Notice, November 1996

Notes from the Chair: Our Admissions Role

Most UC faculty have understood and believed in one shared governance principle: that the Regents have delegated to the Academic Senate authority over admissions, courses and curricula, and conditions for degrees. Thus President Atkinson's announcement last May, that faculty authority in admissions extended only to setting the minimum conditions of admission, came as a shock to many.

John Douglass' recently-written history of admissions in the University of California (Notice, November 1996) provides ample evidence of what many of us believed, at least intuitively _ that faculty from the earliest days of the University were responsible for all aspects of admissions: minimum standards, supplemental conditions, special admissions, and so forth. Indeed, until relatively recent times, faculty were responsible for accreditation of state high schools. In the late 1930s all of these functions were consolidated within the Senate's Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the only University agency whose admissions authority is specifically delegated under the Standing Orders of the Regents.

It is true that, with the tremendous rise in the number of UC students in the 1960s, faculty began to disengage from direct participation in the undergraduate admissions process; in essence we relinquished our admissions duties to staff. BOARS, distanced from the details of campus operations by the development of multiple campuses, tended to concentrate on issues amenable to analytical analysis _ for example, the setting of minimum academic standards for admission. The introduction of affirmative action added even more complexity into admissions in the mid-70s, leaving it more than ever to the specialized expertise of the administration.

The Regents' approval of SP-1 last year brought about a dramatic change in UC admissions policy. While the action of the board caused great consternation inside and outside the University, at least two positive outcomes resulted from it: (1) It reawakened faculty to their historical and critical role in establishing admissions policy and (2) it led to a healthy review of how UC admits and _ yes, let's say the word _ rejects applicants. In the past year, BOARS members (and divisional Senate committees on admissions) have worked with their administrative counterparts to develop alternative admissions criteria. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the new criteria resemble those UC used prior to the advent of the Master Plan in that they include an expanded set of "supplemental" admissions criteria, meaning criteria outside GPA and standardized test scores.

The Academic Council has been working with BOARS in insisting that this committee's delegated admissions authority (and that of divisional committees) be respected. In early December BOARS will approve or disapprove each of the eight general campus admissions plans now being submitted to UCOP. Subject to such approval, these plans will go into effect in fall 1997 _ earlier than previously planned because of voter approval of Proposition 209.

How the Senate formalizes its responsibilities in this area is, in a sense, less important than whether individual faculty are prepared to step in and assume a role in the resulting campus processes. Participation can range from formulation of overall admissions policy (in collaboration with the administration) to the development of specific working rules. Faculty should even be interested in reading applications, a major component of the admissions methodology that will now be used on several campuses.

If individual faculty are indeed willing to commit themselves in the worthy effort to admit an entering class that is academically excellent and diverse (in all senses of that word), then some lasting good will come from the turmoil that this institution was thrown into on 20 July 1995. Faculty who care about maintaining access to UC for every diversely-qualified candidate will want to make that extra effort.

--Duncan Mellichamp
Chair, Academic Council