Hopwood, Affirmative Action, and Deaf Education

Article excerpt

Minority-deaf students constitute 43.5% of the deaf school-age population, yet only 11.7% of teachers and administrators in programs serving deaf students are persons of color. The ruling in Hopwood v. State of Texas (1996) banned the use of race as a major determinant in admissions to colleges and universities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This ruling, along with the current backlash against affirmative action policies, has hindered college administrators' efforts to recruit minorities in deaf education. We discuss Hopwood, affirmative action policies, and how both affect deaf education teacher training today. We also present an eight-step action plan for teacher-training colleges and universities to meet the need to increase the number of minority teachers and leaders and encourage state educational agencies and schools for the Deaf to do likewise.

Indifference is as dangerous as fanaticism. -Elie Wiesel,

Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor

Like a wind wreathing around a tree in a storm, the ruling in Hopwood v. State of Texas (1996) has swirled around colleges and universities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, leaving a debris of confusion. Supporters of this controversial ruling say it advances equal treatment for all citizens. But its opponents say three decades of progress resulting from affirmative action policies has been rolled back. Granted, the Hopwood ruling has not specifically reduced the number of members of racial minorities in deaf education in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas-the three states under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which issued the ruling. The number of minority applicants was already disproportionately small. What Hopwood has done is place barriers before college administrators who wish to increase minority enrollments. As the associate director of admissions at Southwest Texas State University, Scott Smiley, said, "Hopwood has an effect on the overall image of the state and how students perceive the atmosphere in Texas" (Wawerna, 1997). This atmosphere is stormy for minority students and strengthens the current backlash against affirmative action policies.

What are the effects, for deaf education, of the Hopwood case and the current backlash against affirmative action policies? We think they are significant. Today, with nonWhite students making up 43.5% of the deaf school-age population, only 11.7% of teachers and administrators in deaf education are themselves members of minority groups (Andrews & Jordan, 1993). Further, Mexican American and African American deaf children lag 1 to 2 grades behind White deaf children on standardized measures of mathematics and reading achievement (T. Allen, personal communication, 1995, in Dietz, 1995). We address these issues and present an action plan for other teacher-training colleges and universities to increase minority student enrollments despite the obstacles the Hopwood ruling poses.

Hopwood v. State of Texas The Hopwood case, named for lead plaintiff Cheryl Hopwood, involved four White students who sued after they were denied admission to the law school of the University of Texas at Austin. The four students successfully contended that the law school discriminated against them by admitting less qualified Black and Mexican American applicants for admission through use of a quota system, thus violating the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires equal protection under the law. The ruling was appealed, but on March 18, 1996, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in favor of the four White plaintiffs, holding that the law school's racebased admissions policy was indeed unconstitutional. Race could not be used, the justices ruled, as a deciding factor in admissions to colleges and universities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. This case has had a resounding effect on admissions policies not only in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, but in other states, such as Maryland and California, where advocacy of similar admissions policies has subsequently begun (Biskupic,1997; McDonald, 1998). …