Naked City

Texas A&M's racial legacy

Sen. Rodney Ellis (l) and A&M alumna  Rep. Dawnna 
Dukes
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."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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

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