Texas schools ponder race role in admissions

Four states banned racial criteria in school admissions policies before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice. Now, one is reconsidering.

By Myrle Croasdale — Posted Feb. 9, 2004

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In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld race-conscious admissions, University of Texas medical schools are looking at reintroducing race into their admissions policies.

"We received a mandate from the academic executive council and are considering this as we speak," said Lauree Thomas, MD, associate dean of student affairs and admissions at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Data show that the number of underrepresented minorities becoming physicians has not kept proportional pace with the growing U.S. minority population. Training more minority physicians is often cited as one way to stem the health care access problem facing many minority communities.

Schools getting state dollars in California, Florida and Washington stopped using race in their admissions criteria after such practices ended in the late 1990s. Schools in these states will continue to follow their state laws.

Texas also had to abandon race-conscious admissions after a 1996 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Hopwood v. University of Texas School of Law. Because the Texas decision was a judicial one, not a result of a voter initiative, as in California or Washington, or an executive order from the governor, as in Florida, Texas medical schools might reconsider their admissions criteria.

So far, only the University of Texas medical schools are considering action. One element to be worked out is whether considering race would increase the number of underrepresented minorities admitted.

"We have to show that by considering race, we would have more diversity than we do now," said Albert Gunn, MD, associate dean of admissions for the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Changes could come in 2006

Max Buja, MD, executive vice president for academic affairs at UT Houston's medical school, said that, if race-conscious polices are restored, at the very least UT schools will be able to offer scholarships to high-scoring minority students who have been going out of state.

"Unequivocally, this will have a positive effect. It sends the message that we are a minority-friendly place. That said, this is still a work in progress," Dr. Buja said.

A final recommendation is not expected until spring. Texas law requires schools to publish changes in admissions policy one year before acting on them, so a decision this spring wouldn't be in place until 2006.

Medical schools outside the UT system were also forbidden from considering race under the Hopwood decision. But Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine in College Station say their policies under Hopwood worked fine in maintaining a diverse student body and there is no reason to modify them.

In 2001-02, Texas medical schools graduated 109 physicians who were classified as underrepresented minorities, according to the AAMC. The 109 were 10% of the state's graduating class. Nationwide, 8% of the 2002 graduating class were considered underrepresented minorities.

Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians made up 5.8% of the medical profession as of 2002, says the AMA. But this number is not definitive, because the AMA doesn't have a record of the race or ethnicity of 30% of all doctors.

Data from the Assn. of American Medical Colleges suggest that 6% of doctors are black, Mexican-American, mainland Puerto Rican or American Indian. In contrast, one in four U.S. residents is black, Hispanic or American Indian, according to the 2000 U.S. Bureau of the Census report.

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