San Antonio: Castro, Villareal, Menendez, & LULAC

A&M ‘legacy’ policy seen related to lack of minorities

By Matt Flores
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted : 01/08/2004 12:00 AM

Citing Texas A&M University’s poor record of attracting minority students, legislators Wednesday

called on the institution to abandon its practice of giving a boost in the admissions process to

children, grandchildren and siblings of alumni. “You can’t close the door on affirmative action and

make birthright an entitlement to admission,” state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said in a news

conference.

He was joined by state Reps. Mike Villarreal and Jose Menéndez, also San

Antonio Democrats, and members of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Simultaneous news conferences were held in Austin and Houston to denounce Texas A&M’s so-called

“legacy” policy, which has come under growing criticism since the university announced last month it

wouldn’t use race as a factor in its admissions policy.

Wednesday’s move was the

latest among several lawmakers who are pressuring Texas A&M to scrap the legacy policy. State Rep. Lon

Burnam, D-Fort Worth, already has said he intends to file legislation aimed at ending A&M’s legacy

program.

The lawmakers and civil rights activists called on the university to

reconsider its legacy policy, saying it effectively gives preferences to Anglo students at a time when

the school is struggling to diversify.

Last year, Anglos accounted for 82 percent of

A&M’s student population while Hispanics made up 9 percent. African Americans accounted for 2 percent

and Asian Americans accounted for 3 percent.

By comparison, Anglos accounted for 60

percent of the student body at the University of Texas at Austin — the state’s other public flagship

institution — while Hispanics made up 14 percent and African Americans accounted for 3 percent. Asian

Americans made up 17 percent.

“The legacy program at A&M counters the worthy goal of

closing the gaps in Texas institutions,” said Villarreal, a 1992 A&M graduate.

He was

referring to the state’s “Closing the Gaps” initiative to bring about greater parity in college

attendance and graduation rates.

The U.S. Supreme Court last summer cleared the way for

Texas institutions to resume affirmative action practices, and some in the state, including UT-Austin

and Rice University, have since announced plans to revamp their admissions policies to include race

factors.

Texas A&M is the only public university in the state that gives preferences to

applicants who are the grandchildren, children or siblings of A&M graduates.

Although

in some years A&M gives a boost to as many as 2,000 legacy applicants, university data showed the

consideration was the difference in admitting 345 new freshmen in 2003.

Of those

admitted because of the legacy consideration, 312 were Anglo, 27 were Hispanic and six were African

American. Only about 300 African Americans were admitted to the university as a whole in

2003.

“More students were admitted because Mom or Dad went to A&M than the total

number of African Americans admitted,” said Gary Bledsoe, state president of the National Association

for the Advancement of Colored People, who spoke at the news conference in Austin.

“The Texas A&M legacy program is inherently discriminatory toward minorities — and based on

nothing even resembling merit,” Bledsoe added.

Texas A&M officials didn’t respond to

interview requests, but in defending A&M’s position, school officials have said that legacy

considerations don’t guarantee admission and have noted that minority legacies are admitted at about

the same rate as Anglo legacies.

Late Wednesday, A&M President Robert Gates issued this

statement:

“As I indicated several weeks ago when I met with concerned legislators,

the admissions process has been under review and will continue to be evaluated to ensure that it

achieves one of the university’s primary objectives — that of having a student body that is more

representative of the state of Texas.”

And the university’s true problem in

diversifying its student body, officials say, lies with persuading prospective students to enroll, not

in admitting them. Fewer than half of Hispanic and African American students who are admitted to A&M

each year actually enroll.

Instead of concentrating on an affirmative action admissions

policy, Gates has embarked on efforts to award more scholarships to needy, first-generation college

students and to intensify outreach efforts in urban areas. Last summer, the school opened a center in

HemisFair Plaza to facilitate applications for admissions, housing and financial aid.

But Villarreal said he would give the university an “F” thus far in addressing minority

enrollment.

“They may be great efforts, but they are going to be judged on how their

minority numbers improve,” he said. “What really matters is who attends and who eventually walks

across the stage.”

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