University of California, Berkeley

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.

Students will have the opportunity to share a variety of information in an effort to improve the undergraduate experience in a survey that opened Tuesday. The Student Experience at the Research University survey, which UT calls the Ultimate Student Survey, takes about 20 minutes to complete and asks for information on topics such as financial aid, campus diversity and financial and personal characteristics. It cost UT $18,000 to participate in the survey. “It turns out to be a much more valid comparison, to say compare civil engineer majors from one university to other civil engineer majors at another university,” said Steve Chapman, director of the survey project at the University of California, Berkeley. “It builds the ability to look at issues in their real complexity.” The survey does not sample a percentage of undergraduates. Instead, the University encourages everyone to weigh in, with options for open-ended responses. “The theory is students at large institutions in different colleges are having different experiences [than other students in other colleges in the same university],” said Gale Stuart, a director at UT’s student affairs office. “If we don’t ask everyone, we might miss smaller sections of populations.” This is the second year UT will participate in the survey. Last year, only 15 percent of students finished the entire survey. Stuart said she hopes to see increased participation this year. The survey will be available until March 18. The Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC-Berkeley created and has been implementing the survey for more than 10 years. Students from public research flagship universities, such as the University of Florida, the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota are eligible to take the survey. More than 130,000 students respond each year from across the nation. This year’s survey results may influence policies such as budgeting, identifying college readiness and different ways to inform admissions, said Harrison Keller, vice provost for UT’s Higher Education Policy and Research. “The survey gives us rich information to get a better sense of where students feel prepared and where they get useful support,” Keller said. Four UT students who participate will receive $250 toward textbooks. Other prizes include an Apple iPad and tickets to UT athletic events. Tim Gabriel, mechanical engineering junior, said a progress bar at the bottom of each page would be helpful so he could know how much of the survey he had left. “Sometimes surveys are repetitive, but I liked that this one wasn’t,” he said. “It covered a broad base and it was nicely categorized.”

Today is in no way the golden age of African-American participation in athletics because of negative stereotypes in the media and dwindling numbers of athletes, said Harry Edwards, sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Legal scholar Arthur Miller moderated a discussion Thursday at the LBJ Auditorium, where athletes, professors and sports reporters gathered to discuss the relationship between sports, media and race.

African-American participation in most sports — except football and basketball — has been on a steady decline since 1973, Edwards said. This year, 8 percent of major league baseball players are African-American, compared to 23 percent in 1973, he said. The Dodgers only had one African-American on the roster last season, the same amount as they had when Jackie Robinson was playing in 1947.

Dwindling numbers and the media’s portrayal of black athletes as lacking sportsmanship have contributed to the phasing out of African-Americans in athletics today, he said.

“Black athletes are either a clown or a criminal, there’s nobody in between,” he said. “There is no white Ochocinco. The reality is, I’m less concerned about T.O. and Ochocinco than I am about the media that projects and portrays them, and the fact that so many people in society want to see these things.”

But African-American athletes have never truly controlled the problematic image, which has been shaped largely by the white team owners, sponsors and media, Edwards said.

Out of 300 U.S. newspapers, African-Americans made up only 6.2 percent of sports writers, and only five out of 300 sports editors were black, according to a June 2006 study by the University of Central Florida.

As today’s sports have become less about talent and more about business, the public and sponsors are favoring showmanship, said radio-television-film professor Craig Watkins.

“We don’t like to think of it this way, but sports are also theater and performance,” he said. “When we see something as being less civil or less sportsmanlike than it should be, we need to recognize that the camera is on, the lights are on, they’re going into prime time and they’re going into character.”

Former WNBA player Fran Harris said professional football players such as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are rewarded with reality shows and media exposure mostly for their bombastic personalities.

“If you’re civil towards each other and there’s no showmanship, you don’t get the reality show,” she said. “Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. Those are the rewards and perks of being an athlete today.”

Journalism sophomore Hannah Shea said the idea of any race or nationality being excluded from sports in America is appalling.

“If you appreciate sports, you have to appreciate everyone who’s involved and who shows their skill,” she said. “Right now, I think there is a big racial divide.”