- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

DALLAS (AP) — Six years after dropping affirmative action in favor of a so-called “10 percent solution,” Texas’ public university system will work to restore race as a factor in admissions, with the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Larry Faulkner, president of the University of Texas’ 50,000-student flagship campus at Austin, said the changes could be in place this fall for applicants for the 2004-2005 school year. The other schools in the 170,000-student UT system would probably follow Austin’s lead.

Affirmative action “gets to the heart of what we try to accomplish as an institution,” Mr. Faulkner said. “It’s important for us to have strong representation here of students from all sectors of society.”

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action at universities, endorsing the notion that diversity on campus makes for a more just society. The court struck down a race-based point system for undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan as too rigid, but it upheld the more individualized policy at the university’s law school.

Mr. Faulkner did not give details of how race will be added back into the equation. Any such changes would probably not require legislative approval, but must be compatible with Texas’ “Top 10 Percent” admissions law.

Under that law, students who graduate in the top 10 percent of each high school are automatically admitted to the state university system.

Two other big states use similar methods: California guarantees admission to the top 4 percent of its high school graduates, and Florida’s 4-year-old policy admits the top 20 percent. The plans are aimed at giving a shot at an education to a diverse selection of students.

“The percentage plans are predicated on the continued existence of segregated housing patterns giving rise to extremely segregated high schools,” said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education.

Texas dropped the use of race in college admissions in 1996 after a federal appeals court overturned the University of Texas law school’s affirmative-action program. The state adopted the 10 percent solution under Gov. George W. Bush in 1997. Around that time, California voters passed Proposition 209 to ban racial and ethnic preferences in hiring and admissions.

Florida’s plan was promoted by Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, who initiated it without being directly forced to do so by either a court ruling or a ballot measure.

Because California’s race-blind policy is now part of the state constitution, it cannot be changed without another statewide vote.

As for Florida, the governor said his state’s policy will not change in the wake of the high court’s decision. “Embracing diversity in meaningful ways with nondiscriminatory practices has yielded a better result for African-American and Hispanic students in our state,” Jeb Bush said.

Any changes in Texas could have political ramifications, since President Bush has touted his home state’s 10 percent plan as a model race-blind policy.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry has asked for the state attorney general’s opinion on the Supreme Court ruling so public universities and colleges in Texas would have a clearer idea of how race may be reincorporated into admissions.

The Texas and California programs have a mixed record, with minority enrollment holding steady or up only slightly at most schools, and lower at competitive schools like the University of California at Berkeley.

The Florida plan has not seen a similar drop-off. But its plan is not entirely race-neutral: Florida has financial aid, recruitment and retention programs targeting minorities, and those programs are banned in Texas and California.

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