Top 10 Percent Cap Heads to Perry’s Desk

Top 10 Percent Cap Heads to Perry's Desk

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously said the the version of the bill that now heads to the governor preserved the cap even if the Fisher case is overturned. In fact, that provision was not retained, but a similar provision was included.

Despite a last minute challenge by Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands)—who intended to do away with the Top 10 Percent Law altogether—a bill that caps automatic admissions to UT-Austin passed the Texas Senate early Tuesday afternoon. It now heads to Gov. Rick Perry for final approval. The House of Representatives passed the bill earlier this month.

Introduced by House higher education chair Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and sponsored by Senate higher-ed chair Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), House Bill 1843 extends UT-Austin’s exception to the Top 10 Percent law from the 2015-16 school year, to 2017-18. The exception, or cap, allows the flagship campus to limit the number of students automatically admitted under the Top 10 rule to 75 percent of an incoming freshman class.

Though the cap theoretically gives UT flexibility in admissions, that flexibility could—emphasis on could—be completely done away with in the future if the Supreme Court rules against the University in the Fisher v. University of Texas case. A 2009 measure stated that a court ruling against the use of race in admissions—like UT uses for non-Top 10 students—would nullify the cap. Lawmakers had previously included a provision that would protect the cap against a court decision, but that clause was removed from the final version passed Tuesday. If the Supreme Court rules against the University, the cap will be nullified following the 2017-2018 academic year. The 2018 deadline would allow the next legislature to deal with the fallout from a ruling against UT. The court is expected to announce its decision soon.

UT-Austin president Bill Powers and admissions director Kedra Ishop have endorsed and explained the cap to legislators throughout the session. The bill has also seen support from those who might otherwise oppose a cap, who support the rule’s intent to create diversity.

“For my friend, President Powers, I vote yes,” Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) said, voting it out of committee and into the full Senate last week.

But the full Senate presented a barrier, at least briefly. Despite support in both chambers, the exemption was almost derailed as it reached its destination. As Seliger brought the bill up for a vote Tuesday afternoon, Williams offered an amendment from the floor—one that would do away with the Top 10 Percent Law entirely. Williams cited a 2005 bill introduced by Seliger that would have done away with the program. Seliger countered that his views on the law had changed since 2005, and that the law had helped to create diversity at public universities.

Rather than subject the amendment to a yes-or-no vote, Seliger voted to table, or set aside, the amendment. The motion to table passed by a close margin, and the bill—without the amendment—passed by a wider one.

A spokesman for Perry said the governor would review the bill in its final form and make a decision whether to sign or veto it.

Editor’s Note: The Texas Exes supports legislation to extend the cap on Top 10. Read more about the Texas Exes legislative priorities here. Photo courtesy Stephanie Sarles via Flickr Creative Commons.


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