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Texas Civil Rights Review

March 2004 Cover Story/Overview
Texas Civil Rights Review

What Gives A&M the Right?

During the Fall Semester of 2003, Texas A&M University
President Robert Gates put the Civil Rights Act in his
pocket and he left it there until people thought it
was his. And when he refused to take it out of his
pocket ever again, people said, okay, he can do that.
But can he?

Can the President of a University pocket-veto the
Civil Rights Act? Ultimately this is a question for
the federal government to decide. It would make a fine
question for our Presidential candidates. If elected
president, Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards, will you enforce
the Civil Rights Act in College Station, Texas?

It was because of the Civil Rights Act that the Office
of Civil Rights visited Texas in 1978 to determine if
de-segregation had been accomplished. But
de-segregation had not been accomplished in the higher
education system of Texas.

At that point the OCR had the power to make an adverse
ruling against the state of Texas, which would have
caused serious difficulties with federal funding. And
so, once again, because of the Civil Rights Act, Texas
was feeling some heat.

It is well documented in records kept by Texas A&M,
and by analysis that was produced at the time, that
Texas A&M University Regents adopted affirmative
action as a way to show federal authorities that the
Civil Rights Act has a meaning they were bound to

It made plain sense in 1980 that affirmative action in
admissions was one necessary means that a University
under federal supervision for de-segregation should
adopt. The state of Texas then entered into a series
of agreements, under federal supervision, for
de-segregation. These facts are plain as one can find.
They are also plainly evaded.

In 1997, OCR returned to Texas, found de-segregation
still a work in progress, and in the summer of 2000
received from Governor Bush assurances that all
available means would be used to advance the
de-segregation process. Then in the summer of 2003 the
Supreme Court restored the Constitutionality of
affirmative action in Texas with the Grutter ruling.

Where it is plainly agreed that a University should
undertake every means necessary for de-segregation,
where that same University has previously agreed that
affirmative action serves as a baseline commitment of
good faith toward de-segregation, and where
affirmative action is clearly vindicated by the
Supreme Court as a Constitutional means to
de-segregation, there can be no plainer conclusion at
hand as to what a University should be doing. But the
conclusion is not at hand. It is in the pocket of
President Gates.

Soon after the Grutter ruling, President Gates called
together his best and brightest, and he asked them to
consider what should be done. By the end of the
summer, his own hand-picked committee strongly
recommended a return to affirmative action.

Not only did President Gates put that report in his
pocket, but he failed to consult with state regulators
about his responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act.
Folks he asked he ignored, folks he should have
consulted, he did not.

If during this Black History Month we are going to
share platitudes about the meaning of America, if
during this traditional month of celebration for
Lincoln's birthday we are going to speak of one
nation, and if the Civil Rights Act actually happened
and is really law in America, and in Texas, too, then,
we have to say: give back the Civil Rights Act
President Gates, or step aside and give us a
University President who respects the laws and
Constitution of the United States.

There are perhaps a thousand ways to cut the argument
for affirmative action in admissions. But given the
peculiar circumstances in College Station, Texas,
crucial considerations have not yet been addressed.
What is the meaning of the Civil Rights Act? Is the
federal Constitution still a framework that a Texas
University President is bound to respect?


Texas A&M President Buries
Summer Taskforce Findings:

Specially Appointed Committee
Makes `Strong' Recommendations
For Race in Admissions, but
Gates Dismisses “Diversity Domain”
And Fails to Release Findings
for Public Discussion

By Greg Moses
Texas Civil Rights Review

Three months before Texas A&M University President
Robert Gates announced his decision to exclude
consideration of race in admissions, his own specially
appointed taskforce strongly recommended that race
should be included.

According to documents recently divulged in an open
records request, the president's taskforce on Aug. 29,
2003, recommended a “three domain” analysis for
admissions: “These domains consider potential for the
individual's success in academics, leadership and
citizenship, and commitment to diversity.”

Gates adopted the first two domains, “academics,
leadership and citizenship,” but he overruled his own
taskforce on the question of “commitment to
diversity.”  It is not yet clear who else besides the
president was given an opportunity to review and
discuss the taskforce report. Findings of the report
are not mentioned in materials provided to Regents, in
minutes of the Faculty Senate, or in discussions
reported in the student newspaper.

“I valued the recommendations of the task force
appointed to consider revising admissions and related
policies,” said Gates Monday in an email statement
solicited for this story.  “There was open and
prolonged debate about the explicit use of race as a
factor in admissions, and I carefully weighed all of
them. After much thought, I decided that, for Texas
A&M University, diversity would be best accomplished
by basing admissions decisions on individual qualities
-- potential and merit -- while accompanying such
assessments with an aggressive outreach effort to
attract more minority students.”

Findings of the report remained undisclosed and out of
reach from public debate after Gates publicly promised
to expand the university's diversity policies
following the Supreme Court's Grutter ruling, which
vindicated affirmative action in June, 2003.

Gates set the tone of public expectations on June 27,
for example, when he posted a statement on the
internet that promised to explore “additional
opportunities” made available by Grutter. In the June
statement he calls attention to the fact that, “I made
greater diversity one of the top four priorities on
which we would focus our efforts during my time as

“Texas A&M University was the first university in the
state to appoint a cabinet-level official responsible
for increasing diversity,” said Gates in his email
statement Monday.  “Also, to the best of my knowledge,
Texas A&M is the only university in the state
subsequent to the Michigan decision to adopt new
admissions requirements that create more opportunities
for minorities. Be assured that I strongly believe
that we are doing just that -- creating more
opportunities for minorities.”

As one faculty source reported via email, “many of us
here THOUGHT the President was going to use race in
admissions because his positions until that moment
(December) indicated he was leaning in that
direction.”  Professor of Sociology Eduardo
Bonilla-Silva says that many “minority” faculty did
not find out about the taskforce report until after
the Regents announced the so-called race-neutral
policy in December.

Another faculty source who was active in the Faculty
Senate debate said he is still not aware of the
taskforce findings.

“President Gates met with concerned minority and
majority faculty AFTER he made his decision, a
strategy that suggests he was not too concerned about
having us on board,” writes Prof. Bonilla-Silva.  “Had
he thought we were central to his diversity efforts,
we would have been consulted in some way.”

A cover memo to Gates from the taskforce chair clearly
shows that, during the summer of 2003, Gates had
already formulated a position in opposition to
affirmative action.  “Had we suspected that, we would
have been on the offensive from August onward!” writes
Prof. Bonilla-Silva.

The Aug. 29 cover memo to Gates, written by taskforce
chair, Associate Provost and Dean of Faculties Karan
Watson, says, “the taskforce is well aware of your
concerns that the root problems concerning low
diversity at Texas A&M University lie in the areas of
`who applies' and `who accepts admissions' to a
greater extent than any problem created by our current
decision process for admission.”  Watson's cover memo,
however, “strongly” recommends adoption of
diversity-based admissions.

“Even if our decision process before was not the
greater problem, and with full acknowledgment that any
change at this point in the process may be something
of a lightning rod for strong criticism and
mis-characterization, changing nothing is also a
negative message to many of the people with whom we
need to communicate our true intent and nature as a
University,” wrote Watson.

The taskforce also recommended secondary consideration
of legacy status as part of a “University Mission
Factor.”  Gates abolished consideration of legacy
status in January, after Texas officials and civil
rights organizations criticized the university for
considering legacy without race. The taskforce report
demonstrates that race and legacy policies were both
presented to the president before the Fall term began.

In the body of the report, the taskforce spends a full
page of single-space type citing existing statements
and commitments to diversity already adopted by the
university, including “Imperative Six: Diversify and
Globalize the A&M Community” from the “Vision 2020”
strategic plan assembled by the campus community.

In the language of the taskforce report, the diversity
domain in admissions would look for, “Students who
have demonstrated a commitment to the broader
understanding, deeper respect and stronger cooperation
among diverse cultures, and individuals, or will help
our educational environment in developing these

The diversity domain would be evaluated in two
“dimensions.”  First, a student's experiences and
commitments, including veteran status, living abroad,
second-language proficiency, or migrant status.
Second, a student's capabilities and characteristics,
including visible minorities such as, “American
Indian, Alaskan Native, African-American, Black, Asian
American, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, religious
commitment that is reflected in dress, visible
disability, men in historically female disciplines,
women in historically male disciplines, and visible
international applicants.”  In each dimension
applicants would be rated on a scale from Above
Average to Weak.

The taskforce document argues that the inclusion of
visibly diverse students would help other students,
“learn to avoid stereotyping.”  

“Currently,” says the taskforce report, “the groups
listed above often report the sense that they are
treated differently, often in demeaning or hostile
ways, in courses and other activities on campus. We
fully acknowledge that individuals from each of these
groups do not represent a singular viewpoint,
background or commitment to diversity, but that is the
educational point of having a diverse set of these
people, who often get cast into negative or demeaning
stereotypes, present on campus.”

The taskforce report then calls for annual and
bi-annual review of diversity policies.

“While I did not expect all members of the campus
community to agree with my decision, I am encouraged
by the amount of support this new policy has
received,” continued Gates in his email statement.
“Because of their loyalty to this university, many who
did not support my decision are nevertheless working
passionately to promote the university's diversity
goals. This serves as evidence of the strong sense of
community that permeates this institution.”

The president's office will be a co-sponsor for a
planned Diversity Rally on Thursday at the College
Station campus. The primary sponsor of the rally,
Faculty Concerned for an Inclusive Campus, will be
speaking in favor of affirmative action in admissions.
 The Texas A&M Student Senate has announced that it
will break away from the Diversity rally to hold a
separate “Rally for Merit” at the same time. The
student representatives do not want to be affiliated
with any groups favoring the consideration of race in

Today, it is difficult to say how public debate might
have been affected if findings of the 2003 Task Force
on Admissions had been released. The only document to
seriously address the question of diversity in
admissions at Texas A&M University argued “strongly”
in favor of “narrowly tailored” considerations of

Although Gates says he gave the issue a lot of
thought, no document has yet been found which makes
the studied case for the eventual adoption of
so-called race-neutral admissions.


The Texas Civil Rights Review will post the complete
email from Gates along with copies of the report from
the Task Force on Diversity. Please check the website
for updates at:   

Special thanks to Associate Editor Tony Gallucci for
his help in preparing this story.