We recently discussed the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Schuette v. BAMN that states, like Michigan, can prohibit any use of race in admissions in a “color-blind” state entrance system for colleges and universities. Now, a leading school in one of the states with such a color-blind rule is being accused of violating state law by one of its professors. Tim Groseclose, a political science professor at UCLA, has posted data that he was able to obtain from the school that he argues is proof of “cheating” by school officials who refuse to comply with the state law. The question is whether this will be the basis for a post-Schuette challenge in states like California.
Groseclose is the author of a new book “Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA.” The book is based on data that he reviewed from 2006-2009. Groseclose was suspicious when he found black applicants were accepted at a 43 percent rate while whites were accepted at a 15 percent rate and Asians at an 18 percent rate. He also found that black applicants whose families had incomes exceeding $100,000 were about twice as likely to be accepted in round two as Asian and white kids whose families make just $30,000 with similar test scores, grades and essays. He says that, after protests for more minority students in 2006, the school started using a “holistic” approach to circumvent the ban on race as a criteria for selection. He says that black enrollment doubled the very next year.
Groseclose says that after he raised his concerns and asked to review the admissions data, he was denied access. Instead, the university appointed UCLA Sociology Prof. Robert Mare to conduct a review. The report declared no “bias” in the admissions process. However, Groseclose said that he reviewed the data and found that “245 more North Asian applicants would have been admitted, which would be almost a 9 percent increase . . . 121 fewer black applicants would have been admitted . . . [a 33 percent decrease].” He found similar advantages given to Hispanic students.
Groseclose lucked out on his timing for the book. It is coming out in the aftermath of the decision in Schuette v. BAMN, as we have discussed previously (here and here). California is one of the eight states with a ban on the use of race to affect admissions decisions. Groseclose’s research may be the foundation for a challenge that raises an interesting comparison to prior discrimination cases. Courts will often look at not just de jure discrimination but de facto discrimination. Groseclose is accusing academic colleagues and administration of openly circumventing the state law by shielding the use of race in the name of “holistic” admissions.
I do think that some academics actively try to circumvent such limits to achieve greater diversity — something the majority of academic value as a high priority in education. However, this is also an area that can be difficult to evaluate because admissions at top schools look at individual records and balance multiple factors. Courts have been reluctant to assign improper motives in such selections. However, Grossclose is suggesting that, just as discrimination cases are often based on a statistical disparity, the same can be shown in the statistical evidence of the race of admitted students. With the ruling in Schuette, such an argument may now have added weight with courts who might have dismissed challenges in the past.
Groseclose holds the Marvin Hoffenberg Chair of American Politics. He received his PhD in 1992 from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and his academic research focuses mainly upon Congress, media bias, and mathematical models of politics.