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A way around anti-affirmative action

The Hopwood decision was the dramatic roundhouse blow that sent Texas' affirmative-action plans staggering across the ring. But a follow-up body shot from the state's attorney general may be doing almost as much damage.

Hopwood forbade Texas (and Mississippi, Louisiana, also covered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the ruling was handed down a year and a half ago) to use race as even one factor in college admissions decisions _ even, in the court's words, "for the wholesome practice of correcting perceived racial imbalance in the student body."

The body shot was the ruling by Texas Attorney General Dan Morales that the federal court decision applied not just to admissions but to scholarships as well.

The combination has sent both minority admissions and applications plummeting at the University of Texas, Austin. Law school applications fell by 42 percent for blacks this year, and undergraduate applications by 26 percent. The comparable numbers for Hispanics were 26 percent and 32 percent.

These dismaying results may, however, be worse for Texas than for the minority students themselves. The second choices for many of those who might have gone to UT Austin turn out not to be other Texas institutions but out-of-state schools where minority scholarships remain available.

"Some of our brightest stars are being enticed out of state _ and we can't afford to lose them," said Larry Temple, president of the powerful University of Texas Ex-Students Association.

Temple, a white UT law graduate and prominent Austin lawyer, thinks he may have found a way at least to soften the impact of Hopwood.

"We started a couple of months ago talking to people on campus, and their sense is that minority targeted scholarships might make a very dramatic difference on the Austin campus," he said in an interview last week. "We also have a legal opinion saying that there's no limitation on how our association awards its scholarships because, as it happens, we are a completely separate entity from the university."

The upshot was the recent announcement of the Texas Leader Scholarships, whose primary purpose is to increase racial and ethnic diversity on campus.

"Most of the attention following Hopwood has gone to the admissions part," Temple said. "But the people on campus tell me a big part of the problem is financial aid. There are a lot of minorities who can and do get admitted, but since our financial aid packages can't target them, we wind up losing them to other states."

Ed Dorn, new dean of UT's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, echoes Temple's view. "It's not that the 5th circuit decision is costing minority youngsters an education," Dorn said. "They'll go to college, but likely outside the state. . . .

"Worse, this is occurring at a time when the demographics of the state are changing so dramatically that within 20 years, Texas will be a majority minority state.

"Sure, we want diversity, for any number of excellent reasons. But the practical problems go well beyond the details of affirmative action. Take the obvious question: Can a public university remain viable if its demographics are badly misaligned with the demographics of the state? What will be the attitude of the, say, 60 percent black and brown majority of taxpayers toward a law school that is 80 percent white? Furthermore, many students who leave the state to go to school don't come back. Their talent may be permanently lost to us.

"Hopwood doesn't create these problems, but it keeps us from dealing with them."

Well, maybe not entirely. Temple thinks his new scholarship idea may undo a good deal of the damage in the short term. And in the long term, much of the problem as it affects Texas specifically may evaporate.

"Remember, we're the only state of the 50 with a limit on both admissions and scholarships," Temple explains. "Within three or four years, whatever the rules and standards are, whatever the law is, surely it will be the same in all 50 states, so at least we will be on a level playing field. Until then, we're not even using the money we're raising to create an endowment. That may come later, but right now we're planning to spend it trying to keep our own."

Nice counterpunching.

Washington Post Writers Group