Ackerman: A&M Drops Legacy Admissions

Jan. 9, 2004, 10:40PM
A&M abolishes legacy program
By TODD

ACKERMAN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Texas A&M University President Robert

Gates on Friday ended the school’s legacy program, acknowledging that giving preference to applicants

with blood ties to alumni is inconsistent with an admissions policy based solely on merit. Gates’

decision, effective immediately, ends a controversy that flared up in legislative hearings in past

years and prompted minority politicians and activists this week to threaten a lawsuit if the policy

wasn’t changed.

“I had intended that legacy be addressed in an ongoing review of our

admissions procedures,” Gates said in a statement. “However, public perceptions of the fairness and

equity of our process clearly are important and require prompt action to deal with an obvious

inconsistency in an admissions strategy based on individual merit.”

Gates said he made

the decision after consulting with each Texas A&M University System regent.

A&M may be

the first major university, public or private, to dismantle a full-fledged legacy program, national

experts said. The University of California System eliminated a program in 2000, a limited one that gave

children of out-of-state alumni a boost, granting them consideration along with in-state

applicants.

A&M’s legacy program gave preference to in-state and out-of-state children,

grandchildren and siblings of school alumni. They received four points on a 100-point scale that also

took into account high school class rank, test scores, extracurricular activities and other factors. It

was the only legacy program among Texas public universities.

The program drew heated

criticism this week after A&M acknowledged that legacy was the deciding factor the last two years in

the admissions of more than 300 whites but only a handful of blacks and about 25 Hispanics. The Houston

Chronicle reported the data just a few weeks after Gates’ Dec. 3 announcement that A&M won’t consider

race in admissions because he wants every student to feel they were admitted solely because of

merit.

State legislators and representatives from civil rights and minority advocacy

groups held news conferences around the state Wednesday noting the contradiction and calling on A&M to

end the legacy program. Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe called it “inherently discriminatory”

because blacks didn’t attend A&M until 1963, precluding the “legacy” of many minority applicants,

and some lawyers suggested they would file suit if the policy wasn’t changed.

Gates

said in a telephone interview later Friday that the threat of litigation played no role in his decision

but acknowledged that the criticism was a factor in the timing.

“I’d say the train was

already out of the station, but what I saw in the media this week certainly reinforced the belief that

I needed to act quickly,” Gates said. “They were right to call attention to the

inconsistency.”

Gates emphasized that the legacy policy played a smaller role in

admissions than many believed and said A&M will continue to urge students from Aggie families to

apply.

The program’s critics hailed the decision Friday, but most described it as just

“a first step.”

“This is a win for every student whose parents didn’t attend A&M,”

said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But I’m disappointed that race and ethnicity have not

been reinstated as one of many factors in the admissions process.”

The same sentiment

was voiced by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who said “most right-thinking people still should be

appalled because A&M is so overwhelmingly white and is not using one of the tools — the consideration

of race in admissions — that could help it diversify;” and by Bledsoe, who said A&M has taken “a

small step in the right direction, but eliminating the program won’t repair the wrong

done.”

A&M’s undergraduate population is 82 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 2

percent black and 3 percent Asian-American.

Critics of affirmative action, who applauded

A&M’s decision not to use racial preferences, also had urged the university to revisit its legacy

policy.

“A&M’s decision is good news for those of us who believe in merit-based

university admissions,” said Edward Blum, a senior fellow with the Center for Equal Opportunity, a

Washington-based group that opposes affirmative action. “Now it’s time for the University of Texas-

Austin to follow A&M’s example and eliminate both racial and legacy admissions

preferences.”

A week before A&M announced it wouldn’t consider race in admissions, UT

announced a proposal to resume taking race into account. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that race

may be a factor in admissions gave both schools newfound freedom in that area, overturning a lower

court ruling that had hamstrung both universities’ minority recruitment efforts.

The

Supreme Court decision seemed to focus more attention on legacy programs, often perceived as an Ivy

League phenomenon but actually common among selective universities. U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.,

recently filed a bill to require colleges to disclose the race and economic status of first-year

students related to alumni.

Coleman said he wasn’t surprised Gates acted so quickly to

end the legacy program after the Chronicle’s report was published because criticism of the policy had

come even from allies like Blum. He said A&M can’t lead the anti-affirmative action movement if it is

being criticized by its proponents.

But Gates said he’d essentially made the decision

before such criticism erupted, after talking in December with minority legislators and 100 university

faculty, staff and students.

He said he knew as far back as November that the legacy

program was doomed but first made the Dec. 3 admissions policy announcement because it involved a

change the regents had to approve. But he said that in retrospect, the legacy decision should have been

part of the previous announcement.

“Because it was not, Texas A&M suffered unfortunate

negative publicity,” Gates said. “I take full responsibility for

that.”

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