UT admissions must be fair to all, dismiss overly influential recommendations

Mary Dolan

Most future Longhorns have already received their acceptance letters from UT, but the anxieties of filling out college applications are not too far behind them. For this vast majority of students, applying to UT is about getting in on the strength of their grades or extracurricular activities, yet there is another asset that some privileged students have unfortunately used to their advantage: influential connections.

This issue came to the fore at the end of former UT President William Powers Jr.’s tenure, following an external investigation known as the Kroll Report. The report, which was released in February, revealed Powers had granted admission to 73 students with GPAs and SAT scores significantly below UT’s minimum standards between 2009 and 2014. Recent records from The Dallas Morning News showed that several powerful Texans wrote to UT to vouch for several of these underqualified students, including House Speaker Joe Straus and former UT quarterback Randy McEachern. The Kroll report stated that the actions of Powers and his office are aspects “of the admissions process that does not appear in the public representations of UT-Austin’s admissions process.”

It is an understatement to say that the practice of admitting unqualified students because of influential connections is something that UT does not publicly advertise. While UT holds its freshmen applicants to high standards, students are meant to believe that they can get in if their test scores, grades and résumés are good enough — and that a letter of recommendation doesn’t count for much. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

While the admittance of 73 well-connected students may not be alarming to some, the fact that most students applying to UT do not have those kinds of connections cannot be ignored. Some students may be legacies, but very few have relatives or family friends that have a close relationship with a member of the Board of Regents or the State Legislature. Of the 2014–2015 entering class, 32 percent of UT applicants were out-of-state and international. For that minority of students, it is more difficult to find an influential Texas connection for a letter of recommendation. Admitting students based on connections effectively shuts out those unlucky few that aren’t privileged enough to have those connections.

This practice likely hurts low income students most. These students tend to have less educational opportunities before college, which can lead to lower academic performance. Those students would have difficulty getting past UT’s tough admissions process, and it is unlikely that they would have a powerful connection to vouch for them. Meanwhile, students with higher incomes are generally afforded better educational opportunities. Even if one of these students fails to get the grades UT wants, it is much more likely that they will have a state legislator or a former University athlete on their side.

UT is a great school with many great programs. It has an established admissions policy that measures students according to their successes, academic achievements high among them. However, it is important that administrators not substitute influential recommendations for academic success so that all students have the same chance to enjoy the experiences that this University has to offer. UT prides itself on being an institution that changes the world, and qualified students should have an equal chance to explore its innovative opportunities.

Dolan is a journalism sophomore from Abilene. Follow her on Twitter @mimimdolan.