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University of California mulls asking incoming students their sexual orientation

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The University of California is considering a system wide policy that would give incoming students the option to state their sexual orientation on S.I.R. forms. (Reuters)

A plan by the University of California to allow incoming students to declare their sexual orientation is winning praise from gay advocates, but critics charge it will create another class slated for preferential treatment.

The 10-school, 235,000-student system would make the question optional on forms known as "Statement of Intern to Register," allowing officials to more accurately track the makeup of the student body and improve programs and services, officials said. But critics claim it will simply pave the way for another group to seek preferential treatment.

“It’s a very bad idea," Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute and former regent board member for the University of California system told FoxNews.com "I think that it will lead to another protected class.”

Gay advocates hailed the measure, emphasizing that it is not mandatory. They compared it to other identifying characteristics routinely sought on such forms.

“It’s much like asking race or gender,” Matt Comer, a spokesman for Campus Pride, a national LGBT student advocacy group told FoxNews.com, “Not only will it provide more accurate statistics, but the administration can be held accountable for the services they may or may not provide to the student body.”

Writing in UCLA's Daily Bruin, columnist Kimberly Grano said the plan is not as intrusive as it might sound.

"At first glance, it might seem the university would be unnecessarily delving into a potentially sensitive subject for incoming students," Grano wrote. "However, gathering figures about how many students identify with the LGBT community could allow the university to better serve and support members of the community."

But Raja Bhattar, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center at UCLA told the station the numbers may not be all that precise.

“The sexual orientation question would likely be optional," Bhattar told CBS' Los Angeles affiliate. "That may mean that a sizable number of students would not respond or would do so dishonestly — skewing the results.”

The measure recently received the backing of the Academic Council of the UC Academic Senate. The decision is up to Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Lawrence Pitts. While there does not appear to be a timetable for the decision, it is believed the plan could take effect in time for next fall’s admissions.

Only one other school in the country currently asks incoming students about their sexual orientation. Chicago-area Elmhurst College included the question on forms last year and 5 percent of those who answered the question identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

Yale and Harvard have considered similar measures in recent years, but have not enacted any changes to their registration process.

Connerly said schools should accept or reject students based solely on merit, and stop the practice of measuring the makeup of incoming classes by race, gender or sexual orientation.

“I don’t think a university should be asking about a student’s sexuality, race, or gender," said Connerly, who brought attention to the university system's race-based system of preferences within its admissions policies. "This is a step in the wrong direction.”