UT classes lack diversity

Proposal would consider race, ethnicity in deciding which students to admit

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Monday, November 24, 2003

Nearly 80 percent of undergraduate classes at the University of Texas have no black students or just one such student. A third of the classes have no Asian American students or just one. And 30 percent of classes have no Hispanics or just one.

Those are among findings in a report on classroom diversity issued last week by UT's Office of Admissions. The findings underscore the importance of a proposal that seeks to increase minority enrollment on the nation's largest campus, UT President Larry Faulkner said Monday.

The proposal, submitted Monday to the UT System, calls for university officials to consider race and ethnicity along with an applicant's leadership skills, work experience, honors, talents, community service and other factors. Legacies — children of UT graduates — currently get no preference, and that policy would continue.

UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof must approve the new admissions guidelines before they can be put into place for fall 2005.

The proposal, whose broad outlines were disclosed months ago, was crafted as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the University of Michigan's use of affirmative action in admissions. The court said universities could not award points for minority applicants or use race as the sole basis for evaluating them.

"The court decision emphasized the importance educationally of a diverse environment, and what we've presented here provides a quantitative description of the current situation," Faulkner said. "And it's very clear from that description that in most classes minority viewpoints aren't represented by more than one voice, if that many."

The proposal to include race and ethnicity would apply to undergraduate, graduate and law school applications. But it is unlikely to yield a dramatic increase in minority enrollment in the undergraduate ranks, said Bruce Walker, vice provost and director of admissions.

That is because about 70 percent of students from Texas in this year's freshman class were accepted under a state law that guarantees admission to those who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Next year, 80 percent to 85 percent of UT freshmen from Texas are expected to be admitted under the top 10 percent law, Faulkner said. Race and ethnicity would be considered only for those Texas students who are not part of the top 10 percent, and for out-of-state students.

The top 10 percent law was passed in 1997 as an alternative to affirmative action after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted the use of the practice.

"I believe the law does need to be changed," Faulkner said. "I'm not sure how it ought to be changed."

Earlier this year, UT officials suggested capping the percentage of top 10 percent students at about 50 percent to 60 percent of the freshman class. State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has said he wants to repeal the top 10 percent law altogether.

The law has increased diversity campuswide but not at the classroom level, the admissions office found. One factor could be that minority students are not spread out evenly in classes. For example, Asian Americans tend to concentrate in business, engineering and natural sciences.

The review by the admissions office focused on undergraduate classes. Classes with fewer than five students were excluded from the analysis.

Minority representation is especially low in classes with five to 24 students, the review found. Nearly 90 percent of such classes have no African American students or only one.

"I'm pretty much the only one in the majority of my classes," said Michelle Calloway, a senior majoring in corporate communications who is vice president of the Black Student Alliance. "In my Spanish class, I'm the only one. In linguistics, I'm the only one."

The situation can be "a big turn-off" to prospective black students, she said.

Overall, 13.6 percent of the current freshman class is Hispanic and 3.4 percent is African American. Hispanics make up 32 percent of the state's population, and African Americans constitute 11 percent.

Brian Haley, president of UT Student Government and a government and Chinese major, said the findings are no surprise.

"Students are not satisfied with the amount of diversity we have on campus," he said. "We're strongly supportive of the university's efforts."

rhaurwitz@statesman.com; 445-3604