November 4, 2002
DRAWING THE THORN:
Texas Colleges' Diversity Plan May Be New Model
(Lee Hockstader, November 4, 2002, Washington Post)
Jazmin Padron arrived in Texas three years ago, a bright-eyed Mexican teenager with little English and no thought of attending college. A top high school student, she's now all but assured admission to the University of Texas at Austin.
Davin Hunt always assumed he'd go to college, and no wonder -- his parents and 20 of his cousins attended UT-Austin, and virtually all the students at his rich, almost uniformly white high school near Dallas go on to higher education, many of them to top colleges. But Hunt, whose grades don't quite make the top 10 percent of his class, may not be joining the family's Longhorn tradition.
Beyond their Texas residency and sunny dispositions, Padron and Hunt have little in common. But both are busy adapting their calculations about the future to accommodate a five-year-old state law under which the top 10 percent of every high school's graduating seniors are automatically eligible for admission to public universities in Texas.
Now, as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action in college admissions, Texas's law is being scrutinized as a model that could replace the explicitly race-based admissions criteria that have been a feature of public education for decades. Following the Texas law, which first applied to high school seniors graduating in 1998, Florida and California adopted percentage plans for admission to state-funded colleges, and other states are watching Texas's experience closely.
It came after a federal appeals court in 1996 threw out the University of Texas Law School's affirmative action program, saying admission officers could no longer consider race when picking students. African American and Hispanic student enrollments plummeted.
State lawmakers swiftly enacted the 10 percent law, intending to ensure continued diversity at public universities without inviting further constitutional challenges. As long as neighborhoods and the state's 1,800 or so high schools remained largely segregated by race, significant numbers of African American and Hispanic students would be guaranteed places at public universities. Conservatives who never liked explicitly race-based admissions criteria found little to object to in the meritocratic gloss of the new law.
To university officials, who openly regret the death of affirmative action, the 10 percent law is a way to achieve its goals without adopting the means -- "You're doing it without doing it," said Mark Yudof, chancellor of the University of Texas's 180,000-student system. "It's a benign effort to achieve a certain sort of social justice. . . . We don't want a permanent underclass in America."
It may be impossible to overstate how important such legal reform--a gift from the Bush brothers
--could be to the Republican Party. By removing race as a consideration, the laws do away with the reverse discrimination that conservatives found most objectionable. But by disproportionately benefitting minorities they satisfy the needs of the various special interests for whom quotas were a vital issue. In the end, they remove one of the most divisive issues that made the Right anathema to minorities. That may serve to diminish the intensity of minority antipathy towards Republican candidates and reduce the capacity of Democrats to whip their base. That is a very big deal.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 4, 2002 8:01 PM
What would be the point of a STATE university system that was dubious about admitting 89% of STATE residents?
I don't give a hoot whether the policy works to the advantage of Republican candidates or not, but don't you detect something screwy in this?
You are joking of course!
A young man works hard in high school and manages to say score 1400 on his SAT, but is not in the top 10% of his class. Another young man does almost no school work and scores 900 on his SAT, but because he is attending a school where teachers spend most of the day trying to get students to actually attend school, he graduates in the the top 10% of his class.
This is justice in your mind?
These are the policies you feel will
make America competitive?
If conservatives support these policies are they attempting to improve schools or merely sucking up
The former example is a figment of your imagination. There are no students whop score 1400 and worek hard and fail to crack the top 10%. Were there such a creature, he'd have to be in such an outstanding school that he'd be snapped up by another college somewhere.
The latter though may only have one shot at school and that's if we allow colleges to take account of the fact that many kids are stuck in schools that stifle learning. So long as their admission systems are race neutral, why not let them give those kids a shot?
My point, Orrin, is that the story says that the
white student, who evidently is in the highest
stanine, though not the highest decile, of
his class may not be able to get into UT.
Now, even setting aside the fact that, given
the way Texas is, he is very likely well up into
the highest decile of ALL Texas h.s. seniors,
he is described as not necessarily Longhorn
Maybe this is just lousy writing. Let's hope it
is. But we have the example of the University
of California system, where students of high
achievement are denied admission because
of their skin color.
And the racists at UC (who are discriminating
against Asian-Americans) follow the same
ideology as the racists at UT.
If you will indulge me, I will tell a lengthy, true
story about how you get students from
below average backgrounds to succeed on a
par with students more favorably situated to
succeed in academic settings.
One of the Big Three automakers wanted to
encourage its black engineers (all already
college graduates) to be able to move up the
corporate ladder by getting advanced degrees.
50 likely, ambitious engineers were chosen
and took MIT courses via video and other
distance techniques. 48 washed out.
The managers of the program (MIT profs)
considered what had happened and concluded
that the students had poor study habits and
had come out of schools that were not
In the second batch of 50, provisions were
made to teach, besides engineering, how to
study at a high level. Result, 48 out of 50
got advanced degrees.
Philosophically, I am not fond of picking people
by skin color, but it's the sort of thing you
can overlook in the name of good intentions.
But if you're going to go about it, it is
obviously better to do it inclusively, the way
the auto company did, than exclusively, the
way UT and UC do it.
So long as they uuse a blanket top 10% standartd, who cares if they exclude white slackers, however smart?
Gonna be mighty hard to run a country using only the top 10%, even if you could figure out who belongs.
I'm all for getting more likely people into the pipeline than the old methods. As far as I am concerned, the most profound short statement about modernism was Gray's line about "mute, inglorious Miltons."
Still, you are against poorly designed spending of public money, I think, and I cannot see how a PUBLIC university with a cutoff at 10% fulfills a PUBLIC purpose.
As indicated, I think there are racially neutral methods that work better.
The other issue is whether it is possible to have elites. I contend not. In any group above a certain size (the U.S. House of Representatives is a good example), you will have the full range from top to bottom of character and abilities, even though the selection process purports to take just one out of 500,000.
People who went to elite universities usually bristle when I bring this up, but I work in the real world, and top graduates of Ivy schools are not often standouts in my field.
It provides an incentive for kids in even the worst schools to excel.