Holistic review doesn’t help

Ryan Nill

My mother emigrated from Mexico at the age of 25. When I was growing up, she put a huge emphasis on my grades, sometimes to the detriment of my other activities. My mother’s emphasis, and my resulting grades, made me particularly well suited for admission to UT through the Top 10 Percent law. Had I not been near the top of my class, it would have been a challenge to get in through the University’s holistic review admissions process, which evaluates a candidate using indices of academic and personal achievements such as test scores, essays, extracurricular activities, family situation and race. In 2011, Latinos accounted for 29 percent of those admitted under the Top Ten Percent rule, but holistic review only admits 14 percent. This implies that it would have been harder for me to get in through holistic review, a race-conscious process with the stated goal of increasing diversity, than my white peers.

Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that challenges UT’s consideration of race in admissions, will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court next week. Fisher alleges that she was disadvantaged as a white applicant in 2008, when she was denied admission into UT. The case has been garnering attention because some argue that it could finally dismantle the institution of affirmative action, first put into place by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to counter the effects of racial discrimination.

I look at the statistics on the racial composition of applicants admitted through holistic review and wonder how a policy that disproportionately favors whites and Asians gets to be called affirmative action. In an interview with The Daily Texan, University President William Powers Jr.  admits that African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented at UT. During the “Fisher v. Texas and You: A Conversation with Civil Rights Leaders” panel discussion held this week and sponsored by We Support UT and the Multicultural Engagment Center WHO, a mostly minority audience was asked “How many of you think there isn’t enough diversity on campus?” A clear majority of attendees raised their hands.

One of the arguments made by Fisher using UT admission data is that “race” does not play a frequent enough role in determining holistic decisions to justify the continuing use of it as a consideration. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Judge Emilio Garza, quoted in Fisher’s brief, found that UT’s race-conscious policy is “completely ineffectual in accomplishing its claimed compelling interest.” Instead, according to Fisher supporters, the policy has the look of institutional racism.

On the other hand, the brief filed on behalf of the University by Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, dismisses Fisher’s argument about modest weighting of race as “counter-intuitive.” Karolina Lyznik, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who, like me, recalls her immigrant parents locking her in her room to study, said at Tuesday’s panel that even though there is a disparity between the compositions of applicants admitted through the Top 10 Percent rule and holistic review, there is still a considerable number of minority students being admitted both ways. Lyznik added that holistic review does a great job of selecting a diverse group of people from within each race.

In the modern era, diversity is a complex topic that can’t be addressed with four coarsely defined racial categories, African American, Hispanic, White Non-Hispanic and Asian. Diversity includes a very wide range of considerations that are not limited to race, ethnicity, family circumstances, socio-economic class and geography. The Top 10 Percent rule is good at attracting students to represent much of this diversity because much of the state remains segregated.

Sam Robles, a social work and Hispanic studies junior, who helped organize Tuesday’s panel, recognizes that holistic review as un-ideal. She said, “It’s frustrating seeing these admission numbers and how they speak to issues of racial prejudice on campus.”

Robles wants to educate students about the Fisher case because students are in a position to go back to their communities and encourage underprivileged students to apply to UT. Any lack of diversity we see is not a result of a biased admission process, but a faulty and unequal K-12 public education system. There is a real chance that UT’s holistic review will be found unconstitutional; affirmative action has a limited shelf life and our conservative U.S. Supreme Court judges may find it has expired. And as an underrepresented minority, I relied on the Top 10 Percent law as my way into UT. Had I had lower grades, it would have been unlikely that I would be admitted through holistic review. I believe the fight for diversity on this campus is not over, but it’s hard to support UT’s race-conscious admissions policy when it increases diversity within privileged groups, while not helping those that have historically and to this day need it.

Nill is an ecology, evolution and behavior senior from San Antonio.