Excellence at A&M? We Found It!

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

best.

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.

The 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.

Accompanying

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

implemented.”

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-

segregation.

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

Grutter.

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

preparatory programs.”

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.

Perhaps

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

admission process.”

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

information.

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.

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