The other elephant in the room

Patti Kilday Hart writes about the Supreme Court taking up the issue once again of UT’s admissions policies.

The Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the case signals that it may once again weigh in on how university admissions officers do their jobs. Over the years, in cases known as Bakke, Hopwood and Grutter, the court has rewritten the rules for how race can be used in selecting students.

Fisher is only asking the Supreme Court to review the admissions screening of students who don’t qualify automatically by virtue of class rank.

When the case was before the Fifth Circuit, however, Justice Patrick Higginbotham pointed out the elephant in the room: that the top 10 percent law is a “proxy for race” with a scattershot method for admission to UT that treats students from high-achieving high schools unfairly.


Fisher’s case has been underwritten by a legal defense fund directed by former Houstonian Edward Blum, a longtime opponent of racial preferences who favors the top 10 percent law because it produces diversity without directly using race as a factor in admissions.

“It’s not popular in places like Bellaire High School, where I graduated,” he acknowledged, mentioning one of Houston’s most rigorous high schools. “But it’s working.”

Instead, Blum’s group hopes the court will overturn the 2003 Grutter case, which allowed university admissions officers to “narrowly” use race to review applications so long as they took a “holistic” approach to its review and avoided quota systems. That’s what UT has been doing.

There’s another elephant in the room that goes unmentioned in this article. Why is it that some schools produce far more students that qualify for UT than others? And why is it that if those schools were allowed to dominate UT’s annual admissions, UT would wind up looking a lot less representative of the state as a whole than it is now? It’s no coincidence that these schools tend to be in wealthy, suburban, predominantly white parts of the state. If every public high school were like Bellaire and Sugar Land’s Austin, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation over and over again. But they’re not, and these facts remain. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children who live in poverty. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children whose parents do not speak English. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children whose home lives are unstable. We have a lot of these children in Texas. We do a poor job of even getting them through high school, much less prepared for college. (Yes, I know, college isn’t everything, vocational skills matter, the whole push for college preparedness is just another commie plot to indoctrinate our youth, etc etc etc. That’s for another discussion.) The Republicans in this state have absolutely no interest in dealing with these problems. Thus we have this litigation and that litigation and we’re nowhere closer to a solution than we were when the first lawsuits were filed. When will we finally make it a priority to improve all of the schools in Texas to the point where the children in any high school in the state can have a truly equal shot at getting into their college of choice?

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3 Responses to The other elephant in the room

  1. Joel says:

    “The Republicans in this state have absolutely no interest in dealing with these problems. ”

    I think you understate this point. The Republican party in Texas actually has an interest in *not* dealing with these problems.

  2. landslide says:

    I have heard talk, going back years, that dealing with the dropout problem is too expensive for a lot of legislators. Think of how much more money would be required to educate our kids if the other half stayed in school all the way to 12th grade.

  3. Amy Sater says:

    The real issue is less the validity of the “top 10%” rule and more that the state doesn’t provide enough support to public universities so that there are enough spots at top schools to accommodate the best high school graduates across the state. (Full disclosure: I am a UH faculty member and the mother of past and present Bellaire HS students).

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