Notice, November 1996

History of Faculty Role
In Admissions Is Detailed in Study

In 1884, the Regents of the University of California directed the University's Academic Senate to begin developing entrance exams for undergraduate applicants and to initiate the process of accrediting California high schools. This was the first formal delegation of admissions authority in UC's history; it would not be the last, but in every case from 1884 to the present, the body the Regents delegated authority to was the same: the Academic Senate.

In 1995, with a controversy raging at UC over admissions and affirmative action, a task force was convened to set new guidelines for undergraduate admissions at the University. It was not the Academic Senate that empaneled this group, however; it was then-President Jack Peltason. On the campuses, meanwhile, undergraduate admissions in 1995 was a process largely controlled by the administration. This de facto authority seemed to receive a de jure underpinning when, last April, President Atkinson asserted in a letter that the faculty's authority in admissions extends only to setting "the minimum academic qualifications" for entrance into UC. "Other admissions criteria, and the selection from among the students who meet those criteria, are the responsibility of The Regents and the administration," Atkinson wrote, after having received an opinion on the subject from UC's General Counsel.

So, how can both things be true? How is it that the Regents have explicitly delegated admissions authority only to the Senate, while the preponderance of de facto authority lies with the administration? A multi-faceted answer to this question is contained in a report that is about to be released by the Universitywide Academic Senate, Setting the Conditions of Undergraduate Admissions: The Role of University of California Faculty in Policy and Process.

The report, a work of historical analysis, was written by John A. Douglass, a historian and executive director of the Academic Senate at UC, Santa Barbara. Douglass produced the study as a means of assisting a Senate special committee on governance, convened last winter by the Academic Council. The special committee decided to study how the Senate has functioned in connection with three issues: undergraduate admissions, the VERIP programs and the "Pister report" on faculty rewards. Atkinson's April letter brought some urgency to the question of shared governance and admissions, however; as staff to the special committee, Douglass accordingly devoted his energies over the spring and summer to developing a background report on the subject. The result is a lengthy document (98 pages plus appendices and notes) that amounts to a history of admissions at the University. In it, UC's admissions changes are placed within the context of large-scale historical influences, such as progressive era politics and the civil rights movement.

Authority in Fact and Theory

In his review of admissions authority at UC, what Douglass found was that the Senate governed admissions in fact as well as in theory from the late 19th century to roughly the mid-1960s. Several factors, however, brought about a progressive "disengagement of faculty" from the admissions process and a concomitant increase in administrative control over the issue. Then, thanks to a weak institutional memory, the presumption was made that the administration had always controlled matters that, in fact, were historically under the faculty's purview. That Senate control existed seems clear from the evidence Douglass unearthed: As late as the 1950s the Senate's chief admissions committee, the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), issued a set of "detailed Working Rules" to guide admissions officers in the evaluation of transcripts.

One of the factors bringing about the de facto change in admissions authority, Douglass says, was the tremendous increase in the number of applicants to the University and the attendant change to a multi-campus system; in the early 1960s, campus Senate admissions committees still made decisions on individual applicants, but the sheer number of applications UC received in subsequent years brought an end to this kind of hands-on faculty role in admissions. Such work was now given to a class of professional admissions officers. In 1964, BOARS recommended a change in Senate Bylaws that would acknowledge "that the Admissions Officer on each campus now acts for the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools." This, Douglass says, "is the first clear delegation of authority to an administrative officer to carry out admissions policy determined by the Senate."

The rise in student numbers in the 1960s led to an ever-greater linking of admissions policy with budgeting issues, Douglass says. This meant that the administration, directly charged with managing the University's finances, was more concerned with admissions as a matter of overseeing its core responsibilities.

Admissions as a Diversity Tool

Another factor in the shift was the emergence of admissions policy as a tool to diversify UC's student body. Government and society looked chiefly to campus administrators to implement what became known as affirmative action policies, Douglass says. For its part, the Senate was content to allow admissions authority to move to administrators in connection with a constellation of "supplemental" admissions criteria that included affirmative action. This effectively marked a change since, throughout UC's history, the Senate had been responsible for "admissions by exception" - meaning admissions in exception to normal academic criteria. Indeed, the Senate formally instituted admissions by exception in 1884, Douglass says, in part "to provide greater geographic and socio-economic diversity in the student body."

Surprisingly, perhaps, the "Berkeley Revolution" of 1920, in which the Regents granted the Senate extensive new powers, marked no shift in control over admissions. The Senate had been granted authority over admissions in 1884 and nothing changed regarding this in 1920.

What did change in 1920 was the Senate's organization of its admissions work; in that year, four Senate admissions committees were collapsed into one, the Board of Admissions. In 1939, one more Senate panel, the Committee on Schools (which worked on high school accreditation) was folded into the board. The result was BOARS, the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools.

The change in BOARS' work over time is paradigmatic of the general shift in admissions authority at UC, Douglass says. "Beginning with the incorporation of the SAT in 1967," he writes, "BOARS had tended to focus on the eligibility index, high school course requirements, and articulation agreements with the community colleges, while largely ignoring issues such as the appropriate supplemental criteria used by campuses to admit students, university relations with high schools, fees and tuition, scholarships and other variables that throughout the university's history have been a major focus of the Senate."

Douglass closes his report by suggesting that the opening of the debate on shared governance and admissions at UC has provided "the opportunity for the academic Senate and the university administration to reassess their respective roles in setting undergraduate admissions policy." He does not advocate a return to the kind of engagement faculty had in admissions before the 1960s. He does say, however, that "In light of the jurisdictional prerogatives provided to the Academic Senate under its charge by the Regents, an appropriate structure of review and decision-making at the universitywide and campus levels now needs to be analyzed and decided on."