A&M Still Has Some Explaining to Do

Jan. 11, 2004

One Month Later,

We are Still Surprised and

It is Time for the Public to be Shown
Why and How the Recommendation

Was Formulated to Abolish Affirmative Action
At College Station and


By Greg


In light of the Dec.5, 2003

announcement by officials of the Texas A&M University System that affirmative action would be suspended

in the admissions process, questions might be asked. At what point did Texas A&M formulate its

strategic decision to abandon affirmative action, and what sorts of considerations were given what

measures of weight? The surprising nature of the Texas A&M announcement is itself already an

indictment of sorts, because it counts as evidence that neither state lawmakers, civil rights groups,

nor citizens were given fair warning that such an important policy reversal was in the works.

An examination of the most prominent documents relating to diversity and admissions

offers no warnings that Texas A&M would be considering such an important reversal of policy. In fact,

the documents pledge with exuberant language that all available legal and constitutional means would be

employed by policy makers in Texas to improve admissions performance.

Affirmative action

in admissions was voluntarily adopted by the Texas A&M Board of Regents on Dec. 5, 1980, as a way to

show that Texas A&M would conduct itself in “good faith” during the coming years of de-segregation.

And when Texas A&M was forced to suspend affirmative action during the Hopwood challenge, internal

memos indicated that the change was not a welcome one for university administrators.

Wrote Provost Ronald G. Douglas on Aug. 7, 1996: “reluctantly, we must change a system

which was working.” In language that expressed disappointment with the Hopwood context, Douglas

explained that Texas A&M had, “developed an admissions process which we believed was fair and promoted

all our goals.” In light of recent statements by Pres. Gates that consideration of race tends to

prevent individualized evaluation of applicants, Douglas reported that “Texas A&M University has

considered a spectrum of individual characteristics beyond simply examining academic credentials”


In a series

of crucial documents, expectations have been raised that Texas A&M would pursue vigorous exercise of

diversity policies. These expectations were outlined in a key report, “Vision 2020,” prepared

internally at the College Station campus and endorsed in 1999 by the Texas A&M Board of Regents. In

addition, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Office of Governor, and the Office for

Civil Rights at the US Dept. of Education also have left the clear impression that everything would be

done to enhance diversity that was legally and constitutionally possible.


an agreement between OCR and the Governor in the summer of 2000 explicitly promises that the state

would consult with OCR on a continuing basis for several more years as Texas seeks to conclude its

period of federal supervision for the de-segregation of higher education.

And finally,

during the Summer of 2003, in response to the Supreme Court’s approval of affirmative action in college

admissions, Texas A&M President Robert Gates promised that, “We are looking to see if the Supreme Court

decision offers us additional opportunities to assist in attracting a student body more representative

of all Texans” (http://www.tamu.edu/univrel/aggiedaily/news/stories/03/062703-


At no time do we find any document or announcement that would prepare us for

the likelihood that widely-promulgated expectations would be abandoned.

Any review of

crucial documents would have to include the “Texas Commitments” that were made by Gov. George W. Bush

to the OCR in the Summer of 2000. The very first sentence of this commitment states that, “The State

of Texas is committed to ensuring equal access to high quality education for all of the State’s

citizens regardless of race, color, or national origin, and is aware of its affirmative duties

under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (italics added, pdf page 40, Fourth Texas Plan,

Appendix, http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/pdf/0313.pdf).

The “Texas Commitments”

then quickly refer to the Constitutional context established by the Fordice ruling, whereby, “race

neutral policies alone are not sufficient to determine that a state has effectively discharged its

affirmative obligation to dismantle a formerly de jure
segregated system of higher education” (pdf

page 40, Fourth Texas Plan).

The early language of the “Texas Commitments” raises

expectations that “affirmative duties” will be seriously exercised by policy makers across the state of

Texas, and that something more than “race neutral policies” will be considered obligatory for states,

like Texas, who are working to “dismantle a formerly de jure segregated system of higher education.”

Nothing in this language so far hints that Texas will allow any of its campuses to

unilaterally withdraw affirmative action so long as it can be pursued to the fullest extent of the


In fact, the “Texas Commitments” go on to promise that (take a deep breath), “when

the public agencies or institutions of higher education in Texas implement any of the measures or

operate any other programs relating to admissions or financial aid in a race-conscious manner, they

must operate in conformity with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and its implementing

regulations, applicable federal court case law, including Fordice, Regents of the University of

California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), and the U.S.

Department of Education’s published policy regarding race-targeted financial aid, 59 Federal Register

4271 (Feb. 23, 1994), so long as they are controlling law” (pdf page 42, Fourth Texas


This sounds like a mouthful, but the paragraph conveys an expectation

nevertheless, that Texas will operate with a sensitivity to the total context of Constitutional case

law. Thus, when Hopwood was superseded by Grutter, and when the new legal environment was acknowledged

by Pres. Gates in a public release on June 27, 2003, citizens of Texas had a right to expect that the

use of affirmative action in admissions would be part of the state’s, the system’s, and the

university’s “affirmative duties” to do something more than pursue “race neutral policies.”

In Grutter v Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a succinct and clear

vindication of affirmative action. Briefs in favor of affirmative action were filed by prestigious

corporations and institutions, including the United States Military. So when the Supreme Court did

what the US Military asked it to do, and vindicated affirmative action; once again, citizens of Texas

had every reason to expect that an institution with deep and lasting military ties, such as Texas A&M,

would show leadership in the field.

On June 27, 2003, Pres. Gates issued an official

statement that recognized the importance of the Grutter ruling, made reference to Texas A&M’s “Vision

2020” plan, and said, “We are looking to see if the Supreme Court decision offers us additional

opportunities to assist in attracting a student body more representative of all Texans”


When Pres. Gates

publicly announced that he was seeking “additional opportunities”
in the wake of a Constitutional

vindication of affirmative action, what sort of expectations was he raising in the minds of the

citizens of
Texas? The plain language of his message was clear. Texas A&M University will be doing

more, not less. There was no hint in his public statement that his quest for “additional

opportunities” would culminate five months later in his recommendation to abolish affirmative action in

the admissions process.

On Dec. 9, 2003, The Texas Civil Rights Review filed an open

records request seeking “complete minute-item supporting materials” that were provided to the Regents

when they were asked to adopt the Gates recommendation. The reply from the Texas A&M University System

on Jan. 7 indicates that no supporting rationale whatsoever was provided to the Regents. Only a few

sheets of paper were returned in reply to the Open Records request, and they only convey the bare-bones

outlines of “recommended changes.” A one-page summary of the “recommended changes,” marked “Item 16,

Exhibit D” simply states the bare features of certain academic requirements, and makes no mention of

the fact that the proposal will affect affirmative action. I don’t yet know what to make of the

meaning of “Exhibit D,” but I do know that I asked for the “complete minute-item supporting materials.”

If Exhibits A-C or E-Z also belong to Item 16, I am entitled to them by Texas law, no further

questions asked.

Between June 27 and Dec. 5, Texas A&M University translated “additional

opportunities” afforded by a recent Supreme Court decision into a historical rejection of affirmative

action. In light of the documents that raise our expectations toward more vigorous pursuit of the

state’s “affirmative duties”, the citizens of Texas have not yet been provided with the substantial

documents they have a right to expect, because such an important and counterintuitive transformation in

policy must surely be carefully documented somewhere in a form that is accessible to public review and


The “Vision 2020” plan that Pres. Gates references in his Jun. 27

announcement was developed by the Texas A&M community and adopted by the Regents on May 28, 1999

(http://www.tamu.edu/vision2020/culture/84.php). Imperative Number Six of this plan calls upon Texas

A&M to become “a leader in promoting diversity in its student body.” Two reasons are given that,

“require diversity”: first there is the intellectual demand that comes with the meaning of a

university; second there is a practical demand of material economy. Both of these demands were

underscored in O’Connor’s vindication of affirmative action. It would seem that O’Connor’s decision

matched perfectly with Texas A&M’s own self-adopted goals


At crucial points in the documentary

record we find self-adopted promises and plans that seemed ready and waiting for the Supreme Court’s

vindication of affirmative action. Consider again the Governor’s “Texas Commitments” that were pledged

to OCR. In this case the italics were provided by Gov. Bush: “The State and its institutions are

committed to the continuing support, implementation, and,where possible, the augmentation of these

efforts to improve recruitment,retention, and success of other race students, faculty, and staff.

The Governor’s language of the summer of 2000 sounds very much like the language used

by Pres. Gates in the summer of 2003. Where possible, efforts will be “augmented” with “additional

opportunities.” These are the expectations that were raised by Texas A&M’s own internal plan, the

Governor’s “Texas Commitments”, the O’Connor opinion, and the summer announcement by Pres.


But these are not yet all the expectations that have been raised. In the “Texas

Commitments” of Gov. George W. Bush, the state promised to remain in close consultation with OCR during

the period of the Fourth Texas Plan, which runs at least through the 2006-2007 biennial budget:

“Because the State and OCR recognize that the affected universities’ governing boards will play an

important role in implementation, the universities’ governing boards, which will continue to be

composed of outstanding members, will fulfill their constitutional and statutory duties in this regard

and the State will assist, as necessary, the governing boards in effectively carrying out the

agreement. The State and OCR will continue to collaborate during the monitoring and implementation

period of the final State plan until implementation is complete” (pdf page 48, Fourth Texas


Again, the language is plain. The Governor promises that Regents will work in

collaboration with the Governor and the OCR as they implement the final stages of de-segregation in

Texas. Surely this means that if the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents is considering a

surprising policy that would eliminate affirmative action so shortly after the Supreme Court affirms

it, then consultation is called for.

The citizens of Texas have not been provided with

any evidence that the “Texas Commitments” have been kept. Where is the documentary evidence of the

Regents’ consultation with the Governor? Where is the correspondence with OCR?

In the

end, citizens of the state of Texas have two reasons to be surprised and two legitimate demands for

public accountability. One the one hand, Texas citizens have a right to be surprised that a University

President’s pledge to seek “additional opportunities” in the wake of the O’Connor opinion turned out to

be a recommendation to abolish affirmative action in admissions. Along with this surprise, the

citizens of Texas also have a right to view and discuss any intervening documentation that would

support such a surprising result.

Finally, the citizens of Texas have a right to be

surprised that the Regents would adopt such a policy in close collaboration with the Governor and OCR.

But if the Regents did NOT collaborate with the Governor and OCR, then the citizens of Texas have a

right to be surprised that the Regents acted unilaterally, in violation of the “Texas Commitments” made

by Gov. George W. Bush. Along with this surprise comes a right. The citizens of Texas have a right to

view and discuss any correspondence that would help us to understand how the Regents, the Governor, and

the OCR collaborated on this particular “implementation” of de-segregation in Texas. If there is no

such documentation, the citizens of Texas have a right to see the Regent’s policy rescinded

immediately, along with the resignation of the Chairman of the Board of Regents.

As an

afterthought, I think about the list of Fortune 500 companies who rushed into court in support of

affirmative action in Michigan. They argued that practical realities of the business world made

affirmative action a wise policy for higher education. So we have another question on our hands.

What’s up with the Chairman and CEO of Clear Channel? Why is Lowry Mays, who is chair of Clear Channel

and the Texas A&M University System, using his significant political clout to implement a reversal that

other corporate leaders would ill advise? I think we need to hear from him, too.

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