UT's Foot-in-Mouth Epidemic
"It's not what you do, it's what you say."
UT President Larry Faulkner had reason to recall that old saw last week, as he was caught in a public relations firestorm over university recruitment. After students complained that a candidate list for Dean of Students had included no minority applicants, state Sen. Frank Madla, D-San Antonio, asked the university to provide ethnicity breakdowns of the university's current administrative personnel.
Faulkner provided the information, although a little defensively, arguing that it is difficult to "assemble a diverse pool of qualified applicants" because "It is often the case that there are not enough minority applicants who yet possess the education and experience necessary to compete for faculty or high-level academic appointments." That argument angered Hispanic and African-American senators, all of whom used the occasion of the Senate's April 25 confirmation of three new appointments to the UT Board of Regents to call Faulkner to task for his historically infelicitous phrasing. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte called it a "sorrowful, hurtful statement," and recalled family experiences of discrimination, in which her grandmother and mother faced multiple variations on the refrain, "You are not qualified." "How long must we wait?" asked Van de Putte. Speaking to the regent nominees, she concluded, "You should remember the brown faces of this state [and] the African-American faces of this state and those who do not want a handout, just an opportunity to compete -- and that you will make sure that a policy exists that says we will no longer accept excuses of 'You're not good enough.'" Van de Putte's comments were echoed by Sens. Gonzalo Barrientos, Rodney Ellis, Carlos Truan, Mario Gallegos, and others.
In a followup letter to Madla, Faulkner tried to save face, saying he was referring only to the relative shortage of minority Ph.D.'s available for "faculty and high-level academic appointments." He said that while he disagreed with the way his letter had been "interpreted," he apologized for "creating a situation where that was even possible." "There were 12 of us," commented Sen. Van de Putte afterward. "Some are lawyers, several have advanced degrees, and we all interpreted it the same way. We were not satisfied with that response."
Following a private and reportedly "tense" meeting with minority senators, Faulkner announced he was adding three minority candidates to the pool of applicants for the Dean of Students position. The Senate Hispanic Caucus and the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus applauded what they called a move in the right direction, although Sen. Gallegos noted bluntly that only the students' appeal to the legislators seemed to get the UT administrators' attention. "I'm concerned that [the administrators] had to be told there were no minorities," Gallegos told The Daily Texan. "You shouldn't have to be told that."
During the Senate discussion, senators pointed with dismay to the statistics provided by UT. Among executive positions, there were 38 whites and seven minorities; among deans, 12 whites, three minorities; among department chairs and directors, 62 whites, eight minorities. "We cannot allow these kinds of statistics to continue in this new century," Truan said. "We demand more." Several members pointed repeatedly to the large and growing numbers of minority Texans apparently excluded from UT's academic and administrative priorities, and reiterated that they are tired of waiting for improvement.
Later, Van de Putte told the Chronicle that the minority caucus will continue to monitor the UT situation, and wants "hard plans" from UT to expand minority recruitment. "No more focus groups, no more little surveys, no more things that take forever and accomplish nothing." Van de Putte pointed out that the university traditionally relies heavily on the votes of minority senators for every university priority -- especially funding. She concluded, "We've told them that unless we see real results on this issue, they can look elsewhere for their support."