The University and state government have not seen eye to eye on many issues, but one thing they can agree on is that UT needs to be ranked higher nationally.
President William Powers Jr. has said that it is his goal to make UT the best public university in the nation, while Gov. Greg Abbott wants to have five public universities in Texas ranked in the top 10 nationally, according to U.S. News and World Report. Both are ambitious goals, but the question is, how do we accomplish them?
Currently, UT is ranked 17th among public universities, while only five Texas public universities are even ranked at all.
To analyze what has to be done to increase the ranking for UT and the other public universities in Texas, I am comparing the University of California, Berkeley (the top ranked public university) with UT on the factors that U.S. News and World Report uses in its ranking.
The University will likely argue that money is the biggest factor and that it needs more because the state only provides 14 percent of the University’s budget, down from 52 percent in 1981.
However, UC Berkeley only receives 12 percent of its budget from the state. For some of the other factors, there isn’t much a university can do, such as counselor ratings and peer assessments. However, factors such as student retention and selectivity seem to be easier to address.
Student selectivity is related to student retention, because the better the quality of the students admitted, the less likely they are to drop out, transfer or take longer to graduate. The correlation is strong, with higher-ranked universities having students with higher SAT/ACT scores as well as a better retention rate.
In other words, the answer sounds simple: Just admit better students.
However, to do this, we must have a meritocracy instead of institutional discrimination.
Right now, 75 percent of UT’s freshman class is reserved for those in the top 7 percent of their high school, while race is used as a factor in deciding whom to admit into the remaining 25 percent. Both are racist, discriminatory and are keeping UT and other public universities in Texas from moving up in rankings.
What was originally the top 10 percent rule was promulgated after affirmative action was temporarily declared unconstitutional in 1996. This rule has harmed education in Texas in more ways than one.
First, it incentivizes students to transfer to a high school with lower-performing peers so they can graduate higher in their respective classes.
Second, universities have no control over the SAT/ACT scores of 75 percent of these students that they must admit automatically. Those admitted under the top 7 percent rule have average ACT scores of 28, compared to 30 from those not admitted under the top 7 percent rule.
Third, this rule is simply unfair to those students who attended more rigorous high schools and have high SAT/ACT scores but couldn’t get into UT nonetheless. Adding insult to injury, public universities in Texas are allowed to discriminate against applicants on the basis of their race all for a vague and very unfair concept called diversity.
The University argues that diversity is important for education, which is why white and Asian applicants are to be discriminated against for the benefit of black and Hispanic applicants. However, this ignores the fact that universities in California are able to provide better-quality education for its students, all without having to resort to using race in the admission process.
California banned the use of race in admissions in 1996. Now, the state dominates half the spots in the top 10 list of public universities. The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy. Some lawmakers would rather let our higher education system suffer than do something unpopular with their constituents.
The concern is that if the top 10 percent rule and affirmative action, respectively, are abolished in Texas, the percentage of Hispanics and blacks will decrease in Texas public universities. But this ignores the plights of the thousands of applicants who have been denied admission since 1996 because of the color of their skin. We should be admitting students based on their brain and not their skin. Let there be no doubt that discrimination on the basis of race is unconscionable.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated that arguments of affirmative action’s benefits are the same used by segregationists in the Jim Crow era. Affirmative action was narrowly upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court by a vote of 5-4 in 2003, but the majority opinion stated that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” meaning — if we are to take the words literally — affirmative action should not be used in just 13 more years. This is especially relevant now that the Fisher v. University of Texas case might once again head to the Supreme Court. The question isn’t whether UT will win again, but whether this case will go down in history as another Plessy v. Ferguson (upholding segregation) or as a Brown v. Board of Education (striking down segregation).
Another question is why continue policies that many believe to be discriminatory and unconstitutional when it isn’t even for the greater good of the state? Why not give up on affirmative action now before it is possibly declared unconstitutional? Why not enact higher education policies that don’t discriminate and will help UT and other Texas public universities become some of the best in the nation? Albert Einstein once said, “What is popular may not be right and what is right may not be popular.”
It will take real leadership to ban affirmative action and repeal the top 10 percent rule. Courage and backbone in standing up for what is right and best for this state. We can accomplish the goal of making UT the best public university in the nation and put five public universities in Texas in the top 10 nationally, but to do that we must do what is right, not necessarily what is popular.
Hung is a first-year law student from Brownsville.