Texas medical school halts race-based affirmative action

Settling 14-year case, Texas Tech bends to government complaint over its admissions process

April 10, 2019

A US university has accepted an agreement with the US government under which it will stop using race as a factor in evaluating applicants to its medical school.

The Trump administration resolved the 14-year-old case involving Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, which was initiated by the George W. Bush administration, while it pursues similar processes to halt the use of race in admissions at Yale and Harvard universities.

The US Supreme Court has ruled several times that universities, within limits, can use race as a factor in their admissions processes. The US Education Department complained, however, that the Texas Tech medical school did not clearly and regularly document whether it could achieve diversity in its student body using race-neutral methods.

Texas Tech lawyers insisted that the medical school’s methods were legal. But in a letter to the Education Department, Eric Bentley, the general counsel for the Texas Tech University System, says that the medical school will accept the agreement “in an effort to resolve this matter and focus on educating future healthcare providers”.

Texas Tech will, however, keep evaluating the diversity of the medical school’s student body, Mr Bentley says. The university may decide in the future “that using race as a factor in admissions is necessary to achieve this compelling interest”, and will notify the Education Department if it does, he tells the department.

Asked why Texas Tech accepted the ban on the use of race in admissions decisions if it believed it was doing so properly, a spokesman for the university system said that the institution put a priority on “taking a collaborative approach” with federal officials.

The spokesman said that he could not describe what criteria the university would use in assessing acceptable levels of student body diversity.

Texas Tech University stopped using affirmative action in its admission practices for its pharmacy school in 2008 and for its undergraduate admissions in 2013. The medical school had persisted with the practice, citing the need for doctors of diverse backgrounds to serve the state’s diverse communities.

The university and its medical school reached the agreement in February and promised to implement it by September.

The settlement comes as Harvard awaits a federal court ruling in a lawsuit brought by a private party complaining that its use of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions unfairly discriminates against highly qualified Asian American applicants.

The Trump administration has sided in that case with the plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, which has pursued similar complaints against other leading US universities aimed at ending affirmative action in college admissions.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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