Do you remember Officer Krupke? He was the beat-cop in the Broadway play "West Side Story" whose job was to make sure the neighborhood toughs behaved themselves. There is an unforgettably funny scene in the play in which Officer Krupke is serenaded by one of the gang members, imploring him — tongue in cheek — not to arrest him because his problems are not of his own doing:
My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!
Although "West Side Story" closed on Broadway decades ago, it appears that Officer Krupke has been recast for a new drama, this time as a University of California admissions committee member whose job is to read the wrenching sob stories on freshman applications. And if recent reports from California and other states are accurate, there hasn't been this much human misery in the land since Jack Bailey hosted "Queen for a Day."
As reported by the Wall Street Journal last month, the University of California has adopted a new admissions system called "comprehensive review," which ostensibly gives greater weigh to other criteria than the academic achievement of a prospective student. Starting this spring, no longer will superlative grades and test scores be the critical standard for admission to the University of California system. No sir! Going forward all students will be assessed on how well they have overcome "adversity." For example, overcoming adversity may include, but is not limited to, students who stopped wetting their bed late in life, lived in their car (or SUV) after a fight with their parents, been shot, or have "long-term psychological difficulties."
But don't be fooled by any of this. "Comprehensive review" has been adopted by the UC system in order to achieve freshman racial proportionality in a post-Prop 209 environment. Ever since 1996 when Prop. 209 banned race-based affirmative action in California, administrators at UC have been beside themselves conjuring up new schemes to get minority admissions back to the good old days when raw racial preferences did the job. This is just the latest trick and it seems to be working. According to recent reports, "UCLA admitted 9% more Latinos and 19% more blacks than last year, but slightly fewer Asian-Americans and 7% fewer non-Hispanic whites." An upswing in minority admissions to UC would be welcome news, but not if the reasons are because "minority" applicants are getting special brownie points for sob stories. If this is the case, "comprehensive review" is nothing more than a heroic attempt by the school's administrators to rescue the university from scholastic excellence.
According to Matt Malkan, a professor of astronomy at UCLA who also served as chairman of his school's admissions committee, many student essays have degenerated into little more than vignettes of woe. Malkan notes with some mirth that many applicants' grandparents seem to die off exactly when they have fared badly in one of their high school courses. Perhaps the National Institute of Health should begin research on this dangerous correlation.
Of course, it is just a matter of time before some clever entrepreneur steps in to provide "tutoring" to students who have not had it so bad in life. SAT preparation companies have been making big bucks for decades helping students improve test scores, so why not a company that provides guidance in becoming abused and downtrodden? One can imagine the course syllabus filled with techniques for helping students become alienated from their parents, getting arrested protesting welfare reform, and losing sleep while working day and night for People for the American Way. The possibilities are endless.
Don't laugh. Ms. Diana Schmelzer, a principal from a suburban southern California high school is quoted in the Journal story as bemoaning the fact that most of her students "come from stable homes and their parents are teachers, doctors and lawyers." These hard working, upper-middle-class kids don't stand a chance of getting admitted to UCLA or Berkeley unless they can convince the admissions committee that they have suffered tragedy and calamity. One California high school senior, David Rayhan, was rejected from a number of competitive campuses because in his words, "Nothing horrible has happened to me."
Is this what the California higher education establishment really wants from their applicants? Are university administrators willing to demean academic achievement in order to have racial and ethnic "diversity?" Apparently so.
Don't be surprised if "comprehensive review" spreads like a fungus to other states. For example, the Univ. of Minnesota just announced that students applying for admissions for the 2003 academic year will be subject to individual review of their personal circumstances. University President Robert Bruininks makes no bones why UMinn is implementing the change: "The policy is not an attempt to control admission, but rather an attempt to create a more diverse University community." Well, he got it half right. The upshot is that hard working, smart, and well-balanced Minnesota kids are going to have a harder time getting admitted to UMinn unless they can develop some new hardships to tout.
Bruininks, like every other college president, is probably keeping a nervous eye on a lawsuit headed to the U.S. Supreme Court that may end the use of racial classifications and preferences at the Univ. of Michigan School of Law. The high court's past decisions about race-based public policies leads many legal observers to conclude that Michigan will lose and "colorblind" college admissions polices will be the law of the land. So "hardship" will replace skin color as the route to "diversity." From coast to coast, every college admissions application will soon be a tear-jerker.
Probably none of this dysfunction, woe and misery would be news to Officer Krupke. He's heard it all before. Better get out your hankie.