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National CrossTalk Summer 2002
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

2 of 6 Stories

"Catastrophic" Court Ruling

By Carl Irving

At the graduate level, some faculty members are far less sanguine about what happened at UT-Austin. The ban on affirmative action was "catastrophic" at the law school, said law professor Douglas Laycock, a faculty member for 21 years. After the court ruling, black enrollment dropped 90 percent and Hispanic about 50 percent.

The court decision had a doubly negative effect, he said, because it not only halted financial aid to minority students eligible for admission, but also "put off" others who "didn't want to be part of a highly visible handful. The first year after the ruling we had four blacks enrolled and TV crews were sticking cameras in their faces.

"We invested a lot of effort in recruiting and blacks are up to about half of where they were and Hispanics less so," Laycock said. However, although some keep hoping for a "magic bullet," there is none in sight. A ten percent admissions program wouldn't work at graduate level, he said, because, unlike the Texas high schools, most undergraduate education is not segregated.

The case challenging admissions policies at the law school began in 1992, when law school applicant Cheryl Hopwood and others sued the university, claiming they were denied admission because the law school gave preferential consideration to African American and Mexican American applicants. The Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, with jurisdiction over Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, ruled in 1996 that it was unconstitutional to consider race as a factor in admission. The so-called Hopwood decision affected all levels of admission, and later was applied to all public campuses in the state.

The state twice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, but the court declined to hear the case. UT President Larry R. Faulkner officially announced last November that the university would not appeal the Hopwood decision. "We have invented new ways to build participation of talented minority students on a color-blind basis, and we think we have some of the best programs in the country," he said. A recent five-to-four decision which upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan law school was made by a more moderate majority in another court, but also faces an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "That the ten percent plan does not affect medical and professional schools poses great uncertainty," said Marta Tienda, a sociology professor at Princeton University. "A great deal of the future rests on the success of the top ten percent plan providing an adequate pool of minority college graduates admissible to the top medical schools in the state," she wrote in an analysis.

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