University of Texas Campuses Can Make The Choice on Affirmative Action
The University of Texas Board of Regents earlier this month approved a policy that allows individual campuses within the UT System to decide whether to adopt affirmative-action criteria in admissions.
Authority may be further decentralized to separate colleges and even academic departments within those 15 university campuses as a way to enroll a more diverse student population.
The regents’ action on affirmative action was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that public universities can use race and ethnicity as a factor when admitting students. The high court’s ruling negated the Hopwood decisions in Texas, which prohibited use of race in college admissions and financial aid.
Regents chairman Charles Miller of Houston said Hopwood impeded the state’s efforts to create more diverse college campuses, and that public schools in neighboring states could offer better deals to minority students from Texas.
“The handcuffs are off,” Miller says. “We are now in a sense on an equal playing field (with other states).”
The new policy states that race and ethnicity can be considered only if non-race-conscious alternatives are found to be inadequate to achieve the desired level of diversity. And any policy adopted would have to comply with the framework set by the Supreme Court, which ruled that race can be a factor in admissions, but not the only factor.
“We are pro-diversity, but we’re also pro-Supreme Court,” says Mark Yudof, chancellor of the UT System.
Yudof says most of its undergraduate campuses are already highly diversified and would likely have no need to enact affirmative-action programs.
This month’s decision by the regents was mostly aimed at the system’s graduate programs and at its flagship campus in Austin, by far the most popular institution in terms of the number of applications received. In 2002, according to university statistics, about 60 percent of the 52,261 students enrolled at UT-Austin were non-Hispanic White, with 14 percent Asian, 12.3 Hispanic and 3.2 percent Black.
Any new policy for undergraduate admissions would have to be consistent with a state law that entitles Texas high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class to enroll in a state university.
Miller said the popularity of UT-Austin may force that campus to cap its enrollment or consider a broader array of admissions standards in light of the top 10 percent rule and any efforts to enhance student-body diversity.
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