AUSTIN - A legal group that fights against racial preferences in schools and workplaces has filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department about the University of Texas at Austin's use of race in its undergraduate admissions process.
The complaint filed Friday by the Washington-based Project on Fair Representation accuses the university of violating a law that bars discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds.
About 70 percent of UT-Austin freshmen from Texas are automatically accepted under a state law that guarantees top students a spot at the public university of their choice. The rest of the class is selected through a holistic review process that considers many factors, including the applicant's race.
Edward Blum, the group's director, said that practice "is illegal, to say nothing of being unfair and polarizing."
"The U.S. Department of Education needs to end this practice before the next round of freshman applications is submitted," he said in a statement.
Patti Ohlendorf, UT's vice president for legal affairs, said the university will cooperate with the Education Department if it opens an investigation into the complaint. But she said the school is confident that its policies are in line with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions about race-based admissions decisions.
Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said he could not comment on the complaint because no one had seen it yet.
The automatic admissions law was adopted a decade ago after a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision, allowing universities to use race as one of many decision-making factors.
Blum argues that the Supreme Court's ruling required universities to make a good-faith effort to improve diversity using race-neutral policies before resorting to racial preferences. He says the top 10 percent law is effective enough to block UT-Austin from using race-based admissions policies.
A record number of black and Hispanic students were enrolled at UT-Austin last fall.
Hispanic students made up 15 percent of the student body, while black students accounted for nearly 4 percent. White students accounted for 57 percent of the student body, while 14 percent were Asian. The rest of the students were American Indian, foreign or did not report their ethnicity.