* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The chairman of the Texas House of Representatives' Higher Education Committee said Thursday that he "would not have any concern" if the Top 10 Percent Rule governing college admissions in the state were eliminated.
Speaking at an event hosted by The Texas Tribune, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, said the rule takes away universities' discretion in picking from among applicants. He stopped short of calling for a full repeal of the law but said the Legislature should at least consider tweaking it in the near future. And he said it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if the U.S. Supreme Court caused it to disappear.
The Top 10 Percent Rule promises automatic admission into any public university in the state to students who finish in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school's graduating class. It was created in 1997, following a court order that temporarily banned affirmative action at Texas universities. The idea is that Texas' public high schools are somewhat segregated, so promising spots at places like the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M to students from all high schools should increase diversity.
Diversity at UT-Austin and A&M has increased since 1997, but those schools' populations still don't match the demographics of the state. And the law is unpopular among some segments of Texans, especially parents and students at suburban schools where it is harder to get into the top 10 percent.
Zerwas expressed less concern about issues of fairness, saying his biggest problem was that the law takes away autonomy from UT-Austin as it tries to build its incoming classes. State law allows UT-Austin to cap its automatic enrollees at 75 percent of its incoming freshmen. Some university officials have long expressed frustration that they want to be able to consider more than just class rank as they evaluate applicants. Next year, the automatic threshold will be the top 7 percent.
Zerwas called the rule a "blunt instrument." He questioned: "Is 10 percent the right number?"
Others at the event shared similar frustrations. But they noted that the rule is important to minority populations. Without it, there would likely be high schools in Texas that don't send any students to UT-Austin, said former UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner.
"I don't have any doubt that the law is working" in that regard, Faulkner said.
The Top 10 Percent Rule has come under scrutiny in recent months because of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a Supreme Court case over the constitutionality of the school's admissions system. Oral arguments in the case were held in December. The future of affirmative action could be at stake — the justices could uphold UT-Austin's system or ban affirmative action at UT-Austin, in Texas or even across the country.
Read more about the law in The Price of Admission, the Tribune's three-part series on diversity in Texas universities.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.