UT revising admissions policy to include race

Standards to take effect next fall for applicants not in top 10 percent

By Sharon Jayson
Monday, August 18, 2003

University of Texas officials this week are finalizing the process they will use to once again consider race as a factor in evaluating undergraduate applicants.

The UT System Board of Regents announced almost two weeks ago that admissions officials would begin considering race in the fall of 2004 for applicants not admitted under the state's top 10 percent law. The law, passed in 1997 as an alternative to affirmative action, grants automatic admission to public colleges for Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals effectively halted the use of affirmative action in admissions here in 1996.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan's use of affirmative action in its admissions process but mandated an approach that considers a variety of factors. For instance, universities cannot award points for minority applicants or use race as the sole criterion in evaluating them.

Top 10 percent students make up 75 percent of all Texans in the incoming freshman class. Beginning next year, applicants not in the top 10 percent -- candidates for specific UT colleges, such as fine arts, and out-of-state and transfer students -- will be evaluated using what campus officials describe as a "holistic approach" that will include race among other factors, such as community service, leadership and extracurricular activities.

"The concept is not complicated," said Bruce Walker, UT's admissions director. "We are simply taking the process that we created in '96, and now we're adding race."

At a recent retreat to discuss affirmative action, UT admissions officials were encouraged to reconsider their approach to using race in the admissions process. To practice, the officials reviewed 400 files from the class of 2003.

"They're so used to ignoring race," said Brian Bremen, a UT English professor who advised officials during the retreat. "Now it becomes one of the things you look for just as you would look for economic information."

Walker said the change won't make the already competitive UT admissions process worse, especially for students from predominantly white suburban school districts who have complained that the top 10 percent rule is squeezing them out.

"If people think that now that we can use race, all the minority students are getting admitted based on race, that's unfair and not true," he said. "We had large numbers of minority students admitted without race, and we hope to add some additional students now that we can use race."

Reviving affirmative action should play a larger role at the graduate school level and at the UT School of Law, which are not subject to the 10 percent law and where minority enrollment has lagged. Separate committees will work on those policies since applications aren't expected to begin arriving until November.

The undergraduate policy will be presented to the UT System for approval within two weeks, said Provost Sheldon Ekland-Olson. Applicants for fall 2004 may begin applying as early as today, when the new Texas Common Application is set to go online.

sjayson@statesman.com; 445-3620