Supreme court case puts spotlight on UT admissions policy

AddThis

Michael Williams has been researching the Top Ten Percent rule as a means of discovering the affect of an applicant’s race on the admission practice.

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

Three years ago, when he first stepped on campus, someone told Michael Williams he would not be at UT if it were not for the top 10 percent rule. Williams is black, and the words he heard that day echo arguments a rejected UT applicant is making to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s a pride thing,” Williams, a sociology and applied learning and development senior, said. “I would hope I would be admitted even if I was not in top ten percent.”

The debate on this question will open on the national stage in October when the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case brought by rejected UT applicant Abigail Fisher, who claims she was denied admission because she is white and said she was just as qualified as her minority counterparts. UT will be submitting its briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 6. Fisher did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her class.

Williams said although race is not the only factor in admissions, it is important.

“This is a case that will affect admissions and a lot of schools of higher education,” he said. “It’s not just going to change UT, it’s going to change a nation. I don’t know if students know that.”

Since February, Williams has been researching black male students admitted to UT under the Texas policy, and presented his findings Aug. 1. Based on his findings, as a black UT student, if he had not been in the top ten percent of his class, the odds of admittance would not have been in his favor.

Passed in 1997 during the tenure of former Gov. George W. Bush, the law was created as a race-neutral policy to increase minority representation in Texas universities. The program grants certain students automatic admission to any public university in Texas if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Williams found the plan had succeeded, with TTP black male enrollment at UT rising steadily over the years. However, he found the number of black males admitted to UT who were not in the top 10 percent of their graduating class had declined.

Choquette Hamilton, UT associate director for development in the department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and other researchers conducted similar research on the relationship between the top 10 percent admittance and black students in 2011.

She said TTP has played a major role in increasing UT access to Asian and Latino students, but not black students. Hamilton herself was admitted under TTP and said she did not think she would have gotten into UT otherwise.

Hamilton said minority students could be negatively impacted if race is thrown out of the admissions equation as a result of the Fisher case.

“Policies like affirmative action and Top Ten Percent play a major role in minority admission,” she said. “Race is closely tied to class, race is tied to opportunity, race is tied to these inequitable institutions that create a disadvantage for students. Until there is true equal opportunity, we are always going to need racial preferences in these situations.”

For students, like Fisher, not automatically admitted in the top ten percent, UT determines admission based on their Academic Index and Personal Achievement Index, according to the Office of Admissions.

The Academic Index evaluates students based on class rank, completion of required curriculum and SAT/ACT scores. The Personal Achievement Index evaluates students based on essays, extracurricular activities, leadership, honors and awards, service, work experience and special circumstances, which include race and ethnicity. Their combined score on both determines whether they get into UT.

Director of Admissions Kedra Ishop said UT has been using race and ethnicity in its admissions process since 2005. Before 1996, UT also had affirmative action policies that allowed for minority students to be considered differently. Ishop said the recruitment of a diverse student body is a top priority for UT and President William Powers Jr.

“Race and ethnicity are some of the many factors of personal achievement,” Ishop said. “It has no bearing in priority on the process of holistic review. With the premise of holistic review, everything is weighed in context.”

UT is the only school in the U.S. to use both the top 10 percent rule, considered a race-neutral policy, and racial factors in special circumstances. Other Texas universities, like Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University, do not consider race in the admissions process.

Regarding whether the admission process would be greatly affected if race were thrown out of the picture, Ishop said she had no comment. She said admissions will evolve as necessary.

Lauren Gaskill, an incoming education freshman, said it was very difficult to get into the top ten percent at her school and she focused more on building her resume, working two jobs and doing extracurricular activities. She said although she did not feel being white played a part in her admission to UT, she had other white friends who were denied admission and felt race was a factor.

“I don’t think UT accepted me because of the color of my skin but because of the student that I am,” she said.

Gaskill said she thinks UT should throw race out of the admissions process and evaluate potential students on a solely academic basis.

Kayla Celeste, an incoming radio-television-film freshman, said it was also very competitive to get into the top 10 percent at her school. Celeste said she did not expect to get into UT and was already planning on going to Emerson College in Boston. Celeste said she knew UT and other colleges look at race in admissions.

Celeste, who is black, said race definitely plays a part in admission, but it doesn’t mean that anyone who might be accepted on a racial basis is any less prepared to be a college student.

“The fact that I am black could have been the thing that put me over and put me on the admitted side,” Celeste said. “I would like to think I was admitted because I was more prepared. I am going to do my studies and have that mind-set.”

Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works to coordinate access and efficiency for schools across the state, said minority recruitment has been very important to the board. Chavez said the board has very specific goals for increasing the number of Hispanic and African-American students in its various programs.

Although Chavez would not comment specifically on Fisher v. UT, he said the board wants to do more to increase participation in higher education by minorities and all Texans.

“Regardless of any lawsuit, I don’t think that goal is going to change at all,” he said. “We’re still going to be focused on getting more students, particularly African-American and Latino students, to college. We’re going to continue to tell the Texas Legislature to give more financial aid for these poor students. For us, it’s business as usual.”