Patrick Higginbotham

Law professor Henry Hu will receive the Massey Prize for his research in the field of law. Hu, who has been with the University since 1987, is a leading thinker in law and finance.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Law professor Henry Hu will be the second person to receive a Massey Prize for Research in Law, Innovation, and Capital Markets from the School of Law for his scholarly work in the capital market and corporate governance.. 

The Massey Prize, established in 2009, was created through a gift from alumni John and Elizabeth Massey. The prize is awarded to an individual who has completed innovative research in the field of law.

Hu said the prize has given him new inspiration to revolutionize the way the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approaches certain economic dilemmas. After joining the University faculty in 1987, Hu was hired by the SEC’s Division of Risk, Strategy, and Financial Innovation to head the division of economic and risk analysis, a job which he held from 2009-2011.

According to Hu, a pressing issue in the field of economics is the complexity of the circumstances required to be explained to investors by corporations before investments are made. He believes a solution to this problem is to simplify the process by giving the necessary information to investors, allowing them to analyze the information themselves.

“What I’m calling for involves a rethinking of the basic approach to information that’s been used by the SEC since the Great Depression,” Hu said. “New approaches to information are essential.”

 Hu said this proposed solution, along with a number of other ideas and terms that he has coined, comes from his combined knowledge of science, law and economics.

 “You need a very eclectic approach to deal with today’s very complex problems and transactions — knowing just the legal rules is not enough,” Hu said. “The exercise of genuine judgment and the bringing together of different fields in creative ways can be critical.”

Upon graduating from Yale Law School, Hu worked as a clerk for Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Higginbotham said the award is an honor not only for Hu, but for the rest of the law school faculty. He said Hu impressed him early in his career when he first started working with Hu.

“He was an extraordinary, bright young man, and some of his greatest characteristics include quickness in mind, coupled with powerful self-discipline,” Higginbotham said. “I’ve known him to be very hardworking, and when you put together a brilliant mind and hard work, what you get is a productive scholar.”

A symposium celebrating Hu’s award will be held Sept. 26. The keynote speaker at the symposium will be Robert Charles Clark, Harvard University distinguished professor and former dean of Harvard Law School. Ward Farnsworth, law professor and dean of the UT law school, said the event will be a fitting tribute to Hu’s work.

“It’s a ‘who’s-who’ of the leading thinkers in the country at the intersection of law and finance,” Farnsworth said. “It will be a day of great conversations and a day to celebrate one of UT’s wonderful faculty members.”

Hu said success has always been hard for him to define, regardless of his passion and interest in the field.

“I relished opportunities to work on complex and fascinating financial innovation related matters,” Hu said. “Whatever ‘success’ might mean, you can never anticipate it.”

Photo Credit: Michael Todd | Daily Texan Staff

Attorneys for both the University and Abigail Fisher, a rejected UT applicant, argued over the necessity of a race-conscious admissions policy in front of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

Fisher sued the University in 2008 for discriminating against her based on her race, which she claimed was in violation of the 14th Amendment. 

In June, the Supreme Court determined the Fifth Circuit had failed to apply strict scrutiny to the University’s race-conscious admissions policy and sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit court to determine whether the University’s policies are narrowly tailored and necessary to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students. 

In their questions during oral argument, Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Carolyn King and Emilio Garza focused on the way the University defines “critical mass,” as well as past attempts the University has made to increase minority enrollment.

“Every attempt I’ve heard to define a critical mass has been tautological, circular or objective,” Garza said.

Photo by Charlie Pearce / Daily Texan Staff

Greg Garre, the University’s attorney, said although UT does not use specific numbers to determine a critical mass, the University is still able to determine when this mass has been met.

“[Not using percentages] doesn’t mean that UT can’t determine when a critical mass is reached,” Garre said. 

In describing the difficulty of defining a critical mass, Garre and the judges both made references to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote, “I know it when I see it.”

Fisher’s attorney Bert Rein said if the University considers race in its admissions process for people who do not qualify for admission under the state’s Top 10 Percent rule, the school must provide undeniable evidence that diversity could not have been achieved through any other means. 

“If you pick race, you have to be able to withstand strict scrutiny,” Rein said.

According to Garre, the University uses race as part of a much larger admissions process, and race is one of several factors that, combined, determine 4/7 of an applicant’s personal achievement index. That score is in turn combined with the applicant’s academic index score to determine if the applicant should be admitted to the University. 

“One factor of a factor is race,” Garre said.

Higginbotham said because most low-performing schools in Texas are heavily made up of minority students, if the University did not use holistic review to gain minority students, then students might begin to assume all minority students at the University are from low-performing schools.

“That to me creates the stigma that [Justice Clarence Thomas] has rightly complained about,” he said.

President William Powers Jr. — who is a Harvard Law graduate and a former dean of the UT Law School — said he thinks the questions the judges asked clearly indicate they researched the University’s specific admission policies. 

“The court was very well prepared on both sides,” Powers said. “The arguments were very relevant to the application of the [admissions] standard. Arguments were excellently presented.”

The University has been the center of many previous cases related to affirmative action. In 1996, Hopwood v. Texas was the first affirmative action case to strike down race as a factor during an admissions process, though the right to use race with certain qualifications had been established in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978.

Grutter v. Bollinger, a case brought against the University of Michigan in 2003, declared use of race as an admissions criteria constitutional, reversing the Hopwood ruling.

Garre argued that during the seven years between those two cases, while the University did not use race as part of its admissions process, the percentage of African-American students in the student body fell by approximately 50 percent.

“In 2004, there were 15.2 percent minority admits,” Garre said. “You go to 2007, the 15.2 percent ballooned to 23.6 percent with the addition of race in holistic review.”

Rein said the University has not made any attempts to use race-neutral admissions criteria since the Grutter case declared that using race as a factor is constitutional.

“They haven’t looked at a darn thing,” Rein said. “What they did is look at Grutter and say, ‘The green light is on.’”

Powers disagreed and said the University has been unable to achieve its goals of student diversity through processes that do not take race into consideration.

“To suggest that we have not tried race-neutral admissions policies ignores the University’s history,” Powers said in a statement. “In fact, prior to the introduction of the admissions policy being defended today, the University saw the number of minority enrollments drop precipitously or stagnate, despite more targeted recruiting, increased scholarships, the use of socioeconomic factors in holistic review and the introduction of the Top 10 Percent law.”

Additional reporting by Jordan Rudner.