The Big Conversation

Bill McRaven, who is only about a year into his tenure as University of Texas System chancellor, has decided to take on a surefire controversy. He’s arguing to scrap the top 10 percent automatic admissions rule.

As the Tribune’s Matthew Watkins reported, McRaven’s comments — made before a couple of governmental boards this week — “could restart a debate that has divided state leaders for years. The rule is designed to make Texas' top universities more diverse. But … McRaven questioned whether the rule was working and complained that it is keeping UT-Austin down in national rankings. “

Intended as a way to boost diversity on university campuses, automatic enrollees under the rule account for 75 percent of UT-Austin’s freshman class. The demand by automatic enrollees to enter UT-Austin has been so great that the rule has been tweaked for that campus so just the top 7 percent of high school graduates are automatically enrolled.

The rule has long been a sore point with campus administrators. Watkins wrote that McRaven is skeptical the rule is promoting diversity on campus. "I would be willing to bet that since we dropped affirmative action in 1998, the racial diversity hasn't improved," he said.

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Watkins fact checked McRaven’s assertion, writing, “In 1998, UT-Austin's undergraduate population was 65 percent white. In 2015, it was 44 percent white. But the share of black student enrollment has barely budged. Hispanic enrollment has grown from 14 percent to 22 percent, but the state's Hispanic population has grown rapidly during that time, so it's hard to say how much credit the Top 10 Percent Rule deserves.”

An attempt to change the rule would no doubt be controversial among minority lawmakers like state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas.

"That is a very very sensitive topic," Alonzo told McRaven this week. "It is a topic that we have discussed at length from all different aspects, and I would hope that we have put it to rest for a while."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

Analysis: Texas, Gambling and Al Capone, by Ross Ramsey — When it comes to gambling, state officials act like they're running a monopoly. Their actions would be familiar to any mobster protecting a numbers racket.

Standing Out Tough in Open Race Across Huge Senate District, by Edgar Walters — In the crowded race for Senate District 24, the challenge candidates face is standing out to voters across a sprawling district that stretches from Abilene to the northwest suburbs of Austin to tell the difference between them.

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State Trooper Rotations to Border Will Continue, by Julián Aguilar — Despite an $800 million appropriation that includes money to permanently station more troopers near the Rio Grande, DPS will continue borrowing officers from around the state for border security.

Texas Loses Bid to Block Obama's Clean Power Plan, by Jim Malewitz — A federal appeals court on Thursday denied a request from Texas and other states to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, leaving the climate change rules in place as a legal challenge winds through the courts.

McRaven: I Should Have Consulted State Board on Houston Land Purchase, by Matthew Watkins — University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven told the state's higher education oversight board Thursday that he probably should have consulted with them before buying about 100 acres for a new campus in southwest Houston.

The Day Ahead

•    The Senate Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Subcommittee on Border Security meets to hear testimony on sanctuary cities in the Capitol extension at 10 a.m. 

•    The Tribune is hosting a half-day symposium on urban public education in El Paso. It all starts 8:30 a.m. Mountain Time with Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith moderating a policy panel about educating the new demographic majority. For those who can't attend in person, the first panel will be live streamed beginning at 9:30 a.m. Central Time.

Elsewhere

'Camp Cruz' volunteers power Texan’s Iowa campaign, Dallas Morning News

Sen. Ellis wants to fill Lee's commissioner seat, Houston Chronicle

Our Year in Greg Abbott, Texas Observer

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What’s up with the ride-hailing petition and potential election?, Austin American-Statesman

Taylor locks arms with GOP, at least for a day, San Antonio Express-News

Straus girds for battle with two challengers, San Antonio Express-News

Funeral services set for Texas Tech student killed in Ben Carson campaign van crash, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Trump or Cruz? Graham says both would kill the GOP, Washington Post 

As Obama pushes agenda, Texas leads legal push-back, Reuters

Cruz reveals he doesn't have health insurance, Politico

Rattlesnake ‘gassing’ issue stumps state working group, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"We don’t just represent Texas. You can call it 'Red State America' or 'Tea Party America,' but Texas is a voice for a lot of those people nationally."

— First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, explaining why the Texas attorney general has sued the federal government so many times. 

Today in TribTalk

Evangelicals shouldn't buy Trump's clumsy Christianity, by Tom DeLay — The ideal presidential candidate has God at the core of their life and the Constitution at the center of their philosophy of government.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation on Health Care: Bending the Cost Curve on Jan. 28 at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin

•    A Conversation with Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer on Feb. 4 at the Austin Club

•    A Conversation with Sen. José Menéndez on Feb. 11 at the Austin Club

•    The Ticket: A Live Recording and Democratic Primary Debate Watch Party on Feb. 11 at KUT Public Media Studios in Austin

•    A Conversation with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano on Feb. 25 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

•    A Conversation with Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Poncho Nevárez on March 23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine

•    Symposium on Transportation on March 29 at Texas A&M University in College Station