Holistic review admissions policy fails to address racial inequality on campus

On Wednesday, in an address given at the Civil Rights Summit, UT President William Powers Jr. spoke about the University’s great strides in advancing civil rights over its history. In the same speech, Powers acknowledged that the University has historically tended toward discrimination and segregation, most notably in its resistance to integration in the 1950s. He also pointed to the University’s present-day holistic review admissions process as an attempt to address racial inequality. 

“We take ethnicity into account [in the holistic admissions process] as one of many factors in a holistic review of the students who are not automatically admitted under the top 10 — now seven — percent rule,” Powers said. “Not being able to do that would be a real setback to diversity, not just on our campus, but on campuses across the country.” 

In mentioning the possibility that UT may not be able to take race into account during the admissions process, Powers was referencing the Fisher v. UT case, which reached the Supreme Court in October 2012. The case pitted a white woman denied admission to UT in 2008 against the University and its consideration of race in the admissions process. Though the case was knocked back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals without the court changing UT’s admissions policy, it raised the possibility of the Supreme Court striking down race-based admissions policies in the future. But though Powers has spoken out about the importance of affirmative action in creating a diverse college campus, students should remember that diversity at UT does not benefit substantially from the University’s current holistic admissions process. 

Today, UT’s holistic admissions policy favors white applicants. From 2007 to 2011, the UT Office of Admissions reported that the process admitted a proportionally smaller percentage of African-American and Latino students than automatic admission did. While black students made up 6 percent of those admitted automatically in 2010, black students only comprised 5 percent of those admitted through the holistic review process. Similarly, Hispanic students made up 28 percent of automatic admits in 2010, but only 12 percent of those admitted through holistic review.

For those who question the value of admitting more minority applicants to the University, the disturbingly low numbers above should illustrate the lack of diversity on the UT campus. But ultimately, while it’s certainly a good thing that Powers has his eye on the problems affecting minority students on campus, his singular focus on holistic review as a means for increasing diversity on campus should be reevaluated. There are so many issues affecting students on our campus — for example, the importance of the DREAM Act, the availability of financial aid and the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. A single-minded focus on holistic review, especially given that the process fails to admit as many minority students as the Top 10 Percent Law, is simply not productive in the push for greater diversity on campus.