Black carries forth commitment to access in new admissions post
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 Richard Black Peg Skorpinski photo

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

Helping financially disadvantaged students get into college has been a driving force in Richard Black's life since his college days at Harvard, where he worked on educational programs that were part of Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty."

"I was able to self-actualize through this kind of work," said Black, the newly appointed assistant vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment. "It's my calling."

As Berkeley's director of financial aid since 1983, Black, the son of a college professor, has pursued this mission for nearly two decades.

In his new post, he will have an even greater opportunity to affect the educational future of students. "What makes Richard's appointment particularly noteworthy," said Genaro Padilla, vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs, "is his passion to strengthen the diversity of the undergraduate student body and his loyalty to Cal."

Black - who served as interim executive director, then acting assistant vice chancellor for the last two years - replaces Pat Hayashi, who now works for the UC Office of the President. Black is holding down his new position while still running financial aid. A national search for a new financial aid director is under way.

"The very capable staff in financial aid have enabled me to handle both jobs," he said.

Black says his greatest challenge - as head of admissions for one of the country's most competitive universities - is to maintain the campus's historical commitment to educational access for state residents, particularly in light of Proposition 209, which bars the use of affirmative action in college admissions.

"That was a setback in terms of minority representation on campus," said Black, an affirmative action proponent. "But we are working hard to recover."

In the first year after Proposition 209's passage, underrepresented minorities made up 11 percent of the student body. That figure climbed to 13 percent last year and remained constant this year.Black said he is pleased with this progress and is encouraged by the unprecedented number of African American, Chicano, Latino and American Indian students who have applied to Berkeley for the 2001-02 academic year.

Black credits campus outreach efforts for the increase, particularly the yield and recruitment activities performed by Berkeley student groups.

For example, the Bridges Multicultural Center - a consortium of student groups organized to recruit underrepresented minorities - visited nearly 6,000 students at 170 California high schools last fall and hosted more than 2,500 prospective students at Berkeley.

"Berkeley is here for everyone," Black said emphatically. "We're working hard to get that message out."

Another challenge for Black's office is sifting through this year's applicant pool of 35,473 to decide on the 8,900 who will be admitted. Decisions are based on a carefully structured process developed by the campus's Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education Committee, said Black.

"Every freshman application is read by two reviewers, who are specially trained to be consistent with each application," said Black. "Each student receives a thorough, individual evaluation."

Almost all applicants are academically qualified, Black said. Beyond that, the admissions office looks for achievement within the context of opportunities available to students.

"In addition to academic achievement, we look at what the student has done outside the classroom," said Black. "Did they pursue leadership roles, did they have a job, did they do community service?"

Black maintains Berkeley's admissions process is comprehensive, rigorous and fair.

Preparing students for university education - starting with kids as young as 10 - is another concern for Black. He is working with campus outreach groups, such as Upward Bound, the Early Academic Outreach Program and Educational Guidance Program, to double the number of UC-eligible students in Bay Area schools.

By striving for excellence in registration, financial aid, outreach and admissions at Berkeley, Black is able to continue the mission he began nearly 40 years ago - providing opportunities for students to get an education.

"It's my contribution to society," Black said. "It's a neat thing to do, and I find it very rewarding."


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