Eighty high school students from around the state, most of them Hispanic, black or from low-income families, just spent several days at the University of Texas brainstorming about water shortages, inadequate health care and other societal challenges.
More than a crash course in public policy, this was an effort to open these bright young minds to the promise of a college education. And if some of the students eventually choose to attend the Austin flagship, so much the better.
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Race at UT: a long history
The University of Texas has struggled with race for decades.
State law barred blacks from the university until 1950, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a black man admitted to the UT School of Law. In 1996, after years of affirmative action in admissions, a federal appeals court effectively banned the practice in a case called Hopwood.
UT resumed affirmative action in 2005 after the Supreme Court, ruling in a case involving the University of Michigan, said narrowly tailored programs were acceptable. But in 2008, a white woman named Abigail Fisher, whose application for admission to UT was rejected, filed suit, contending that the university’s race-conscious approach was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court, in a 7-1 ruling last week, sidestepped that question and sent Fisher v. UT back to a lower court for a closer review of whether there are race-neutral means of achieving diversity. UT is continuing to consider race for the time being.
Meanwhile, state law encourages minority enrollment in an indirect way.
Mindful that some high schools in Texas have high percentages of minority students, legislators in 1997 enacted a measure that grants students in the top 10 percent of any high school in the state the right to enroll at any public university.
UT, the most popular choice, was later given authority to limit the percentage of students admitted automatically to create more room for students whose applications are considered on the basis of race, ethnicity, special talents and other factors.
Ralph K.M. Haurwitz has covered higher education since 2004 and has written extensively about litigation involving affirmative action at the University of Texas.