Bias Against Asians at U.C.L.A. Found by Education Department

By Mark Walsh — October 10, 1990 3 min read

Washington--In its first-ever finding of discrimination against Asian Americans in higher education, the Education Department said last week that the University of California at Los Angeles gave illegal preference to white over Asian-American applicants to its graduate mathematics program.

The department’s office for civil rights concluded a 30-month investigation of graduate programs at ucla by clearing 75 departments of any discrimination and ruling that eight others had kept such inadequate records that it was not possible to determine if civil-rights laws had been violated.

But investigators found a statistical disparity based on race in admissions to the graduate mathematics department, including “an inconsistency in how Asian and white applicants who received the same evaluation ratings were treated,” the department said.

University officials denied any bias against Asian Americans, and said they would appeal the department’s finding to an administrative-law judge.

An investigation of bias against Asian Americans in undergraduate admissions at the university is continuing, officials said.

“We’re moving quickly to eliminate the problem at that institution, as well as to require the university to improve recordkeeping to allow us to determine whether or not it is observing the civil-rights laws,” the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, Michael L. Williams, said in a written statement.

The investigation followed allegations from several sources in recent years that ucla and other major universities have maintained an informal quota limiting the number of Asian-American students they would admit. Asian Americans already are admitted to several leading universities in numbers that greatly exceed their proportion of the general population. (See Education Week, Dec. 7, 1988.)

Under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, recipients of federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, who has pressed the Education Department to complete its investigations, applauded the department’s action.

He said the findings “show that discrimination in college admissions is real, is serious, and is not, as some would have you believe, ‘sour grapes’ by those who have been turned down.”

Mr. Rohrabacher has called for the Senate Appropriations Committee to set aside $500,000 so that the ocr can complete several other pending compliance reviews of Asian-American admissions.

Those include the investigation of undergraduate admissions at ucla, the University of California at Berkeley, and at Harvard University. In addition, the department is also investigating Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

Charges Denied

The civil-rights office will require ucla’s graduate mathematics program to ensure equal treatment of all students and to offer admission to five Asian-American applicants who were discriminated against, officials said.

The university will also be required to maintain improved records for three years in math and eight other graduate programs.

The chancellor of ucla, Charles E. Young, said the university believes that “racially neutral criteria” were used to deny admission to the five Asian-American students in mathematics and that “the ocr has no basis to conclude that discrimination exists at ucla”

The university said that the proportion of Asian Americans in its graduate programs has grown from 8.4 percent in 1979 to 15 percent in 1989. When foreign-born Asian students are included, the proportion of graduate students with Asian backgrounds in 1989 was 22.3 percent, according to the university.

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1990 edition of Education Week as Bias Against Asians at U.C.L.A. Found by Education Department