Minority Students Sue U.C. Berkeley Over Unfair Admissions Policy

February 2, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, February 2, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO — African American, Latino, Pilipino American students and organizations filed a class action lawsuit today (Tuesday, February 2, 1999) in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charging that U.C. Berkeley’s undergraduate admissions process violates federal civil rights laws.

The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Plaintiffs include African American, Latino and Pilipino American freshmen college students currently attending college elsewhere who were denied admission to U.C. Berkeley, as well as three minority organizations that represent future applicants to Berkeley: the Imani Youth Council of the Oakland NAACP, the California League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Kababayan Alliance, a Pilipino high school student organization.

“U.C. Berkeley discriminates against the students of color we represent. The new admissions policies and practices have a totally unjustified disparate impact on African American, Latino, and Pilipino American applicants. This type of discrimination is illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” explained Joseph Jaramillo, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of several civil rights organizations representing the plaintiffs.

Berkeley implemented a new policy to admit freshmen for Fall 1998. One change, resulting from the University of California Regents Resolution SP-1, prohibits admissions readers from considering an applicant’s race, as one among many other factors, in selecting the freshman class. Berkeley has also made other changes to its admissions process, not required by SP-1, that plaintiffs allege fail to consider fairly African American, Latino, and Pilipino American applicants.

“Even when affirmative action was in place, parts of the Berkeley admissions process were unfair to African American, Latino, and Pilipino American applicants. For instance, Berkeley has always placed too great an emphasis on SAT scores and has now adopted a policy that gives extra preference to students who take courses not equally available to all California high school students,” added Jaramillo. “In the past, affirmative action policies attempted to compensate for some of the unfair components of the admissions process,” stated Eva Paterson, Executive Director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “In the absence of affirmative action, we are simply left with a discriminatory system.”

“Discrimination at Berkeley must be ended immediately,” stated Julie Su of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California. “As a leading public institution in California, responsible for educating future leaders of the most diverse state in the country, Berkeley must live up not only to its own mission, but to the principles of fairness and equality we all cherish,” Su added.

In the Fall of 1998, over 750 African American, Latino and Pilipino American applicants with grade point averages of 4.0 or better were denied admission. While white students with 4.0 GPAs or better had a 48.2 percent chance of admission, Latino students had only a 39.7 percent chance, African American students a 38.5 percent chance and Pilipino students a 31.6 percent chance. The disparity is even greater when comparing the total number of applicants of each group.

Jesus Rios, one of the student plaintiffs, said, “As the son of immigrant farm workers, my family encouraged me to work hard to earn a 4.0 grade point average so that I could have the type of good college education Berkeley provides. There is something terribly wrong when qualified minority students cannot attend UC Berkeley,” observed Rios, a 1998 graduate of San Benito High School in Hollister who is a freshman at U.C. Davis. Students at many of California’s 2,600 high schools never reach U.C. Berkeley’s gates. More than half of the freshman class at Berkeley (53%) come from fewer than 5 percent of California’s high schools, the advocates point out.

“U.C.Berkeley’s current process places too much weight on insignificant differences in SAT scores and gives enormous preferences to students who take Advanced Placement, or AP, courses,” explained Kimberly West-Faulcon, Western Regional Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The first problem is that an SAT score tells you very little about what an applicant will ultimately contribute to Berkeley. The second problem is that many schools with high concentrations of African Americans, Latinos and Pilipino Americans have no AP courses at all. Rewarding applicants with slightly higher SAT scores who had access to AP courses simply because of where they attended high school doesn’t reward merit, it rewards privilege.”

“The new admissions process has resulted in the resegregation of U.C. Berkeley,” charged Michelle Alexander of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “The process has a totally unjustified disparate impact on the African American, Latino, and Pilipino American applicants in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution,” Alexander said. “In just one year, the numbers of African American and Latino students admitted to Berkeley were cut in half.”

The defendants include members of the University of California Board of Regents, the President of the University of California System and the Chancellor of U.C. Berkeley.

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