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UC Ethnic Studies Admissions Criteria Causes Debate

June 2, 2022

A University of California faculty committee halted a proposal that would have required high school students to take a semester of ethnic studies to qualify for admission to the public university system, EdSource reported. 

The suggested requirement, mainly authored by UC ethnic studies professors, was placed under review during a May meeting of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the same committee that initiated the effort. The proposal was expected to go before the UC Board of Regents for approval. But the BOARS committee concluded that authors of the proposal hadn’t sufficiently responded to their concerns, unspecified in the meeting minutes.

“No final decisions have been made,” BOARS chair Madeleine Sorapure, former director of the writing program at UC Santa Barbara, said in an email to EdSource.

The debate over the admissions criteria comes after Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill requiring an ethnic studies course as a high school graduation requirement, calling it “insufficiently balanced and inclusive.” Last year, he signed similar legislation mandating a high school ethnic studies course, starting in the 2029–30 academic year. A group of ethnic studies scholars viewed the law as a watered-down version of the original and formed the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition to develop their own curriculum.

Andrew Jolivette, professor and chair of ethnic studies at UC San Diego, and Christine Hong, associate professor and chair of critical race and ethnic studies at UC Santa Cruz, put out a statement accusing BOARS members of wanting a more “tepid” version of the requirement and caving to “fears of Fox News and white supremacist backlash.” A letter in support of the ethnic studies admissions requirement has since garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

“This curriculum, which has the overwhelming support of Native peoples and communities of color, risks being pushed to the margins once again,” the letter reads. “Naysayers with no expertise in ethnic studies not only presume to define the field, rendering it completely unrecognizable to its practitioners, but also, have sought to intervene in the UC systemwide deliberative process.”

(Note: This article was revised to remove a reference to California State University system admissions requirements. The system does require the same set of mandatory high school courses as the University of California system, but the two systems do not have the same admissions criteria overall.  A clarification was also made to reflect that the ethnic studies proposal was placed under review.)

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Sara Weissman

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