UT officials back special session on admissions

Top 10 percent rule not working as intended, governor says

By Ken Herman and Erik Rodriguez
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

University of Texas President Larry Faulkner said Tuesday he is pleased that state leaders and lawmakers seem interested in a special session to review the top 10 percent admissions law that has opened UT's doors to some but closed them for others.

The law, passed by the Legislature in 1997 in an effort to boost diversity after affirmative action was outlawed, guarantees admission to any Texas public university for all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The law hasn't produced what was hoped for, but UT-Austin officials this week released new statistics showing greater diversity in the incoming class.

Even so, UT officials, citing a lack of flexibility, want to place a cap on automatic admissions to the Austin campus. The Texas House voted to cap such admissions at 60 percent of an incoming class at UT-Austin and Texas A&M in College Station.

Democratic state senators, concerned about the impact and the lack of full hearings on the proposed cap, filibustered the bill to death Sunday night.

Faulkner noted Tuesday that legislators who killed the cap said they want a full debate on the issue.

"I'm a strong supporter of the top 10 law, but I also don't think students should be admitted using one criteria," Faulkner said. "In some fields, we use auditions or portfolio reviews. How do we do auditions under the top 10 law?"

Gov. Rick Perry, who controls the timing and topics of special sessions, declined to speculate on possible issues Tuesday. Perry has said he will call a special session on public school finance later this year but has not said if that will be the only such session.

Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick all say the top 10 percent law is due for a legislative checkup and possible overhaul.

"I think there is anecdotal evidence that has come back in that it has not worked as well as what we had initially presumed it would," Perry said. "Obviously, I think taking a look at it, having a good and rigorous debate over the course of the days ahead is appropriate."

Dewhurst said he expects UT officials to be "coming in wanting us to look at that issue." He noted that for several years, officials at the university had been saying the law was working well.

"All of a sudden in January they came back with a different argument," he said. "It deserves a good, hard look and some hearings."

Craddick said a cap is needed.

"It really doesn't give much flexibility," he said of the current system. "Because what happens today, you go to a school and you score 1400 or 1450 on your SATs, but you can't get into the top schools in the state because of the 10 percent rule that's in effect across the board."

Faulkner and UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof on Tuesday praised legislators for decisions ranging from reducing higher education budget cuts to deregulating tuition. Both avoided putting a dollar figure on possible tuition increases, saying only that such an increase could be prepared by early fall for approval by system regents. They would go into effect next spring at the earliest.

"I don't really have a number. All I can say is, this is a grave responsibility," Yudof said. "Are prices going up in American higher education? Of course, they are. Is UT having trouble making ends meet? Of course, it is. We just have to be prudent."

The timing of the special session for school finance is uncertain. Perry has said it will be sometime later this year. Dewhurst has talked about an October session on school finance and possibly other topics.

Legislative leaders in both chambers believe Perry and other Republicans, still smarting over the May boycott during which House Democrats went to Oklahoma to block a vote on congressional redistricting, want a special session to deal with that topic and others.

At an Austin news conference, Perry would not speculate about whether redistricting would be part of a special session.

But later in Houston, referring to the current congressional redistricting plan written in 2001 by federal judges, Perry hinted that the issue is not dead.

"If you went out and asked the people of the state of Texas: 'Would you rather have your elected officials or the courts decide what your congressional boundaries are?' I would suggest to you most Texans would say, 'We would like for our duly elected representatives to decide where congressional district lines are, not some federal judge that we have no input into,' " he said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco, a leader of the May trip, said his side will "take each step at a time" if GOP leaders try to revive redistricting.

Asked if another effort at redistricting would lead to another trip across the Red River, Dunnam said, "I think we will cross any bridge once we get there."

kherman@statesman.com; 445-1718