From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
December 6, 1999
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Texas Has Broken Its Promise to Eliminate Discrimination
By State Senator Rodney Ellis
State Representative Garnet Coleman

A special committee met this week at Texas Southern University to try to come up with a plan that, once and for all, eliminates the vestiges of discrimination in Texas colleges and universities. We wish them luck and offer this advice: do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

The Committee on OCR Issues will investigate how to strengthen Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M while solving the legacy of discrimination in Texas schools. We are in this position because, nearly three decades after the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights originally found that Texas had failed to eliminate vestiges of segregation in higher education, we still have not kept our promise.

A little background is in order. To stave off a federal lawsuit over continuing discrimination, Texas in 1983 negotiated with the federal government to come up with our own plan to address the problem of discrimination in our schools. Under the so-called "Texas Plan," we promised to provide comparable funding for our historically black universities, to resolve disparities in enrollment, retention and graduation rates for minorities, increase minority faculty and increase the number of minorities appointed or elected to governing boards. Sadly, the State of Texas has failed miserably to achieve these goals.

For instance, nearly two decades after the first Texas Plan was launched, historically white institutions are funded at $14,000 per student compared to only $11,000 per student at the historically black institutions. While we have recently made progress in equalizing funding, the gap between historically black institutions and the others remains wide, and its impact keeps TSU and Prairie View A&M from reaching their full potential.

Unfortunately, because of recent hints from the federal Office of Civil Rights, the committee's focus will be TSU and Prairie View A&M. The contention is that these historically black universities, because too few Anglos have applied, discriminate against Anglos. This view ignores reality, loses sight of the real issue of discrimination in Texas, and puts us in the position of defending their value. Thankfully, their records speak for themselves.

Historically black colleges and universities have done a tremendous job serving African Americans and Texas. For example, Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M account for 49 percent of all African American faculty in Texas and 63 percent of the tenured faculty. TSU annually produces three-quarters of the African American pharmacists in Texas, and nearly 60 percent of our African American attorneys. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that African American students who enroll in historically black colleges and universities have equal or better grade point averages and social involvement than their counterparts who attend predominantly Anglo institutions.

In addition, their doors are open to all. The Thurgood Marshall School of Law at TSU, for instance, is one quarter Hispanic, one quarter Anglo and one half African American. Clearly these institutions play a valuable role for a significant number of students who choose them because they offer the best learning environment for them. For others, without access to an historically black college the doors of college would be closed and dead bolted, denying them an opportunity to succeed. It would be unconscionable if we did anything that undermines the historic role these universities play in Texas.

There are more than enough problems with discrimination in Texas for us to tackle rather than going after the historically black colleges. While we are all proud that, today, "White Only" signs no longer hang on the doors of our colleges, and no governor blocks the schoolhouse door, for us to pretend that discrimination no longer exists is ignoring reality. In fact, a compelling case can be made that, thanks to Hopwood, the situation is as bad as it's ever been.

Following the Hopwood decision, African American enrollment at the University of Texas School of Law fell nearly 85 percent, while Hispanic admissions dropped more than 40 percent. It has gotten so bad that the percentage of African Americans in the law school today has actually dropped below the percentage immediately following desegregation. In 1950, one year after the courts desegregated the law school, 2.2 percent of the first-year law students were African American. Today, nearly 50 years later and 35 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, only 1.7 percent of first-year students are African American. But Hopwood only made a bad situation worse. In 1995, before Hopwood, only 3 percent of doctorates awarded by our public universities went to Hispanics, and a mere 2 percent went to African Americans. Overall, African Americans received only 6 percent of all degrees granted by Texas public universities, while Hispanics received just 13 percent.

The dramatic lack of diversity at our graduate and professional schools spells trouble in the very near future. By 2010, no ethnic group will make up a majority of the population. We already have too few minority doctors, lawyers and judges; yet Hopwood is rapidly training a generation of professionals that is nearly lily white. That makes the programs at TSU and Prairie View A&M even more important, because the graduates they produce will make up an even greater percentage of the minority pharmacists, lawyers and other professionals in Texas.

The Committee on OCR Issues must look at the bigger picture, and examine the entire system to see if we are living up to the promises we made decades ago to ensure that the door to educational opportunity is open to all. Their investigation cannot ignore the reality of the world we live in and look only at historically black colleges and universities. They must focus on the real issue and ask the tough questions about the vestiges of discrimination. We'll be monitoring their progress to see if they do; whether they do or not, we as public servants will take our own action because of our commitment to Texas education. Otherwise, it will just be business as usual, and Texas will continue to break its promise.