Rare admissions decision a step towards transparency

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“I do not know this young man or anything about his qualifications, but I do know [his] parents and I know his grandparents very well.”

That ringing endorsement from former regent and UT donor Tex Montcrief, released during the Kroll investigation into UT’s admission policies under former President Bill Powers and published recently by the Dallas Morning News, was one of 73 reported instances of the president’s office overriding rejections issued by the admissions department. The ensuing firestorm led the Board of Regents to revamp the University’s “rare admissions” policy, which now requires the UT System Chancellor to review any overturned admissions decisions and bars the President from admitting “unqualified” applicants.

It’s unclear how many admissions decisions will be affected by the new policy. Even without oversight, rare admissions represented just over one percent of the 65,163 full-time freshmen who enrolled during Powers’ tenure, and it’s impossible to know how many of them fall under the Regents’ definition of “unqualified.”

Still, the measure should boost accountability at the upper levels of UT’s administration without restricting the President’s discretion to pursue the University’s best interests. The fact that new President Greg Fenves would have to justify all of his overrides to Chancellor William McRaven should deter him from egregiously interfering with the admissions office. But as unjust as it may be to give applicants preferential treatments based solely on their last names and their family’s bank accounts, doing so can appease donors without harming other current or prospective UT students. That allows UT to provide more resources and opportunities to all of its students, privileged or otherwise. Keeping those trade-offs well-regulated and above the table can prevent abuses without destroying the system in its entirety.

Shenhar is an associate editor. Follow him on Twitter @jshenhar.