Minorities say policy favors white applicants
Jan. 8, 2004
By Todd Ackerman
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Minority politicians and activists around the state Wednesday urged Texas A&M University to bring consistency to an admissions policy that doesn’t consider race or ethnicity but includes a “legacy” program that favors whites.
The legacy program, which gives points to applicants whose parents, siblings or grandparents went to A&M, is the deciding factor in the admission of more than 300 white freshmen annually. Only a handful of blacks and about 25 Hispanics are admitted each year because of the program.
“This legacy program thing is nothing more than conservative affirmative action,” said state Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso. “It’s admission by invitation only.”
Jim Harrington, a veteran civil rights lawyer who heads the Texas Civil Rights Project, said A&M needs to change its policy or “it’s going to be Brown vs. the board of regents of Texas A&M,” an allusion to the landmark desegregation case of the 1950s.
Moreno, Harrington and Bledsoe were among a number of officials who attacked A&M’s admissions policy at a news conference at the state Capitol. News conferences were also conducted on the front steps of City Hall in Houston and in San Antonio.
A&M’s legacy program is drawing particular fire because the university recently announced it will not consider race in admissions. The announcement followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that universities can give minorities a boost in admissions, in effect overturning the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Hopwood decision, which had banned racial preferences in higher education in Texas since 1996.
Spurning the new opportunity, A&M President Robert Gates said attracting minorities is a top priority but stressed that “students should be admitted on merit — and no other basis.”
He had no response to the criticism of the legacy program Wednesday, releasing a statement that said A&M’s admissions process has been “under review and will continue to be evaluated to ensure it achieves one of the university’s primary objectives — that of having a student body that is more representative of the state of Texas.”
A&M’s undergraduate population is 82 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black and 3 percent Asian- American.
Typically, anywhere from 1,650 to more than 2,000 A&M applicants a year receive legacy credit, four points on a 100-point scale that also takes into account such factors as class rank and test scores.
While most applicants don’t need legacy points to get in, in 2003, 312 whites were admitted because of them. In 2002, that figure was 321.
The program was the difference for six blacks and 27 Hispanics in 2003, and three blacks and 25 Hispanics in 2002.
State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who has twice filed bills in the Legislature to end A&M’s legacy program, said last week he plans to sponsor such legislation again, as early as spring if a special session is called.
But state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D- Houston, who said at the Houston news conference that he will support any such bill, added that he’d prefer A&M acquiesce on its own and change its policy, either to end legacies or consider race. He said he plans to ask Gov. Rick Perry to have his appointees on the A&M board of regents vote to make the school’s admissions policy “consistent.”
Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, added that they plan to take a closer look before voting to confirm future gubernatorial appointees to university governing boards.
Other officials at the three news conferences included U.S. Congress members Chris Bell and Sheila Jackson Lee; state representatives Mike Villarreal, Joaquin Castro, Jose Menendez, Dawnna Dukes, Jessica Farrar and Dora Olivo; and representatives from the Urban League, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
A&M’s legacy program was even criticized by an official of an anti-affirmative action group that Tuesday praised A&M’s decision not to consider race while announcing that a loose coalition of conservative leaders recently wrote to Perry, other elected state officials and the University of Texas System board of regents, calling on them to stop UT from reintroducing racial preferences in admissions.
The official, Center for Equal Opportunity senior fellow Edward Blum, said he thinks legacy admissions are “a stupid idea.” He said A&M should revisit them.
The letter about UT was signed by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, California anti-affirmative action leader Ward Connerly, and eight other political or legal activists.
“We are all, frankly, baffled why (UT President Larry) Faulkner would insist on treating students differently because of their skin color and their ancestors’ national origin when there is demonstrably no reason to engage in such unfair and divisive activity,” said the letter, sent in mid-December.
Wednesday, there seemed to be no confusion among officials at the news conferences.
Villarreal, D-San Antonio, noted the inconsistency of A&M passing up an opportunity to increase minority enrollment because that would “amount to special treatment of a specific set of the student population, then in the next breath continuing a program that does exactly that for a segment of the student population already disproportionately represented.”
“A public university can’t have it both ways and maintain any semblance of fairness, consistency and equity,” he said.
Clay Robison contributed to this story from Austin.