Naked City

Texas A&M's racial legacy

Sen. Rodney Ellis (l) and A&M alumna  Rep. Dawnna 
Sen. Rodney Ellis (l) and A&M alumna Rep. Dawnna Dukes (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Texas A&M President Robert Gates announced in December that the university would not consider race as a factor in admissions -- despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in May, in a case involving the University of Michigan, that allows such consideration. Gates said it was because every Aggie should be able to look his classmates in the eye "and know that they all got in on the same basis, on the basis of personal merit, personal achievement, qualities of their person, because of who they are rather than what they are."

That sounded noble enough, until the Houston Chronicle reported that under A&M's "legacy" policy -- granting favorable consideration to the children, grandchildren, or siblings of graduates -- hundreds of white students had been admitted, far more than the total number of African-American students admitted. (In 2002, 321 whites, 25 Hispanics, and three African-Americans were admitted as legacies, among 10,291 incoming freshmen.) A&M is reportedly the only state university in Texas and one of the few public universities in the nation to maintain a legacy program.

Gates initially said he knew little about the legacy program -- but abruptly ended it on Jan. 9 in response to continuing bad publicity and the growing opposition of minority leaders, who held press conferences last week in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio noting the "hypocrisy" of the policy. In Austin, Gary Bledsoe of the Texas NAACP, Rosa Rosales of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and several legislators -- including state Rep. Dawnna Dukes (an A&M alumna), Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, and Sen. Rodney Ellis -- repeated their call for the university administration to acknowledge the legacy of racism in Texas and to agree to consider race as a factor in future admissions. Bledsoe pointed out that a legacy program is inherently discriminatory, since minorities were not admitted to A&M until 1963.

"After Hopwood," said Ellis, referring to the 1996 federal court decision that ended affirmative action in Texas universities, "the educational establishment said its hands were tied. Now, after the Michigan decision [effectively reversing Hopwood], A&M -- which used race for years to keep us out -- says it cannot use race as a factor to let us in. They say they want 'diversity' on campus, but they prefer to unilaterally disarm themselves of this legal weapon to enable diversity." Ellis said he intends to insist that appointees to university boards of regents agree to use race as a factor in admissions before he will support their confirmation by the Senate.

Gates' sudden decision to end the legacy program was applauded by the legislators, but several issued statements saying they were not satisfied by the school's resistance to expanding minority admissions. "In overturning substantial portions of the Hopwood ruling," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, "the Supreme Court provided us with a tool to combat this troubling lack of diversity. Any institution that looks to buck the trend by not utilizing that tool has a long fight ahead of them."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Naked City

    Temple-Inland's proposal has enviros -- and hillside neighbors -- seeing red

    Naked City

    Poll: If Limbaugh did the crime, he should do the time

    Naked City

    Bush's vague guest-worker scheme gets mixed local reviews

    Naked City

    The former APD assistant chief goes job-hunting at the TABC
  • Naked City

    The Austin Area Heritage Council's annual celebration

    Naked City

    Their plan calls for lots of new student housing -- but all in one place

    Naked City

    The crop of GOP hopefuls for the Austin-to-Houston district thickens

    Naked City

    The plaintiffs seek a stay of the new map from the Supreme Court

    Naked City

    The next Travis Co. election (major party primary) is March 9. The voter registration deadline is Monday, Feb. 9.

    Naked City

    Interfering with black voting rights -- it's the Lone Star way!

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Affirmative Action
Affirming Diversity in College Admissions
Affirming Diversity in College Admissions
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Richard Whittaker, July 1, 2016

More by Michael King
<i>Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics</i>
Hope and Hard Truth: A Life in Texas Politics
Life beyond the governor’s office with Ann Richards’ chief aide

Sept. 2, 2022

Embattled Doctor Prevails Against the Texas Medical Board
Embattled Doctor Prevails Against the Texas Medical Board
The little guy wins

June 24, 2022


Affirmative Action, Robert Gates, Texas A&M, Gary Bledsoe, Rodney Ellis, Garnet Coleman, legacy program, university admissions

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle