Under this plan of "comprehensive review," an applicant's chances can rise if he or she has overcome a physical handicap, needed to work after school, was fired or "downsized" at work, lives in a single-parent or low-income home, or comes from a family in which neither parent went to high school. "Unusual family disruption" is a plus, too. So are any "unusual medical/emotional problems" of the student applying.
This means that students are rewarded for their parents' failures and for their own psychological problems as well. If dad walks out on mom or beats her up, or if you have a few suicide tries on your record, you might improve your chances of leaping over more academically qualified candidates who are short on family turmoil.
It goes without saying that any wildly irrational scheme installed at an American university is very likely a "diversity" tactic, undertaken to evade laws or court rulings against quotas. The law up for evasion here is Proposition 209, passed by California voters in 1996. It forbids any racial and ethnic preferences in the public sector, including admissions to the state's public colleges and universities. The University of California's "comprehensive review" plan contains a pious line saying that it must not be used to promote racial preferences (i.e., its framers wouldn't dream of disobeying the law). But moderately alert observers understand that it is ready-made to reduce the numbers of Asians and whites, and to increase the number of blacks and Latinos.
"Diversity" now functions like a militant religion on the campuses. Some colleges force professors to sign diversity loyalty oaths, promising to introduce the faith into their courses, even ones on math and science. Lani Guinier suggests that every college student be required to write an essay on diversity. And it is generally understood that anyone wishing to be president of a major university must be ready to promote diversity preferences despite what the law and the courts might say.