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On the heels of Harvard investigation, UCLA law professor sues the University of California system for admissions data

The UCLA campus in Westwood, CA
The UCLA campus in Westwood, CA
Chris Radcliff via Flickr Creative Commons

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On the heels of the federal trial which investigated whether Harvard discriminates against prospective Asian-American students, the University of California is facing a suit that seeks access to data that would show whether the university considers race during the admissions process.

The suit was filed by UCLA law professor and affirmative action scholar Richard Sander. The suit was also joined by George Shen, recent GOP candidate for CA Senate and leader of Asian American Community Services Center, a new non-profit.

Shen and Sander say they want to see whether the UC system is in violation of Prop 209, a CA measure passed in 1996, which bans considerations such as race, gender and ethnicity in public education. He says the UC hasn’t complied with his Public Records Act request for data that he needs to update his research.

The University of California has said it does not use the factors of gender, race or ethnicity  in its admissions process. A university spokesperson has also said that the data Sander seeks is public, and that the university is not required to format it in the specific way he is requesting.

We discuss the suit and what it portends.

We reached out to the University of California. They declined our request for interview, but provided the following statement: 

The University is committed to fairness and transparency in its admissions practices and compliance with all applicable laws. The petitioners’ lawsuit alleges a single cause of action – violation of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) for declining their request to create and release a customized set of data about individual freshman applicants.

As we have explained to the petitioners, creating a responsive report that would adequately protect the privacy of the individual applicants involved would impose an extensive burden on University resources (and is not required by state law). UC personnel estimate that it would take us weeks of full-time work to create a specialized data set for Prof. Sander, in the effort to convert data into a format that protects the privacy of students – while being forced to set aside other work that is critical to the University. UC generally denies requests for custom-record creation, given the recent increase in such demands on limited staff and resources.

In November 2016, a San Francisco trial court confirmed that state law does not require public agencies to create new records in order to respond to a public records request. In August of this year, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision in a unanimous published decision. (This was Prof. Sander’s lawsuit against the California State Bar.)

The University has made available to the petitioners – and to the general public – extensive data regarding student demographics and outcomes by race/ethnicity on its websites, including the following:

Undergraduate Admissions Summary

Admissions by Source School

Degrees Awarded data

Undergraduate Graduation Rates

Freshman fall admissions summary

CA’s freshman diversity pipeline to UC


Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside HigherEd; he tweets @ScottJaschik

Richard Sander, an economist and professor of law at UCLA, who filed the lawsuit; his recent book is “Moving Toward Integration: The Past and Future of Fair Housing” (Harvard University Press, 2018)