By Matt Flores
San Antonio Express-News
Citing Texas A&M University’s poor record of attracting minority students, legislators Wednesday called on the institution to abandon its practice of giving a boost in the admissions process to children, grandchildren and siblings of alumni.
“You can’t close the door on affirmative action and make birthright an entitlement to admission,” state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said in a news conference.
He was joined by state Reps. Mike Villarreal and Jose Menéndez, also San Antonio Democrats, and members of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Simultaneous news conferences were held in Austin and Houston to denounce Texas A&M’s so-called “legacy” policy, which has come under growing criticism since the university announced last month it wouldn’t use race as a factor in its admissions policy.
Wednesday’s move was the latest among several lawmakers who are pressuring Texas A&M to scrap the legacy policy. State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, already has said he intends to file legislation aimed at ending A&M’s legacy program.
The lawmakers and civil rights activists called on the university to reconsider its legacy policy, saying it effectively gives preferences to Anglo students at a time when the school is struggling to diversify.
Last year, Anglos accounted for 82 percent of A&M’s student population while Hispanics made up 9 percent. African Americans accounted for 2 percent and Asian Americans accounted for 3 percent.
By comparison, Anglos accounted for 60 percent of the student body at the University of Texas at Austin — the state’s other public flagship institution — while Hispanics made up 14 percent and African Americans accounted for 3 percent. Asian Americans made up 17 percent.
“The legacy program at A&M counters the worthy goal of closing the gaps in Texas institutions,” said Villarreal, a 1992 A&M graduate.
He was referring to the state’s “Closing the Gaps” initiative to bring about greater parity in college attendance and graduation rates.
The U.S. Supreme Court last summer cleared the way for Texas institutions to resume affirmative action practices, and some in the state, including UT-Austin and Rice University, have since announced plans to revamp their admissions policies to include race factors.
Texas A&M is the only public university in the state that gives preferences to applicants who are the grandchildren, children or siblings of A&M graduates.
Although in some years A&M gives a boost to as many as 2,000 legacy applicants, university data showed the consideration was the difference in admitting 345 new freshmen in 2003.
Of those admitted because of the legacy consideration, 312 were Anglo, 27 were Hispanic and six were African American. Only about 300 African Americans were admitted to the university as a whole in 2003.
“More students were admitted because Mom or Dad went to A&M than the total number of African Americans admitted,” said Gary Bledsoe, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who spoke at the news conference in Austin.
“The Texas A&M legacy program is inherently discriminatory toward minorities — and based on nothing even resembling merit,” Bledsoe added.
Texas A&M officials didn’t respond to interview requests, but in defending A&M’s position, school officials have said that legacy considerations don’t guarantee admission and have noted that minority legacies are admitted at about the same rate as Anglo legacies.
Late Wednesday, A&M President Robert Gates issued this statement:
“As I indicated several weeks ago when I met with concerned legislators, the admissions process has been under review and will continue to be evaluated to ensure that it achieves one of the university’s primary objectives — that of having a student body that is more representative of the state of Texas.”
And the university’s true problem in diversifying its student body, officials say, lies with persuading prospective students to enroll, not in admitting them. Fewer than half of Hispanic and African American students who are admitted to A&M each year actually enroll.
Instead of concentrating on an affirmative action admissions policy, Gates has embarked on efforts to award more scholarships to needy, first-generation college students and to intensify outreach efforts in urban areas. Last summer, the school opened a center in HemisFair Plaza to facilitate applications for admissions, housing and financial aid.
But Villarreal said he would give the university an “F” thus far in addressing minority enrollment.
“They may be great efforts, but they are going to be judged on how their minority numbers improve,” he said. “What really matters is who attends and who eventually walks across the stage.”