Naked City

The House considers a Top 10% law to address inequities at magnet high schools, and UT is embroiled in a free speech debate after a scuffle between faculty and university police.

By guaranteeing admission to all students in the top 10% of their graduating high school classes, Kingsville Democrat Irma Rangel's "Top 10 Law" reopened the doors of state universities to minority students shut out by a U.S. Fifth Circuit ruling killing minority admissions programs. But Rangel's bill created problems for AISD's two magnet high schools, which attract high-achieving students to select programs at Johnston and LBJ. Attorney Bob Heath told House Higher Ed Committee chair Rangel what happens when the highest achievers in a district are packed onto one campus: LBJ has 32 "Top 10" spots, but students in the math and science magnet hold the top 51 GPAs. Federal Judge James Nowlin last year threw out AISD's attempt to set aside top 10 spots for host school students. Now, Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes has filed a bill that would create a split top 10 at magnet schools. For instance, the 196 non-magnet seniors at Johnston would get 20 Top 10 slots. The 85 magnet seniors at Johnston's Liberal Arts Academy would get their nine top 10 spots -- and keep the overall numerical ranking for college admissions officers.

The catch: Host students can make the Host Top 10 with lower GPAs than magnet students who cannot make the Magnet Top 10. An eloquent Anne Porfirio (one of three plaintiffs in the federal suit) is a host school student who also attends the magnet, which is open to all host students. Dukes' bill would allow a Johnston senior with grades lower than Porfirio's to make the Johnston Top 10, while Porfirio might not make the Magnet Top 10. Porfirio says she's being punished for the hard work required to excel in the magnet program.

"This law wouldn't be necessary in Utopia," Dukes said, introducing her bill…

Want free speech outside the "free-speech areas" on the UT campus? Hire a lawyer. That's the lesson drawn from last month's free speech free-for-all, which caught campus police between an anti-abortion group and students and faculty protesting huge color posters of late-term aborted fetuses displayed outside Gregory Gym. After initially being turned down, Justice for All (a Wichita, Kansas, nonprofit group working with a recently formed campus organization) convinced UT administrators to permit the exhibit at Gregory -- which has never been a free-speech area. The success of the Kansas nonprofit group might have something to do with the fact that it travels with its own lawyer, who in this case pressed the UT administration to waive its standard free speech restrictions.

UT's administrators might regret their decision. When students and members of the faculty -- including journalism professors Dana Cloud and Bob Jensen, and English professors Elizabeth Cullingford and Mia Carter -- joined a protest, a campus cop hit Carter on the head and neck while seizing her bullhorn. Carter sustained a cut above her eyebrow and a nasty abrasion on her neck.

The incident has raised questions at UT about excessive force by campus police protecting an outside group granted special privileges. Also, JFA's executive director David Lee complained that police later failed to protect JFA activists from angry students, and it appears that JFA might be preparing to sue.

Tuesday night, UT Student Government passed a resolution calling for a public apology from the administration and a clarification of UT's free speech policy. Carter has been invited to meet with UT President Larry Faulkner. Though Carter and her colleagues appeared at the protest without an attorney, she has one now. Or two. Carter is talking with Austin lawyers Malcolm Greenstein and Tom Kolker.

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