By Carolyn DePew
Daily Cougar Staff
The UH Law Center has released its preliminary 1998 enrollment figures, revealing that minority enrollment has not decreased since the controversial Hopwood vs. Texas decision, which in 1996 ruled the use of race in the college admissions process unconstitutional.
Minorities comprise 21 percent of the 1998 incoming class at the Law Center. Of the 288 new full-time students, nine are African-American, 31 are Hispanic and 21 are Asian-American.
This parallels the statistics from both 1997, the first year the effects of Hopwood were felt, and 1996, the last year in which race was acceptable as an admissions factor.
"The fact that we are holding steady is a good sign for minorities, all Texas law schools and, in fact, the state of Texas," said law Professor and Chairwoman of the Law Center Admissions Committee Laura Rothstein.
The Hopwood case was filed by four white aspiring law students who alleged that The University of Texas at Austin School of Law's affirmative action policies prevented their admission. In March 1996, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs that the UT law school had discriminatory admissions practices.
UT law Dean M. Michael Sharlot announced a small increase in minority enrollment this semester after a drop following the Hopwood decision.
"I am heartened to be able to report that our efforts (aided substantially by the efforts of our alumni) to rebuild diversity among our student body in the aftermath of the Hopwood decision have borne some fruit," Sharlot said. "We have achieved a modest increase in the representation of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans."
"We continue to be committed to the goal of creating a law school that serves all the citizens of our great state," he said.
Although the ruling applied officially to only the UT law school, Texas Attorney General Dan Morales released an official opinion on the ruling that applied to all Texas public universities and carried the weight of a law. It prohibited the "consideration of race and ethnicity" in "all internal institutional policies, including admissions, financial aid, scholarships, fellowships recruitment and retention, among others."
Leah Gross, director of public relations for the UH Law Center, said UH has since changed its policies to comply completely with Morales' opinion.
Minority recruitment has continued to be successful for the Law Center despite Hopwood. Gross said the Law Center has "upped recruiting," which includes several delegations sent to various college campuses as well as an aggressive advertising campaign.
"We're doing everything we can - (like placing) ads in college newspapers at both colleges with large minority populations, like Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M, as well as colleges with a lot of students (interested in pursuing law) such as UT and Southern Methodist University," Gross said.
"We're very proud of our success, considering (the Legislature) has taken away a lot of our incentives for recruiting minority students," she added.
Although UH's recruitment has been successful, the number of accepted applications is far greater than the number of those who actually enroll. Rothstein said she believes this is due to a lack of financial aid.
"Minority students are welcome here, and they know that," Rothstein said. "Our problem is not in attracting minorities and admitting them, but in making it financially feasible for them to attend UH."
However, financial aid is not boundless, as there is only a certain amount of scholarship money the Law Center is able to offer each semester.
"Each school is able to offer only a certain amount of scholarship money, limited by the state," explained Shannon Rasp of the UH Office of External Communications.
The Law Center annually offers a limited number of Dean's Scholarships, which are awarded based on merit rather than need. The Law Center does advise all applicants to apply for federal aid as soon as possible to complement local scholarships.
Rothstein said privately funded scholarships would increase the number of minority students who can afford to enroll.
"The enrollment has remained steady, but I think we could increase our minority enrollment if a private scholarship fund was available to accepted students," Rothstein said. "I believe that offering scholarships on par with the other law schools in the state would help us tremendously.
"As it is, we are losing students to out-of-state schools that are not constrained by Hopwood. I think we could keep some of those students if resources were available to offer them sizable scholarships."
Although changes in policy have gone into effect across Texas, the battle over the place of affirmative action in schools is far from over.
Several bills passed by the state Legislature attempt to supplement the Hopwood ruling. House Bill 588, for example, requires schools to admit a percentage of students in open enrollment and encourages them to use nontraditional criteria such as the applicant's potential to succeed, community involvement and socioeconomic background.
But even after two years, the battle between Hopwood supporters and those calling for a return to affirmative action admissions policies is not over.
"Of course, the appeal of the Hopwood decision is under way," Sharlot said.