier to entry without harming academic standards, they would have loosened the very strict A-G requirements that disqualify thousands of scholastically successful students and discourage thousands of others from even considering the system. It is always ridiculous when, as a result of poor counseling, an otherwise-qualified high school senior discovers he is ineligible for the University of California because he took two semesters of art, but not in consecutive semesters, as is required by the A-G requirements. Most elite colleges such as Harvard and Yale have no specific high school course requirements, merely recommendations which it is highly advisable to follow but failing to fulfill one does not result in automatic disqualification. There is no reason for the level of stringency the UC practices, especially noting the trend away from points-based systems to holistic reviews.
Ironically, the initiative will fail in accomplishing its goal of increasing “diversity” in the University of California—that is, the number of black and Latino students. According to the UCOP, although more may apply, the percentages of both admitted will not change significantly, with the only substantive difference being the balance between white and Asian students, with the numbers of the former rising at the expense of the latter. Attempts to artificially create diversity in academia are much harder to accomplish than they initially seem and often have repercussions that would be amusing were the stakes not as high.
But connect the dots. This has little to do with the increased numbers of eligible students; it has to do with differences between races in what test they do better on. As UCSB’s Daily Nexus points out, data compiled by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing reveals that Asians do better relative to whites on the Subject Tests than on the Reasoning Test, explaining why eliminating the SAT-II hurts them disproportionately.
Regardless of which test gives admissions officers the most accurate picture of the applicant, having more information cannot hurt, especially when considering the individual idiosyncrasies of tens of thousands of applicants. A high math Reasoning Test score and a low Subject math score may reveal a lack of adequate preparation, or simply be the mark of a slacker. Admissions officers use these two tests together with grades to get the most complete picture of applicants’ academic capabilities. There is no reason to take this tool out of their hands—unless one, of course, has an antipathy to Asian-Americans in higher education.
In fact, many white leftists do. Asian-Americans threaten them in ways that Latinos and blacks do not, due to the low numbers of the latter two groups going to college. The white suburban Californian soccer mom may support Obama, but she knows her child is competing against an “Asian math prodigy” for admission to the top colleges. Her child knows that just as well as she does and often bears resentment toward Asian students for challenging the hegemony he feels entitled to.
These attitudes may be silent sometimes, but they often are not. As Harvard Professor Stephan Thernstrom writes, “My wife, Abigail, appeared on Crossfire many years ago and was asked by liberal co-host Bob Beckel whether she would ‘like to see UCLA Law School 80 percent Asian.’” In a 1995 interview, President Clinton said that “there are universities in California that could fill their entire freshman classes with nothing but Asian Americans.” In 1998, a writer for Newsday asked, “Since Asians outscore everyone, would we accept an all-Asian class?” Who at Cal today has not heard from an avowedly leftist white acquaintance that “there are too many Asians here”?
What lies at the roots of this attitude? Democrats thrive off of keeping minorities poor and uneducated—that way, they can capture their vote share for perpetuity. And they are used to minorities being just that. When a minority that has endured a history of discrimination succeeds in America without the aid of government and even does better in many respects than the majority group, white leftists are left confused because that is so contrary to their paternalistic view of viewing the racial diversity in America. When people’s basic conceptions of the world are disturbed, they often respond with anger at the source of whatever the disturbance is. In this case, it happens to be Asian-Americans.
This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but considering that eliminating the SAT-II will not increase minority enrollment, as it is intended to do, will give admissions officers a more limited view of the applicant, and otherwise accomplish nothing positive, there seems little other explanation for the regents’ decision than anti-Asian sentiment.
The lesson to be derived from this sorry episode is that while social engineering generally does little to help those it tries to help, it can do wonders in hurting a minority group that succeeds without and even in spite of the government’s help.