January 10, 2004
Gates: This is just step in review
Bryan-College Station Eagle Staff Writer
Under fire from minority lawmakers
and civil rights groups, Texas A&M University on Friday abruptly ended a controversial legacy program
that for 14 years gave an edge to some applicants whose relatives had attended the
[Graphic Caption: Eagle photo/Butch Ireland
Frank B. Ashley, Texas A&M University
acting assistant provost for enrollment, talks about the legacy program which university president
Robert Gates discontinued Friday Gates said A&M will no longer award points for legacy in the
admissions review process.]
President Robert Gates’ announcement Friday immediately
ended the only formalized legacy program among the state’s public universities. But he said his
decision was already in motion before critics stepped up pressure this week for A&M to end the
Several of those critics applauded the elimination of legacy, which they said
disadvantaged minorities applying to the once all-white university. But they continued pressing Gates
to allow consideration of race in admissions decisions to correct A&M’s poor record of minority
Gates said further use of legacy — which last fall helped 353 students who
didn’t qualify for automatic admission get into A&M — was inconsistent with the university’s new policy
to accept students only on merit.
While eliminating legacy removed that inconsistency
and will make the admissions process appear more equitable, the move probably won’t drastically affect
the ethnic makeup of incoming classes, he said.
“I’m an outsider, and I don’t believe
legacy has kept A&M from attracting a diverse class,” Gates told The Eagle on Friday. “The problem is
we’ve not been aggressive enough in recruiting minorities and convincing them to come.”
Several critics balked at the president’s contention that legacy admissions haven’t
pushed out more qualified minorities from the 45,000-student campus.
“We know that A&M
is a school that is built on traditions and talks about the A&M family and traditions as one of its
attributes. So, yes, it’s clear they wanted to keep [new students] in the bloodline,” said state Rep.
Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who had called for legacy’s elimination. “The other outreach programs were
akin to looking for stepchildren.”
Added state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston:
“Unfortunately, abolishing the legacy program at Texas A&M doesn’t change the fact that the school is
82 percent Anglo, while the state is less than 50 percent white. This is just the first step in many
that are needed to correct the existing minority gap.”
Although A&M is known for
admitting multiple generations of Aggies from families, giving applicants points for legacy is a
relatively new practice.
Until the late 1980s, A&M essentially was an open-enrollment
campus and had enough room to admit all applicants who met academic guidelines, university officials
When the incoming class ballooned to about 7,400 in 1987, many hopefuls were
turned away. That led to enrollment management and the beginning of a review process for applicants who
didn’t qualify for automatic entry.
A variety of criteria were added to evaluate the
review pool — among them such categories as extracurricular involvement, leadership and, starting in
1989, legacy. In recent years, review-pool applicants could earn up to four of a possible 100 points if
they had siblings, parents or other relatives who had attended A&M.
say most students who earn legacy points don’t need them to win admission because they have enough from
In fact, Gates said Friday, 536 applicants last fall who did earn
legacy points ultimately didn’t make the cut. The vast majority of them were white, as were the 353 who
wouldn’t have gotten in without a legacy score.
None of the 10,000 applicants admitted
last fall got in solely because of legacy, Gates said. He and other university officials said students
always have had to meet minimum academic standards to be considered.
Still, the legacy
practice has given white students an unfair advantage, many minority critics contend, primarily because
blacks were not allowed into A&M until 1963.
“The legacy program has exacerbated a
discriminatory situation,” Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe said. “The legacy program does not
benefit [blacks] in the same way it’s benefited many others.”
Lawmakers and activists, white and nonwhite, have stepped up pressure in recent
years on Texas’ public universities to enroll more minorities. The change is needed, they say, to
ensure a high level of education for the state’s increasingly diverse population and to correct past
Last year, the University of Texas and numerous other public
schools said they would reinstitute affirmative action after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996
Hopwood ruling that banned it. A&M, however, would not reintroduce race as one of many admissions
criteria, Gates said in December.
Rather, the president said, the university will revamp
its admissions to a totally “merit-based” system and more aggressively recruit minorities. Among the
changes will be tougher standards for automatic acceptance and a requirement that applicants submit
essays on their backgrounds.
The new approach should help A&M find more qualified
students who can bring diversity to the campus, Gates said.
But the changes ramped up
pressure from affirmative action advocates that reached a crescendo this week with the legacy
“I would hope they would see we’re serious abut a merit-based process that takes
into account the whole person,” Gates said Friday of those critics.
Still, he said he is
concerned about more backlash because concrete results aren’t expected before the Fall 2005 incoming
class. A&M already is well into the admissions process for next fall, so the most recent round of
reforms — except for the legacy change — won’t affect this year’s applicants.
a number of things we’re doing to reverse the seven-year decline in the number of minorities,” he said,
referring to greater financial aid for low-income students and giving first-generation college
applicants more weight in the admissions process. “[But] everyone wants us to change it overnight.”
NAACP and Texas LULAC, both of which had threatened legal action to stop the legacy
program, still may consider lawsuits to try and force race back into the admissions process, officials
Gates would not say whether threat of litigation will influence any future
decision on race in admissions, but he said A&M will reintroduce affirmative action should the state
Legislature insist. Several lawmakers, including Coleman and state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin,
said they saw no need to legislate the matter but hoped A&M would do that on its
Barrientos, who also had slammed the legacy program in recent days, was more
receptive than many of his colleagues of the legacy elimination as a step toward a more diverse
“I applaud Dr. Gates’ decision to remove the legacy program at this time,” said
Barrientos, whose daughter is an Aggie. “Now, as the father of an A&M graduate, we might be a bit
saddened that the program is scrapped; however, I think it’s the right move.”
agreed with Gates that dropping lega
cy likely will have little affect on the ethnicity of the student
State Rep. Fred Brown, meanwhile, had come out before in favor of legacy but on
Friday changed his tune. The College Station Republ
ican said he now thinks it was unfair to continue
the legacy practice but not consider race in admissions.
Texas A&M’s other local
representative in Austin, state Sen. Steve Ogden, could not be reached Friday.
It was difficult to immediately gauge the reaction of current students,
as Gates’ announcement came on a sleepy Friday before the start of spring classes. Several former
students contacted after the announcement reacted with surprise but were supportive, saying legacy
shouldn’t be used to score applicants if race isn’t.
Chatter on Aggie-related Internet
message boards — which often gives a rough measure of such opinions — showed a mix of support and
Gates said he was prepared for a flood of e-mails on the subject and
that he hopes most Aggies see this as the “next logical step” in a new approach to picking the A&M
“My guess is that a lot of former students don’t really appreciate how
little impact legacy has had on the process in the real world,” he said. “If the reality is that legacy
helped 300 get in, the perception of some Aggies is probably that it’s 3,000.”
that A&M officials will continue to encourage students from Aggie families to apply for
Gates said he discussed the legacy decision with the A&M System Board of
Regents and members were supportive. Several regents — including Chairman Lowry Mays and Vice Chairman
Erle Nye, both A&M graduates — could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
president said he took responsibility for “negative publicity” suffered by A&M since he unveiled the
admissions changes in December. He said removal of legacy should have been done then.
“Today’s announcement brings greater consistency and equity to our admissions decision-making process,”
a statement he released Friday read. “We will continue our review.”
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Bryan – College Station Eagle