Former University of California Regent and longtime affirmative action opponent Ward Connerly has attracted some attention recently by saying he wants to review an agreement that UC San Diego reached with the campus’ Black Student Union on March 4.

UCSD has been hit by a string of bias incidents in recent weeks, and the UCSD administration and the BSU have been working to craft a response. Connerly has expressed concern that their agreement may violate provisions in the California state constitution that ban racial preferences in college admissions.

There’s nothing out of line about this. Proposition 209 is the law of the land, and it’s legitimate for a Prop 209 proponent to try to make sure it’s enforced. But in attempting to explain why UCSD has such a low African American enrollment rate, Connerly made a false and derogatory claim about black students.

Here’s what he said, in an interview with a Southern California paper: “There just aren’t enough black kids who are academically prepared to go to UC San Diego.”

This isn’t an opinion, it’s a factual claim. It’s checkable. It’s verifiable. And it’s wrong.

Emily Alpert of the news site Voice of San Diego has looked at UCSD’s applications and admissions stats, and come up with a bunch of good info. Her data show clearly that it’s not a lack of academic preparation that keeps UCSD’s black student population so low.

In general, the harder a school is to get into, the more likely you are to go there if you’re accepted. It’s almost impossible to get into Harvard, for instance, so if they accept you, you’ll probably go there. On the other hand, if a college is easy to get into, a lot of the people who are accepted will make other choices — that’s the whole idea behind the concept of a safety school.

These principles play out in the University of California as much as they do anywhere else, and they apply to black students as much as any other group. UCLA and Berkeley are the two hardest UCs for black students to get into, and they have the two highest enrollment rates for admitted students. UC Merced is the easiest to get into, and it has the lowest rate. All the other UCs fall more or less in the middle.

Except for UC San Diego.

UCSD has the third-lowest black admission rate in the UC system, and the second-lowest black enrollment rate among students who are accepted. Just 18.8% of black Californians who apply to UCSD get in, and just 14.4% of those accepted enroll.

What does this mean? Well, it means that as tough as it is for black students to get into UCSD — and it is tough, UCSD is a very competitive school — the vast majority of those who get in decide to go somewhere else. A full 85.6% of black California high schoolers who get into UCSD pass on the offer.

Remember, that’s 85.6% of those who apply. There are many many more black students who could make the cut at UCSD but don’t put in an application because they know they’re not interested in attending.

And yes, this is a black thing. At most UC schools, black students are more likely to accept an admission offer than whites or Asians. At UCSD it’s the opposite.

Alpert explores a long list of reasons for this, and her article — a balanced, thoughtful treatment — is well worth reading in full. The university’s reputation for racism plays a part, but so does location, campus climate, and a host of other issues. The bottom line, though, is that the 1.6% figure for black undergraduate enrollment at UCSD has more to do with black students rejecting the college than the college rejecting black students.

Why does this matter? Why have I devoted a 600-word blogpost to refuting an offhand claim by a former Regent? Because Connerly’s casual bigotry is endemic in American higher education. The perception that black students are affirmative action admits is rampant on college campuses, among faculty and administrators as well as students, and Connerly’s assumption — that if there aren’t any African American students on campus it must be because they couldn’t hack it — goes hand-in-hand with that.

All University of California campuses practice race-blind admissions. But that fact doesn’t guarantee race-blind acceptances. UCSD has tremendous difficulty convincing black students to enroll, a difficulty that existed long before the campus’s current racial flare-up. By pretending that that difficulty doesn’t exist, Ward Connerly does a huge disservice to UCSD, its black students, and everyone who encounters his reckless, ill-informed pontificating.