Bowen tells LeBas: Legacy Program Helped

January 11, 2004
Bowen believes Gates made right decision
By JOHN

LeBAS
Eagle Staff Writer

Former Texas A&M University President Ray Bowen said his

administration considered dropping the school’s legacy program after the 1996 Hopwood court decision

took race out of admissions decisions. But officials eventually concluded that doing so could

actually harm the university’s efforts to increase the ethnic diversity of its students, he

said.

The current president, Robert Gates, on Friday ended a 14-year-old practice that

gave an edge to freshman applicants with relatives who attended the once all-white university. The

legacy program had been blasted recently by minority lawmakers and civil rights groups who argued it

discriminated against applicants of color.

“We studied it after Hopwood and determined

legacy was helping minorities in a small way,” said Bowen, who was president from 1994 to 2002. “But

nobody believes that.”

Still, he said Gates made the right decision in light of the

recent uproar.

Legacy critics have said the program’s end is a small step toward a more

diverse student body, which is 82 percent white. While Hispanics have been at the 127-year-old

university throughout its history, blacks were not allowed until 1963.

A&M officials

have blamed a slide on minority enrollment over the past seven years on the Hopwood decision. But Bowen

said his administration calculated that dropping legacy probably would have decreased the number of

minorities who enrolled by three or four a year.

While figures from the late 1990s

weren’t available late last week, legacy statistics from the current freshman class seem to support

that assertion.

For fall 2003, 878 applicants who weren’t eligible for automatic

acceptance but met academic standards earned legacy points during A&M’s review process. Seven were

African-American and six of those were admitted (85.7 percent).

Of 800 whites with

legacy, 312 got in (39 percent). Twenty-seven of 52 Hispanics were admitted (51.9 percent), as were

eight of 19 others (42.1 percent).

In all, 353 of the 878 legacy candidates (40.2

percent) won admission.

Bowen joined current A&M officials in arguing that legacy —

which counted for up to four of 100 points in the review process — was not the deciding factor for most

applicants. More points could be earned in other areas, such as leadership, extracurricular activities,

class rank and SAT or ACT score.

“It’s the danger, I think, of playing the statistics

too close,” he said. “You need to look at the big issues. I think the big issue here is perception, and

I think Dr. Gates addressed that through his decision. … If the public perceives this is unfair,

you’re wasting your time going through an exercise trying to convince people it’s not unfair.”

Many critics said the practice was especially unfair in light of a U.S. Supreme Court

decision last year that overturned Hopwood and allowed limited consideration of race in admissions.

Despite that, Gates said in December that A&M would stay away from using race and move to a totally

“merit-based” policy.

While lawmakers and activists still called for Gates to go beyond

ending legacy and reinstate affirmative action, one Texas-based group applauded his decision

Saturday.

“This is another step forward towards a truly merit-based system with equal

opportunity for all Texans,” Texas Civil Rights Initiative spokesman Austin Kinghorn said in a

statement. The group’s chairman is former Hopwood plaintiff David Rogers.

A&M’s legacy

program started in 1989 as part of an enrollment management effort at the burgeoning university. It was

the only formal legacy practice among the state’s public universities.

But legacy hadn’t

been heavily scrutinized until recent weeks, when minority activists threatened legal action to end the

program. Had such pressure been applied in the late 1990s, A&M would have stopped using legacy in

admissions, Bowen said.

“It’s a perception issue,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to

have any effect on minority enrollment at all.”

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