(U-WIRE) – For the first time in seven years, the University of Texas has a national standard for admissions practices.
After the Hopwood v. Texas decision in 1996, which effectively banned the use of affirmative action in admissions at UT, the university was forced to implement creative race-neutral recruiting and admissions policies to maintain minority enrollment without violating the spirit or the letter of the law.
Under Hopwood, the university faced some of the most conservative and restrictive affirmative action policies in the nation, said Monica Ingram, assistant dean of admissions at the UT Law School.
However, with the Supreme Court decisions issued Monday on two University of Michigan cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, all public educational institutions in the nation face the same standards.
“We are very pleased that the Court’s ruling sweeps away the Hopwood decision and places the state of Texas and the educational institutions in the state of Texas on the same basis as educational institutions elsewhere in the U.S. It’s important to have law rendered common throughout the nation,” UT President Larry Faulkner said at a news conference Monday. “It’s a competitive issue for us, but it’s also an issue that gets to the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish at this institution.”
According to the rulings, race may be taken into account in admissions, as one criterion among many, but a point system may not be used.
Now Texas Universities, both in undergraduate programs and at the Law Schools, face the task of interpreting the Supreme Court decision and redefining their own admissions procedures.
UT admissions officers have been waiting for the opinion and anticipating a decision, but very few detailed policies can be developed before the Justices’ opinions have been interpreted by legal experts, said Bruce Walker, the former director of undergraduate admissions at the university. Walker has recently been appointed vice provost, but he still handles admissions.
“It’s very rare that these decisions are as clear as a bell,” Walker said.
UT undergraduate admissions, which since Hopwood has relied heavily on the top 10 percent plan and strategic recruiting in traditionally under-represented areas, will return to an admissions process similar to the one in place before 1996, Walker said.
The top 10 percent plan won’t be discarded until Texas lawmakers decide to review it, Walker said.
The plan, touted as an alternative to affirmative action, has produced a class composed of 70 percent automatically admitted students, and has seen much criticism, though President Faulkner emphasized that it has been an effective tool in reaching out to geographically underrepresented areas in Texas.
Walker agreed that the bill was good foundation, but was not enough.
“I don’t think the bill itself, without any enhancements, would have been successful,” Walker said. “I don’t think it’s a good thing for every freshman at UT-Austin to be selected on a single criterion.”
A proposed cap on the bill failed to pass this legislative session, but the Court’s ruling could urge lawmakers to revisit it.
On Monday, Student Government President Brian Haley submitted a request to Gov. Rick Perry to reconsider the law in a special session.
Walker said that only students not automatically admitted under the top 10 percent law, can be evaluated under affirmative action. The admissions process emphasizes holistic reading for students not automatically admitted, Walker said, meaning the applicants are always evaluated relative to the entire pool. The system bears no resemblance to a point system and race will now simply be another factor taken into consideration.
The Law School, which has used race-neutral admissions since Hopwood, can now request information about ethnicity, Ingram said.
-Originally published June 24 in the Daily Texan.