Monday, December 15, 2003

Affirmative actions admissions subject to a "blinking yellow light" 

The decision by Texas A&M to not use race as an admissions factor has created a debate in Texas.
The [Michigan] ruling was greeted with deep sighs of relief by admissions officers around the country and particularly in Texas, where advocates of preferences rejoiced that it signaled the death of Hopwood, the 1996 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a UT law school admissions policy as discriminatory. But as schools studied the Supreme Court ruling, they quickly became aware they were treading through a legal minefield.

"The Supreme Court decision didn't give admissions offices a green light on affirmative action," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education. "It gave them a blinking yellow light."

The ruling may have made clear that race can be considered, but it left unclear whether certain programs that target minorities will withstand legal challenges. Already, some schools have altered or done away with minority scholarships, orientation days and recruitment programs because conservative organizations have threatened legal action or, in some cases, filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education.
So Texas A&M, unlike UT, has decided it wants to go a different way.
That's not stopping A&M from trying. [A&M President Robert] Gates says he has the same goal as everyone else -- significantly increasing minority enrollment. He just thinks there are different ways of going about it.

Gates is pledging a greater commitment to recruiting minorities. Already having created a Cabinet-level diversity position in the school administration, he said he'll create scholarships for first-generation students who come from lower-income families and he'll beef up outreach efforts to large urban areas such as Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, as well as the Rio Grande Valley. Many faculty senate members last week signed up to be part of the effort.
These are very expensive steps vs. using a numerical ranking. As we noted back in August, maintaining diversity goals in the face of the Michigan decision is practically a full employment plan for admissions counselors. But Gates believes it is worth it.
I realize that this is an unusual position to stake out, that we seem to be alone among selective universities. But my top priority is increasing minority enrollment. I just don't think that means everyone has to use the same methods. And I want our students to believe they're here because of who they are, not what they are."
The article notes the high percentage of classes at UT that have either no or just one member of a minority group. John Rosenberg comments:
Obviously, then, if Michigan was correct in arguing that a liberal education requires racial diversity, Texas students are being woefully deprived. Perhaps sole blacks and Hispanics should not be allowed to enroll in a class unless at least one additional black or Hispanic can be found to enroll, and whites should be required to take a certain number of classes with more than one minority students.
He's not joking.