The University of Texas at Austin proposes inclusion of race as a factor in admissions process

Nov. 24, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas—A proposal to include race and ethnicity as additional factors in consideration of undergraduate, graduate and law school applications for admission to The University of Texas at Austin has been submitted to the University of Texas System for its review.

The use of race and ethnicity as factors in the admission process is essential, according to the proposal, because race-neutral policies alone have failed to produce a critical mass of minority students at the classroom level. It reasons that having critical mass rather than merely token numbers of minority students provides a learning environment with exposure to diverse ideas and cultures that better prepares students for leadership in an increasingly global and multicultural society.

Because of a state law requiring notice to the public prior to considering a modified set of factors when making admissions decisions, the use of race and ethnicity as factors in decisions for freshmen, graduate and professional admissions and for graduate and professional competitive scholarships cannot be implemented any earlier than the 2005 entering classes.

Dr. Bruce Walker, vice provost and director of admissions at The University of Texas at Austin, said the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System on Aug. 7 authorized its component institutions to tailor its admissions policies to meet their needs by following the guidelines set out by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June had upheld the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in its admissions process. The court, however, made it clear that race should be only one of several factors used in the admission process.

The proposal must be approved by officials of the University of Texas System before new admissions guidelines can be implemented.

The Graduate School at the university proposes that race and ethnicity may be considered among the factors in evaluating applicants for graduate study. The proposal notes that the challenge and mandate is not only to appear open to all populations, but also to attract and encourage the creation of a diverse student body. It said that not only have the percentages of Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics in the total graduate enrollment decreased in the years since race-neutral policies were mandated by the courts, but in a preponderance of the graduate programs, colleges and schools at the university, representation of Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics is either negligible or absent.

Regarding the university’s School of Law, the proposal says “modest consideration of race” should improve both the diversity and the academic strength of the entering class. Race-neutral methods of pursuing diversity have produced less diversity and required greater departures from academic standards of admission, the proposal says.

The School of Law will end the traditional procedure by which some files are diverted to review by panels of faculty members. All files will be reviewed in one unified administrative process. Race, ethnicity and all other diversity factors will be considered in an individual and holistic review of all files. No part of the review process will be mechanical. The Law School will not set aside a fixed number of seats for minority applicants and will not award a fixed number of points to minority applicants. The Law School also will not put minority applications “on separate admissions tracks,” according to the proposal.

The proposal also says, “As the state’s minority population grows, the numbers needed to create the visible appearance of openness in the Law School also grows.”

In the freshman admissions process, the proposal is to include the use of race and ethnicity as one of about 15 factors in addition to academic factors considered by the Office of Admissions in deciding which applicants will be admitted to the university. All applicants not automatically admitted through the Texas Top 10 Percent Automatic Admissions Law (HB 588) would receive an individual review of their application materials. In addition to academic strength, some of the other factors considered include essays, leadership, honors, special circumstances, family responsibilities, awards, socio-economic status of the family, community service, experience in overcoming adversity and work experience.

“In the individual review we are looking for qualified students who can benefit the most from or contribute the most to the diverse and challenging educational experience at The University of Texas at Austin,” Walker said.

According to the proposal, race-neutral policies alone in the freshman admissions process have failed to produce a critical mass of minority students at the classroom level, and there is no reason to believe that they will do so in the future, unless enrollment is allowed to increase to unmanageable and irresponsible levels.

The lack of critical mass of minority representation at The University of Texas at Austin is illustrated by a study of the fall 2002 course enrollments showing that in classes of five more students:

  • 52 percent had no African Americans and 79 percent had one or none.
  • 12 percent had no Hispanics and 30 percent had one or none.
  • 16 percent had no Asian Americans and 33 percent had one or none.
  • 1 percent had no whites and 1 percent had one or none.

    In smaller classes at the university, those of five-24 students:

  • 65 percent had no African Americans and 90 percent had one or none.
  • 18 percent had no Hispanics and 43 percent had one or none.
  • 23 percent had no Asian Americans and 46 percent had one or none.
  • 1 percent had no whites and 2 percent had one or none.

“We have used race-neutral policies for seven years and still do not have a critical mass of African American or Hispanic students in our classrooms,” said Walker. “For example, in the fall semester of 2002, a high percentage of class sections had only one or no African American or Hispanic students in them. Majority students cannot reap the educational benefits of diversity when a high percentage of their classes have no or little minority representation. It is our expectation that the use of a race conscious policy, in conjunction with the race neutral policies we have been using, will increase the critical mass of minority students in our classrooms”

The university’s proposal said that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger (the University of Michigan case) this year determined that the use of race in college admissions is permissible if race-neutral alternatives are found to be ineffective or unworkable substitutes for race-conscious policies in enrolling a critical mass of minority students. The concept of critical mass, which is an adequate representation of minority students to assure educational benefits deriving from diversity, benefits all students in that they learn that there is not one minority or majority view, but many. The court also recognized that critical mass is essential to avoid burdening individuals as “spokespersons” of their race or ethnicity.

The proposal also noted that while the Texas Top 10 Percent Automatic Admission Law has resulted in some modest improvements in diversity, it now threatens the quality of the educational experience because of the rising number of students being admitted using only that one criterion. From 1998 through 2003 the number of Top 10 Percent students enrolling in the freshman class at the university through automatic admission has increased by 70 percent. In fall 2003, about 65 percent of incoming freshmen were admitted through this automatic admission process.

Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson, provost at The University of Texas at Austin, said, “The University of Texas must be a training ground for the leaders of the State of Texas. Tomorrow’s leaders must not only be drawn from a diverse population but also must be able to lead a multicultural workforce and to communicate policy to a diverse electorate.

“The proposal to include race among the many factors in admission is central to this university’s primary mission of educating leaders for the future,” said Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “Students here are currently in a less-than-realistic environment. To prepare future leaders adequately, the university must include and educate a critical mass of students from historically underrepresented segments of the Texas population.”

The fall 2002 freshman class at The University of Texas at Austin included 13.6 percent Hispanics and 3.4 percent African American students. In comparison, the statewide demographic figures show Hispanics are 32 percent of the state’s population and African Americans are about 11 percent.

For more information contact: Dr. Bruce Walker, Office of Admissions, 512-475-7326, or Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.