Affirmative action should replace top 10 percent rule, not the opposite

Noah M. Horwitz

The United States Supreme Court is currently considering the second iteration of the case Fisher v. University of Texas, with a decision expected by the end of June. This case centers upon whether or not affirmative action violates the constitution. Commentators and court watchers suspect the justices will find a violation.

Much ink has been spilled by many, including myself in the Texan, on why eliminating race-conscious admissions would be a travesty. But if the High Court rules as many expect it will, there will be another, nearly unanticipated, consequence: I will find myself, at long last, begrudgingly defending the Top 10 Percent Rule.

The regional neighborhoods of Texas are still largely segregated by race. Accordingly, the rule, which grants automatic admission to the University for students in the top 7 percent of their high school class (as well as the top 10 percent for all other public colleges in the state), helps to ensure diversity on the 40 Acres. If affirmative action is struck, this rule will be the primary policy that prevents the University of Texas from becoming even more homogeneous.

Experts from across the political and legal spectrum recognize the merit in ensuring diversity on college campuses. The controversy lies in how, exactly, to do so. The Top 10 Percent Rule was born out of a time when a Federal Appeals Court temporarily barred affirmative action at the University. Accordingly, if it is barred again, it would make sense for the rule to receive newfound attention.

Despite the obvious benefits, does the rule actually hurt the University overall? Would there be a better way to ensure diversity? For both of these queries, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

“Candidly, right now what is holding us back is the 10 percent rule,” said William McRaven, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, on Thursday before a state legislative panel.

Sadly, for this university, it will hold us back even more if the Fisher case is decided the way it is expected. Under a law approved in 2009, the University can cap the number of auto-admits under the rule at three-quarters of the incoming class. However, the law would be invalidated if race-based admission is barred.

The national ranking for the University hovers around 50, give or take a few spots, on a year-to-year basis. In comparison, the medical school is ranked about 25, the MBA program at 17 and law school at 15, to name a few. One of the primary differences between the undergraduate and the graduate programs is that only one is mandated by law to automatically admit the top 7 percent.

Still, the graduate programs at the University incorporate race-conscious admission into their application processes. In fact, unencumbered by the Top 10 Percent Rule, affirmative action is arguably more aggressively used.

If the Supreme Court holds that affirmative action violates the Constitution, diversity at many colleges across the country will surely suffer. The damage at the University, however, will not center on race. By forcing us to double down on the Top 10 Percent Rule, it is the University’s academic standing that will suffer the most.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Horwitz is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @NmHorwitz.