Diversity Plan Shaped in Texas Is Under Attack

New York Times
June 13, 2004

AUSTIN, Tex., June 8 โ€” Texas lawmakers thought they had found the ideal alternative to race-based affirmative action.

Seven years ago, after a federal court outlawed the use of race in the admissions policies of the state's public universities, the Legislature came up with an answer: It passed a law guaranteeing admission to the top 10 percent of the graduating class from any public or private high school. After a few years of hard work, diversity was restored and other states, including California and Florida, adopted similar approaches. The law looked like a success.

But the 10 percent rule, which seemed to skirt the tricky issue of race so deftly, is coming under increasing attack these days as many wealthy parents complain that their children are not getting a fair shake. A consensus seems to be building that some change is necessary.

Parents whose children have been denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, the crown jewel of Texas higher education, argue that some high schools are better than others, and that managing to stay in the top 25 percent at a demanding school should mean more than landing in the top 10 percent at a less rigorous one. The dispute shows how hard it is to come up with a system for doling out precious but scarce spots in elite universities without angering someone.

The president of the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, says the law โ€” which has pulled students from rural areas and from battered urban schools onto his campus โ€” may need adjustment. The rule, he says, takes away discretion from the university's admissions office, making it harder to shape a class and ensure that certain kinds of students, like musicians, are included.

He has endorsed the idea of capping the number of students who may be admitted under the rule at, perhaps, half of all first-year students.

Gov. Rick Perry has also expressed concern, saying the rule was prompting qualified students to leave the state. "I really don't see how it has worked the way people