The idea of academic merit is most appealing to white people when it helps white students, according to new research.

Inside Higher Ed reported on Tuesday that the survey of white Californian adults by Frank L. Samson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, showed respondents favored high test scores and academic achievement when asked to rank admission criteria for University of California (UC) schools. But when a separate group of respondents was informed that Asian-Americans are heavily represented among the UC undergraduate population, it was more likely to de-emphasize academic scores as admission factors.

Samson attributed the disparity in responses to what he described as the idea of a “group threat” feared by the respondents.

"The results here suggest that the importance of meritocratic criteria for whites varies depending upon certain circumstances," IHE quoted him as saying. "To wit, white Californians do not hold a principled commitment to a fixed standard of merit."

Samson also noted in the study that the response mirrored a 2009 decision by the UC system board of regents to replace the Scholastic Aptitude Test requirement for admissions, which prompted concern from Asian-American groups.

"The malleability of white respondents' attitudes towards the importance of university admissions criteria in response to racial considerations indicates that public opinion about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process," IHE quoted Samson as writing.

[Image: "Happy Teenage Students On White" via Shutterstock]

[h/t The Huffington Post]