At Texas Tech University’s medical school, just 4 percent of students are black; 13 percent are Hispanic. And those numbers might soon shrink. Research has shown that’s what happens when schools stop considering race in admissions, and that’s what the school plans to do.
In late February, Texas Tech University reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to end its use of race in admissions to its medical school. The resolution, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, brought to an end a 14-year federal investigation into the school’s affirmative-action practices. The complaint had been filed following the Supreme Court decisions in the Michigan affirmative-action cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, where the Court decided race could be used in admissions, but only in a “narrowly tailored” way. Texas Tech had stopped using race in admissions at its pharmacy school in 2008, and at its undergraduate college in 2013, but not at its medical school. There, the school argued, it needed to use race as a factor to ensure a diverse class of future doctors, and there was no other way around it.
The law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in affirmative-action cases over the past 40 years, requires schools to show that they have exhausted all other, race-neutral options to achieve a diverse student body before using race as an admissions criterion. Most schools are able to show that they are using race in admissions in the narrowly tailored way that the Supreme Court has said, time and again, is legal. But Texas Tech was not periodically reviewing those race-neutral alternatives, or, at least, could not show that it was. That’s why it’s hard to read too much into what this means for the future of affirmative action, Scott Schneider, a higher-education attorney with Husch Blackwell, told me; the details of the case were specific to Texas Tech.