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Texas A&M to Leave Race Out of Admissions Decisions

Texas A&M to Leave Race Out of Admissions Decisions University says it will step up minority recruiting, offer scholarships   

While many colleges nationwide are scrambling to use affirmative action in admissions, Texas A&M University has announced it won’t give race any special consideration.
Instead, A&M officials are confident that efforts such as stepped-up minority recruiting and more scholarships for first-generation, low-income students will bring more people of color to the 45,000-student campus just northwest of Houston. A recent decision by A&M President Dr. Robert Gates not to consider applicants’ race, however, is believed to be among the first in the country since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that race could indeed be one of many factors in college admissions. “We all have a toolbox,” Gates says. “The choice of which tools you use doesn’t have to be the same at every university.”
But Gates, who assumed the presidency in 2002, insists that A&M “can deliver significant improvements” in the number of minority freshmen by the fall semester if officials do a better job marketing the school now to students granted admission.
Right after Texas A&M University system regents unanimously approved Gates’ race-blind admissions policies on Dec. 5, staff began sending acceptance letters to students. Those letters include offers of new $5,000-a-year A&M scholarships for up to four years, to students whose families earn $40,000
annually or less and who would be the first in their families to attend college. Race was not a factor in those offers. An analysis of the 2002 freshmen class showed that if these scholarships had existed earlier, 575 students would have received them. Half would have been Hispanic, Black, Asian or American Indian, Gates says, although ethnic breakdowns weren’t known.
So rather than use racial preferences at the land-grant campus, Gates says, “every student here will have been admitted based on personal merit. This is the best course for us.” A&M will still automatically admit students graduating in the Top 10 percent of their high-school class, following a state law governing all public universities. A&M also automatically admits students earning certain test scores and high-school class rank. Under the new plan, officials expect to judge more applicants individually based on grades, leadership, work experience and other factors. In the future, applicants must answer essay questions asking them to describe a “significant setback, challenge or opportunity” and its impact, as well as how their individual characteristics will contribute to A&M.
But the race-blind admissions policies, which will begin taking effect for the fall 2006 freshmen class, has sparked anger among legislators. Since 1996, when the Hopwood court ruling led Texas universities to drop affirmative action, high-achieving minorities have left for other states dangling race-conscious scholarships. In fact, an A&M internal report in 2002 described the university as “an enclave for the education of White students.” This fall, 82 percent of A&M’s undergraduates are White. Only 2 percent are Black, 9 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian American. Says Texas Sen. Royce West, “This institution had a chance to correct its miserable record in admitting minorities and it did not take full advantage.”
West calls the A&M decision surprising. Many schools, including the University of Texas, have considered reinstituting race as an admissions factor post-Michigan decision. “For Texas A&M to take such a drastic step,” West says, “without seeking input from other stakeholders that may have offered alternatives — is truly disappointing.”
A former CIA director, Gates is first to agree that A&M historically hasn’t done much aggressive recruitment of minorities, and instead has a reputation as unwelcoming. Formerly an all-male military academy, the school has drawn bad publicity for incidents such as students planning a “ghetto party” for Martin Luther King day that was later cancelled once school officials found out, as well as a student group running a bake sale where they charged different prices to different ethnicities as a way to protest affirmative action. Gates insists he’s committed to diversity and tolerance. He has given $50,000 in personal funds to endow two A&M scholarships for students of disadvantaged backgrounds. The first scholarship was given to a Hispanic woman. Gates also created a new position of vice president and associate provost for institutional assessment and diversity. It was recently filled by Dr. James Anderson, former vice provost for undergraduate affairs at North Carolina State University.
Under Gates’ plan, A&M will, among other things:
• Personally contact minorities who have been admitted to encourage them to enroll. Currently, less than half of all Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans admitted actually enroll, compared to 62 percent of Whites;
• Sponsor more minority high-school student visits to campus at A&M’s expense;
• Expand outreach into high-minority areas such as Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and along the heavily Hispanic border near Mexico.
“These are efforts we won’t be doing for Whites,” Gates says.
Various predominantly White schools in the country have increased their minority ranks with similar efforts. The University of Georgia had a 25 percent increase in Black freshmen last fall. Eastern Kentucky University saw a 20 percent increase.
Reaction to Gates’ plan has been mixed, but some at A&M support it.
Miguel Aguilar, a graduating senior who has led the Hispanics’ President Council, is glad to see applicants judged on merit alone. He applauds the new scholarships, adding that skyrocketing costs have hindered many Latinos from leaving home for college.
Roger Clegg, vice president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, praises A&M for not considering race in admissions, but criticizes officials for “rolling out the red carpet for some, yet not others” in recruiting.
A&M regent Bill Jones says that while he doesn’t want race given extra weight in admissions, he doesn’t understand how race can be screened out of applications. “I don’t see how we can overlook race if it’s right there,” says Jones, a Black A&M alumnus.
Gates isn’t sure whether race will be isolated from the files that are reviewed. Officials have just started altering applications. Furthermore, applicants can disclose race when answering essay questions, or by listing foreign languages spoken.
Gates discussed his plan publicly Dec. 3, 2003. The text of his remarks is online at < president/speeches/031203admissions.html>.  By Lydia Lum

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