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Office for Civil Rights puts Texas on notice – investigation to determine Texas’ compliance with a Civil Rights provision

While Texas state officials scramble to adopt
race-neutral admissions and financial aid
policies in the state’s public higher education
system? the U.S. Department of Education
has opened an inquiry to determine whether
the state is complying with Title VI of the
1964 Civil Rights Act.

[The Office for Civil Rights also sent a
letter to Ohio’s Gov. George V. Voinovich
announcing its renewed investigation into
the state’s treatment of Central State
University. For more details, see pg. 8.]
The state of Texas, which has
adopted race-neutral policies as a result
of the 1996 U.S. Fifth Circuit Court
decision in Hopwood v. The State of Texas
banning race as a factor in University of
Texas Law School admissions, stands to
lose millions in funding from the
Department of Education if it fails to meet Title VI and comply
with related consent decrees that allow the
use of race as a factor in admissions and
financial aid.

On March 18, the U.S. Department of
Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
informed twenty-six members of the Texas
state legislature by letter that it “will work
with Texas officials to determine whether any
vestiges of prior discrimination are causing
discrimination to continue.”

The letters, sent by Norma V. Cantu,
Department of Education assistant secretary
for OCR, were a response by the agency to
inquiries made by the legislators on whether
adopting race-neutral admissions and financial
aid policies violates Title VI and related consent decrees.
Cantu wrote in the letter that she had
written earlier to Texas Governor George
Bush to renew OCR’s dialogue with Texas
officials about the state’s desegregation plan
and whether the state has “eliminated the
vestiges of prior d e jure segregation in its
system of public higher education.” She also
stated that the “Supreme Court has
consistently held that affirmative action
measures may be taken to remedy the effects
of prior discrimination.”

Raymond C. Pierce, deputy assistant
secretary for the Office for Civil Rights at the
Department of Education, said education
department officials have begun “informal
with Texas officials
over the state’s move
towards race-neutral
policies in higher
education admissions
and financial aid. “We
have been in dialogue
on these issues, and
we hope to reach
some resolution as
soon as possible,”
Pierce said.

Ray Sullivan, a
spokesman for Governor Bush, said the
Governor “believes that Texas colleges and
universities must work hard to be inclusive.
We believe that schools can have diversity
without basing admissions decisions solely on

Dr. Kenneth H. Ashworth, commissioner
of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating
Board, said he welcomes the intervention of
the Department of Education. He said if the
department finds the state of Texas to be in
violation of Title VI and the related consent
decrees, it could lead to a reversal of the
state’s adoption of race-neutral policies in
higher education.

“We’re in a bind because of the Hopwood
decision. Texas is the only state in the nation
that prohibits affirmative action in its higher
education policies. That puts us at a terrible
disadvantage. It squeezes minorities out of
participating in society like they should,”
Ashworth said.

Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, who
was one of the legislators notified by Cantu
on March 18, was quoted in the Austin
American-Statesman as saying that “Texas
clearly runs the risk of putting federal dollars
in jeopardy.” Ellis was one of about sixty
Texas lawmakers who asked OCR to
investigate whether race-neutral policies at
Texas colleges and universities would
constitute discrimination against Hispanics
and Blacks, the Austin American-Statesman

Ray Grasshoff, a spokesman for the
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,
said Texas received $500 million in funding
for higher education programs from the
Department of Education in fiscal year 1995.
Department of Education funding includes
money for work-study programs, federal
student grants and research grants.

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