A recently released survey of Texas colleges and universities, regarding proposed responses
to the Supreme Court’s Grutter ruling, yields a fascinating study in contrasts. Nowhere are the
contrasts more striking than in the differences found between two presidents at the Texas A&M campus in
College Station. Well known by now is the initiative of Texas A&M president Robert Gates to disregard
affirmative action in admissions for the College Station and Galveston campuses. But what has not been
noticed is the quiet work underway at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, headquartered “across the
tracks” in College Station.
The report that follows is based solely on documentary
evidence made available through open records requests and internet searches. But the documentary
differences are astonishing and instructive. At Texas A&M, it is the worst of times, but also the
On Dec. 19, 2003, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board asked the state’s
colleges and universities to report the changes they were planning to make in the wake of the Supreme
Court’s Grutter decision. The 5-4 decision, handed down during the Summer of 2003, written by Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor, vindicated affirmative action as a constitutional practice, providing that certain
criteria were kept in mind.
The Grutter ruling ended a seven-year period in Texas,
during which a regional opinion handed down in the Hopwood case, was widely enforced as a prohibition
against affirmative action. On June 27, 2003, Texas A&M President Robert Gates posted a statement at
his official web page, declaring that:
“Last Monday’s Supreme Court decisions involving
the University of Michigan appear to level the playing field with other universities throughout the
country, enhancing our ability to attract high quality minority students. Texas A&M already has a
number of initiatives and programs under way consistent with Texas law to attract such students. 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.”
So it came as a surprise to Texas
media, legislators, and civil rights organizations when Gates announced in December that he would not
be recommending the resumption of affirmative action in admissions.
policy that the Gates administration ushered through the committee structure at Texas A&M made no
references to race or affirmative action. It made no mention of Grutter.
the written plan were other initiatives by president Gates to put money into scholarships, recruitment
of students and faculty of color, and hiring a vice president of diversity. According to the chair of
the Faculty Senate, Martha Loudder, “These recommendations had been made every year since I have been
involved in the Faculty Senate. It was only when Dr. Gates came to Texas A&M in September 2002 that any
of them were seriously considered by the administration. Every single one of them has been
Dr. Gates argued publicly that by concentrating funding and energies in
other areas, the goals of racial diversity could be achieved without resort to affirmative action in
admissions. And his arguments won support from an admissions committee and the faculty senate.
But Gates’ public arguments were not submitted in writing as part of the official
minutes for any of the reports. Furthermore, there is yet no record to reflect that Texas A&M
considered its unique responsibilities to the ongoing process of federally-supervised de-
What we do have is a list of bullet points, outlining some of the criteria
that will be considered during the admissions process, along with a note from the admissions committee
chair, “that time is of the essence.” The undergraduate committee report went from recommendation,
through Faculty Senate, crossed the President’s desk, and was approved by the Chancellor as an agenda
item for the Board, all within two weeks’ time.
Many faculty at Texas A&M who identify
with diversity read the Gates initiative in terms of the many things that would be done for
scholarships and recruitment, at last. However, in the highly unusual rush to final adoption, the
public record does not demonstrate any care whatsoever to present the new policy as a response to
In fact, one month after the adoption of the new admissions policy, president
Gates was calling on Regents to abandon legacy considerations, too. But nowhere does the written
policy reflect any consideration of legacy admissions. So we are not yet sure what else Texas A&M is
doing that is not mentioned in the bare bones document.
All this is history that may be
skimmed over, if you have been following the news of these events during the past two months. A little
further down, we will approach the example of the Texas A&M Health Science Center. But first, a brief
word about the responses from other university systems in Texas.
In contrast to the
Texas A&M reply, which returns an already-adopted document that makes no mention of Grutter, the
Coordinating Board also divulges working statements from Texas Tech University and the University of
Houston. The Tech proposal says that, “A category for ‘Diversity of Experience’ will be added to the
review process. Diversity of experience may include, but will not be limited to, study abroad,
knowledge of other cultures, proficiency in other languages, race/ethnicity and experience with college
UH policy makers conclude that, “Therefore, to the extent
necessary to achieve a diverse student body, and after race neutral alternatives have proven
unsuccessful, we believe each component institution should have the discretion to adopt admission
policies which consider the totality of each individual applicant’s background and strengths, including
but not limited to cultural history, ethnic origin, race, hardships overcome, service to others, extra
curricular activities, grades, test scores and work experience. Further, an applicant’s background,
including race and ethnicity, should be an allowable but not determinative consideration in awarding
some discretionary scholarships.”
These statements by other university administrations
in Texas address Grutter directly as a policy matter for Regents to take seriously. Similar language
is being proposed by the University of Texas at Austin and North Texas University. Compared with their
peer systems in Texas, the documentary record from Texas A&M is peculiar in that it fails to take
notice in writing of the fact that a new constitutional framework is at hand.
this is why the Journal for Blacks in Higher Education offered the following headline on Dec. 11:
“Hopwood is Dead, but the Ruling Lives on at Texas A&M.”
The peculiar document produced
by the Gates administration is all the more astonishing when contrasted with the reported response from
the Texas A&M Health Science Center in College Station. Here is the complete text from the
Coordinating Board’s survey results:
“Health Science Center programs supply graduates to
meet the health workforce needs of Texas. Committees in each HSC discipline (Medicine, Dentistry,
Dental Hygiene, Public Health, and Graduate Education) are currently aligning admission requirements
with health workforce needs of Texas and these committees will recommend how race and ethnicity are to
be used, among many other factors, in a narrowly tailored fashion during the admission process. When
committee recommendations have been completed and submitted to the HSC President for review and action
changes to HSC admission requirements will be presented to the A&M System Office and the A&M Board of
Regents. If approved at that leve
l, State law requires they be published one year prior to use in the
What could be better than that? Right there in river city.
A brief examination of the Health Science Center web page helps to clear up the
mystery. The President’s name is Nancy W. Dickey, MD. Prior to her appointment as president on Jan.
1, 2002, she had served as the first woman physician president of the American Medical Association.
She is editor-in-chief of a widely-lauded internet company, Medem, which provides secure email
communication for doctor-patient correspondence and a fine library of medical
We worry a little that we are so profoundly impressed by Dr. Dickey’s
leadership. We intend to do her career no harm.
For further reading, we recommend her
paper on “Regional Disparities in Health Spending,” where she argues for a methodology called “evidence
based medicine.” Notice her crucial argument, that traditions of hierarchical knowledge must give way
to independent inquiry and accessible sources.
Again, we’re sorry to put you on the
spot, Dr. Dickey, but we’d like to see you invited across campus some day.