Chancellor William McRaven, who oversees the UT System, inserted himself into a decades-long debate about the top ten percent rule, which allows the top portion of students at high schools in Texas to receive automatic admission to Texas public universities. The plan has come under intense examination from lawmakers, students, faculty, higher education administrators and even the Supreme Court since its implementation in 1997.
“Candidly, what is holding us back is the 10 percent rule,” McRaven said at a January board meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Board.
This top 10 percent rule, which was implemented after Hopwood v. Texas declared affirmative action unconstitutional in 1997, has not increased diversity and is hindering UT from rising in the national rankings of universities, McRaven said.
“I’d be willing to bet that since we dropped affirmative action in 1998, the racial diversity at our flagship hasn’t dramatically improved,” McRaven said at the meeting.
Student leaders from both Student Government and the Senate of College Councils have criticized McRaven’s stance on this issue. Student Government vice president Rohit Mandalapu said he disagreed with McRaven and also said diversity is more important than admitting the “classically best students” into the university.
“[The rule] really allows you to have a vastly diverse student body and give the university flexibility in admitting students,” Mandalapu, a Plan II and economics senior, said. “As a state institution, our responsibility is to educate students from all walks of life.”
The legislature designed the top 10 percent rule to increase diversity at public universities without directly considering race in response to Hopwood v. Texas. Now, the same rule is under scrutiny from the Supreme Court via the pending case Fisher v. University of Texas, which is considering the constitutionality of the top 10 percent rule, as well as the constitutionality of the use of affirmative action in non-automatic admissions. At UT-Austin, only the top seven percent of students receive automatic admission.
McRaven is aggressively seeking to increase the national standing of UT System institutions. He introduced a strategic plan in November that aims to help minorities and women get into leadership positions, bring more high-quality faculty to UT institutions and expand the system’s presence in Houston.
When asked which statistics McRaven referenced on diversity, UT System spokesperson Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said he was referencing “general data” and said he asked analysts at the system to study the issue further.
The African-American student population comprised about 3.2 percent of the student body population in Fall 2000. Fifteen years later, they now comprise 4.6 percent of the student body, according to an accountability report from the Higher Education Coordinating Board. In the same time span, however, the Hispanic student population has increased from 11.8 percent of the student body population in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2015.
Myra Ali, diversity and inclusion director for Student Government, said McRaven’s comments echo Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments on black students in college. Justice Scalia said during the Fisher v. University of Texas court hearing that the University of Texas should perhaps have fewer black students.
“I don’t think academics come at a cost, and I don’t think diversity comes at a cost,” said Ali, an international relations and a middle eastern studies senior. “It’s a privileged statement to say that the academics of our school are more important than letting more students of color into campus. It is jaded by a decent amount of prejudice and discrimination.”