State Universities Wrestle With Implications of Affirmative Action Decision

Following Monday’s Supreme Court decisions on the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies, other states with large public university systems are wrestling with the implications of the rulings. The recent decisions overrule Hopwood v. Texas , a 1996 decision by a federal appeals court and former Texas attorney general Dan Morales that ended affirmative action at the University of Texas (UT). “The court’s ruling sweeps away the Hopwood decision and places the State of Texas on the same basis as educational institutions elsewhere in the United States. We are very pleased,” said UT President Dr. Larry Faulkner, according to the New York Times. Faulkner added that UT officials will begin work this fall on new methods to use for fall 2004 admissions. Texas has a “top 10 percent law,” adopted when President Bush was governor, which guarantees to students who rank in the top 10 percent of their high school classes admission to the public university of their choice. Then-Governor Bush hailed the law as a way to boost minority enrollment without resorting to racial preferences, but studies released earlier this year by the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University suggest that this is ineffective at promoting racial diversity.

The University of California system – another of the country’s largest – was compelled to abandon racial preferences in 1996 by Proposition 209. Because Prop. 209 was a voter initiative, the California legislature has no legal authority to overturn 209, pro-affirmative action legislators are advocating Assembly Bill 703, which would alter the meaning of 209 based on language from a 1965 UN Treaty that states that “special measures” taken on behalf of historically underrepresented groups are not automatically discriminatory, reported the Sacramento Bee. Affirmative action supporters say that the Michigan decisions give new momentum to their efforts to overturn 209. “When you have the Supreme Court backing you, that’s pretty powerful… Timing is everything, and this definitely rekindles our efforts,” said California NAACP President Alice Huffman in the Globe.

But because the court struck Michigan’s point system for undergraduate admissions, large public university systems like Texas and California may have difficulty devising policies that will both increase minority enrollment and pass constitutional muster with the current court, the Times reported.

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Office of the President, University of California System; University of Texas System Office of Public Affairs; New York Times 6/24/03; Austin American-Statesman 6/26/03; Sacramento Bee 5/22/03; Boston Globe 6/25/03, 6/25/03

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