Houston Chronicle: Lawmakers Challenge Fairness

Jan. 8, 2004
End `legacy’ program, A&M urged
Minorities say policy

favors white applicants
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.

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