This Date In UCSF History: Desperately Seeking Diversity

Monday, October 29, 2018

Originally published in Synapse - The UCSF Student Newspaper, Oct. 25, 1979

If the University of California does not greatly increase minority student recruitment, the mid-1980s will herald a sharp enrollment decline, which will damage University finances and force the consolidation or elimination of some academic programs.

This was the conclusion of a report released last week by a UC planning group appointed by UC President David Saxon. The report is now being circulated throughout the University in preparation for development of a new Academic Plan in January 1980.

The conclusions of the report introduce a biting irony that will surely be repeated throughout American society in the next decades. Finally, the chickens have come home to roost. In the past the socioeconomic disadvantages of America's ethnic minorities were considered “their problem,” which the Anglo majority condescended to correct with civil rights laws and affirmative action.

But now that the ethnic minority is, at least in California, growing into a majority, the effects of disadvantage are becoming detrimental to the “haves” as well as the “have nots.”

The University of California has traditionally taken about 87 per cent of its undergraduate student body from the fop 12 per cent of California high school graduates. The recent planning committee report recommends no deviation from this policy, but the demographic statistics show that that pool of eligible graduates is shrinking alarmingly.

Baby boom

Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s the college age (18-to-24-year-old) population is expected to drop 23 per cent nationally and 16 per cent in California.

The post-Korean War “baby boom” group, which swelled college enrollments in the 1960s and 1970s has simply failed to reproduce themselves. In addition, the percentage of California students who finish high school has been decreasing steadily since 1971.

By 1990, according to Department of Education projections, combined ethnic minority enrollments in California schools from kindergarten through high school will total 25 per cent more than Anglo enrollment. The problem is that in the past, only five per cent of Black high school students and 4.7 per cent of Hispanic students were eligible for admission to UC.

And these students have traditionally had a higher drop-out rate. Therefore, according to the planning committee report, the coming Third World majority within the shrinking total college age population will serve to further decrease the pool of students eligible for admission to UC.

Double jeopardy

Unless the University attracts more minority students, the planning committee report concludes, “our enrollments will certainly suffer,” and, as President Saxon is quoted as saying, “our resource base will probably decline.”

The committee further concludes that: “If the University and other segments of higher education fail to attract and maintain more minority students in the future, the state of California will have, in absolute numbers, fewer educated persons to staff and manage its businesses and services. Our economy, currently among the strongest in the nation, could be in jeopardy.”

“If there ever was a convergence of an overriding public need and our own vital interests, it is here,” Saxon stated.

The University’s vital interests lie in maintaining and even improving the quality of its education and research in a time of declining enrollments and state support.

Reputation As the report points out, “it is no accident that the University of California's reputation for excellence was built up in its first hundred years — and particularly between the end of World War II and the mid--1960s — when resources were not a major constraint.”

During the 1960's and early 1970's “the University more than doubled opportunities for graduate education, established three new general campuses, and added three new medical schools.”

But then recession and the flattening out of the population curve put an end to the “go go” growth of the University, as well as the national economy. During the heady growth period the state failed to fund faculty positions proportionately. So UC ended up facing the late 1970’s with a student/faculty ratio of 17.5:1, as opposed to 14.7:1 in the 1960s.

And in 1978-1979 and in 1979-1980 the state actually withdrew UC funds on the basis of the new ratios. A sharp decrease in enrollments in the 1980’s therefore, could conceivably lead to faculty layoffs and incomplete programs. But the situation could even be worse.

Proposition 13 has already led, according to Saxon, to an $18.4 million reduction in the University’s level of operations. And there is a proposition to limit state spending on the November ballot. This proposition, number four, would limit annual increases in University state funding to percentage increases in cost of living plus population growth and other “specified factors.”

Survival Strategies

The planning committee recommends that the University pursue a strategy to “persuade State officials of the need to fund the University” at a level commensurate with its mission of providing superior education and research.

This includes continuing to try to persuade the state that the current student/faculty ratios are inadequate; or at least that withdrawal of resources should lag behind enrollment decreases just as increased funding lagged behind increased growth in the boom years.

In addition to seeking state support, the committee recommended vigorous solicitation of federal and private funds and perhaps the initiation of student tuition. The committee acknowledged, however, that the state might consider student tuition just another excuse for cutting back its own support.

In addition, tuition is considered by some to be discriminatory against less affluent groups.

“It would be more equitable,” the committee acknowledged, “to charge tuition to higher income students and provide sufficient financial aid to assure access to lower income groups.”

Any proposal that would limit access to lower income groups would, of course, be self-defeating, because increased enrollments of lower income and minority students may prove to be the University's best hedge against fiscal crisis.

Given this fact the planning committee's recommendations for increasing such student participation seem weak and vague.


“Systemwide Administration should provide leadership in conveying the university's receptivity to minority students,” writes the planning committee, and “existing outreach to minority students should be continued and intensified, particularly with reference to encouraging early participation in collegepreparatory academic-track programs.”

The committee also recommends that the University's presence in “feeder” high schools and community colleges be strengthened, and the University should continue to work with the State Department of Education to improve the basic language and mathematic skills of high school students.

The report’s strongest recommendation in this area is found, surprisingly, not in the recommendations section, but buried in the body of the report.

Under a discussion of planning for “diversity and selective excellence” the committee recommends that a high priority be placed on “achieving a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds” by “recognizing that excellence appears in many forms, and may in fact flourish if the options by which students qualify for regular admissions are increased or diversified.”

In addition to recruiting more ethnic minority students, the committee recommends trying to bolster projected admissions shortfalls by recruiting and catering to more older and non-traditional students.

Contingency plans

If the University is not successful in stopping the decline of admissions and state support, the report concludes, then it must begin to plan for reducing or consolidating its academic programs.

On this issue the planning committee emphasized that no drastic actions, such as closing a University campus, would be appropriate, since demographic data indicate that the enrollment nose dive should begin to soar heavenward once more around the turn of the century. But until that time, the committee asserts, it may be necessary and even helpful to make program adjustments.

The alternatives that the planning committee suggested include: — increasing campus specialization to the point where the UC system is divided into comprehensive graduate campuses, specialized graduate campuses and primarily undergraduate campuses — designating some campuses (probably only one or two) as leading campuses and others as secondary campuses so that the leading campuses have the priority for funding and therefore quality of programs — merging two or more campuses to share students, faculty and administration.

The planning committee acknowledged that all of these alternatives entail some risk. Consequently, the committee recommended that a “serious phase of planning,” designed to avoid such uncomfortable choices be initiated at once.