“We’re trying to prepare them educationally for the world they’re going to live in,” he said.
The ‘Top 10’ law
During class changes on the 52,000-student campus, UT’s diversity is on full display.
The sidewalks and bike paths are filled with students of every ethnic group and hue — hipster plaid and mohawks, Greek-letter T-shirts and Longhorn burnt orange, sundresses and cowboy boots.
“That’s the beauty of UT,” said Kristin Thompson, 22, a civil engineering major from a Dallas suburb. “It’s a place that encourages you to find your niche and socialize with people who have similar interests as you, but also challenges you to be amongst people who have different views, different backgrounds, different opinions from your own.”
It is one of the most diverse major universities in the country: In the incoming freshman class, the largest in UT history, 46 percent are white, 24 percent Hispanic, 18 percent Asian American and 5 percent black.
The numbers are the result of UT’s unique hybrid admissions policy. Under a 1997 law, the highest ranked students in every Texas high school are guaranteed admission. Although it is called the “Top 10” law, the cutoff line varies depending on available class size; next year’s freshmen at UT will have to have finished in the top 8 percent of their class to qualify.
Because of the segregated composition of most Texas high schools, that guarantees diversity.
It is the selection process for the rest of the class that has drawn constitutional challenge.
The university said it looks at each application individually and combines an academic score based on class rank, test scores and high school curriculum with a “personal achievement index.” That index derives from two personal essays and a list of six considerations, such as leadership potential, community service, work experience and “special circumstance.” Race is part of the “special circumstance.”
Thus, UT claims its consideration of race is “a factor of a factor of a factor of a factor” in its “holistic” review of each applicant.
Fisher finished outside the top 10 percent of her high school in Sugar Land, Tex. She says black and Hispanic students with lesser qualifications were admitted, while she was offered admission to another Texas institution with a chance to transfer to UT later. Instead, she went to Louisiana State University, from which she graduated with a degree in finance in the spring. She has declined through her attorneys to be interviewed.
UT says that even if Fisher had received a perfect personal achievement score, she would not have made the cut in 2008. It acknowledges some minority students with lesser or equal scores to Fisher’s were admitted, but so were other white students. They say this shows the decisions are based on selecting the best class, not simply on racial diversity.