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Minority enrollment at the University of Texas’ flagship Austin campus is still lower than it was years ago, before a court barred the consideration of race in admissions. University officials, however, point to a slow increase in minority students as evidence that new admissions and recruitment policies are doing a good job of replacing affirmative action. In the years immediately before a federal appeals court struck down the university law school’s affirmative-action program, each freshman class included about 500 blacks, or 4 percent of new students. In 1997, the year after the ruling, only 296 new students, or 2.3 percent, were black. Hispanic freshmen declined too, but less dramatically. That year, the state Legislature approved — and then-Gov. George W. Bush promoted and signed — a law granting automatic admission to Austin for any Texas high school student who graduated in the top 10 percent of his or her class. After passage of the Texas law, students from poor or heavily minority schools competed against classmates — not against counterparts at affluent suburban schools — for a spot at the state’s flagship public university. The number of blacks among new students at UT-Austin has crept upward, to 418 in September, compared with 453 the year before affirmative action was struck down. University President Larry Faulkner said the university has effectively compensated for the loss of affirmative action, partly by increasing recruiting and financial aid for minority students. “The top-10-percent law and coordinated measures can do as well or better than affirmative action did at the undergraduate level,” Faulkner said. But, Faulkner acknowledged, the university has been less successful at attracting minority students to graduate programs. One year, only four law school entrants were black. This fall, 22 of the law school’s 582 new students were black. Douglas Laycock, a professor at the Austin campus’ law school, said the university should be attracting many more minority students in a state where the population is 32 percent Hispanic and 11.5 percent black. Laycock said the university’s recruitment efforts have been, at best, a limited success, although they have been hailed by foes of affirmative action. “There’s a prevailing view that you can have diversity and not consider race,” Laycock said. “None of the alternatives work very well. All the alternatives produce fewer minorities and much more distortion of academic standards.” Kim Ross, a 23-year-old senior from Houston who is black, said years of debate over affirmative action have frightened some minorities away from UT-Austin. But, Ross, who sits on a faculty council that works to draw minority students, said social factors may be just as important. “If you’re the only minority in your classroom, you might not want to stay,” she said. “There aren’t enough places for minorities to hang out. We don’t have a lot of African-American professors.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down UT-Austin’s affirmative-action policy in a case known for Cheryl Hopwood, one of four white applicants who were turned away by the law school and sued in 1992. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Patricia Ohlendorf, UT-Austin’s vice president for legal affairs, said the university believes it can continue increasing minority enrollment by targeted recruiting and financial aid. But it’s a battle. “We still are somewhat at a competitive disadvantage since universities outside the state of Texas … are able to use programs that use race or ethnicity as a factor in admissions and financial aid.” As governor, Bush made essentially the same comment in 1998 in expressing hope the U.S. Supreme Court would set one standard for all colleges. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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