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California's College Conundrum

Reforming UC admissions requirements isn't the answer.

12:00 AM, May 2, 2008 • By BILL WHALEN
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Then again, if the schools aren't doing their jobs properly, neither is California's political leadership, when it comes to education reform. This year in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a "year of education" agenda that included merit-pay reform and greater local control of school finances. That soon vanished with reports of a growing state budget deficit (California is currently $10 billion in the red for the fiscal year that begins July 1, $1 billion more than previously anticipated).

Instead of landmark reform, Democrats and Republicans are in a tired back-and-forth over taxes and spending. Democrats want to raise taxes in the name of public schools. Republicans refuse, but they do favor more school spending and fewer budget cuts than Schwarzenegger has pitched, all in the name of helping the children. As for Arnold, odds are he'll agree to higher taxes later this summer--again, for the children. It remains to be seen whether his last two years in office will result in any substantial education reform, something he has failed to achieve either through legislation or the initiative route.

Meanwhile, back at UC-Berkeley, life continues uninterrupted, reforms or not. Since late 2006, protestors have sat in oak trees next to the university's football stadium, successfully blocking the construction of a new athletic training facility. A judge ruled the protest illegal, and the university surrounded the oak grove with chain-link fences topped with wire. Still, the protest continues--university officials don't have the stomach to force them down.

It's not the only protest in town. Clashes between veterans and anti-war activists outside the City of Berkeley's Marine Corps recruiting office made major headlines. And it's not even the only tree protest in Berkeley: Earlier this year, a protestor named "Fresh" perched himself in a tree outside the university's Sather Gate for 17 days to highlight UC-Berkeley's business with BP and Dow Chemical and the school's nuclear-weapon research.

Maybe the UC needs to rethink its position. Instead of abolishing some SAT requirements, why not ask a new question: Is silliness the new standard in California higher education?

Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution research fellow, analyzes California and national politics.