Texas Tech Agrees To Stop Using Race in Med School Admissions

Alicia Ault

April 12, 2019

In a deal it struck with the US Department of Education, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine says it will stop using race as a consideration when evaluating applicants.

The agreement — which includes only Texas Tech's medical school — is the end result of a complaint lodged in 2005 by antiaffirmative-action activist Roger Clegg, chief executive officer of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

It also reflects a change in how the federal government interprets several Supreme Court opinions on affirmative action, including the 2016 ruling in Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, which allowed affirmative action if the review could withstand strict scrutiny.

Last fall, the Trump administration signaled the new direction by overturning rules issued by the Obama administration guiding schools on how to legally use race in admissions.

In its acceptance letter, provided to Medscape Medical News, TTUHSC told the education department that although it believed it "can prove the School of Medicine's admission process is in compliance with the Fisher standard, TTUHSC is willing to sign the Resolution Agreement in an effort to resolve this matter and focus on educating future health care providers."

The education department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said it conducted interviews with school staff and considered documentation and information including admissions data from 2005-2017, enrollment demographics, TTUHSC internal memoranda, and admissions-related policies and procedures.

The OCR determined that the medical school had not produced any review — as required — of the continued necessity for race-conscious policies and that the school was not able to articulate how or when race is used. "Given the lack of documentation and the testimony to date, OCR could infer that TTUHSC has failed to assess who or how many are burdened by any use of race, or otherwise assess how well [the school of medicine] has tailored its use of race," wrote the federal office in its March 7 letter accepting the agreement with Texas Tech.

Under the terms of the agreement, the medical school had to issue a memo on March 1 that it would no longer consider an applicant's race and/or national origin as part of the holistic admissions process, and by September 1 it has to revise all the medical school's admissions and recruitment materials, including applications, catalogs, and its website, to remove any wording that race or national origin are considered as factors in admissions.

"One School's Voluntary Decision"

The school of medicine said in a statement to Medscape Medical News that it "is committed to a diverse and inclusive medical education and experience while working collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights."

It noted that it was recently ranked eighth in the country among the top 100 producers of minority health sciences degrees. "The TTUHSC School of Medicine is committed to holistic alternatives to enhancing diversity while ensuring it is appropriately and lawfully considering an applicant's race and/or national origin in its admissions process," the statement said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in a statement to Medscape Medical News, noted that the agreement does not reflect a change in the law. "Rather, it is one school's voluntary decision to change its practices, at least temporarily," the AAMC said.

"Forty years of Supreme [C]ourt precedent has permitted the consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions where necessary, narrowly tailored to achieve a schools educational mission," it said, adding that it will continue to support medical schools' use of holistic review in admissions "to achieve classes that are diverse in many ways, improving the cultural competence and educational experience of all physicians."

The AAMC added that states that currently have bans on the consideration of race in admissions have demonstrated "a significant decline in the matriculation of medical students of color."

As a result, the AAMC said it "will continue to advocate for the ability of each medical school to make admissions decisions consistent with its mission, within the Supreme Court's framework."

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