By Daniel Acosta Jr.

I was born and raised in El Paso as a first-generation Mexican American. My parents knew that education would be my path to a better life. I graduated near the top of my class at Austin High School in 1963, was first in my pharmacy class at the University of Texas at Austin, was drafted and spent two years in the Army, and completed my doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Kansas.

Daniel Acosta Jr.

The most recent decision by the Supreme Court to deny the use of race as a factor in college admissions will soon lead to a similar ban in the hiring of faculty across the country, especially in red states. Texas will probably take the lead in passing state laws to eliminate the use of affirmative action in the hiring of state employees.

I wasn’t admitted to UT as a student because of affirmative action; it didn’t exist at the time of my admission. However, in 1974, when I was hired as a new assistant professor at my alma mater, I was rudely introduced to the role of affirmative action in hiring more people of color at Texas. 

The University of Texas failed to use affirmative action as a tool over the past 50 years to increase faculty of color, especially in positions of authority. 

Texas is now considered a majority-minority state, with non-Hispanic whites making up 39.8% of the population. Hispanics are 40.2% of the Texas population, and Blacks 13%.

The University of Texas faculty is 68.8% white, 9.7% Hispanic and 5.2% Black.

The highest positions at UT are almost all white, with the exception of two Blacks in Student Affairs and Diversity. Among the 18 deans of colleges, 13 are white, three are Hispanic and two are Black.

UT has failed in recruiting administrators of color, as well as faculty, who are the most visible in the classrooms, laboratories, and offices that parents and students first see at the university. If UT really believed in affirmative action, more people of color in leadership positions and in the faculty would have been selected. 

The obvious question to ask is, why did UT fail?

For affirmative action to work successfully at UT, it should have the unflinching support of its leaders, who in turn must give that positive message to its staff and faculty. 

UT leaders have been effective in public relations to promote the virtues of affirmative action to the press and public, but that message has not filtered down to those actual supervisors who are responsible for the hiring of faculty. Otherwise, 50 years of affirmative action at UT would have resulted in higher numbers of faculty of color. 

I am not a sociologist and have not conducted a scientific study on the effects of affirmative action in faculty and administrator hiring at UT. I can only give my personal story when I was an affirmative action faculty hire and by my many years of observations as a senior administrator in academia and the federal government.

A sizable percentage of UT’s budget depends on faculty research grants from federal agencies. To receive those federal funds it must provide hard evidence to such agencies as the Department of Defense, NIH, NSF, etc., that it is indeed hiring more faculty of color. Affirmative action hires became a box for UT to tick off in a federal form to enhance its budget, because state support of higher education is decreasing annually. 

Whereas the societal benefits of increasing diversity in the workplace were supported by UT leaders, they did not relay that message to supervisors who were hiring the faculty. My supervisors told me that the only reason I got the assistant professor position was because UT was under pressure to hire more faculty of color and not because of my qualifications. In fact, I was told that there were more qualified white candidates, which I doubted.

My supervisors resented affirmative action for my hiring, as shown by their treatment of me in comparison to some white professors.

For affirmative action to be effective at major universities, it must be supported 100% from top to bottom. The societal value of diversity in the workplace has not been adequately explained to the American public and to employers and employees. The Supreme Court has stepped in and ruled that America must turn a blind eye to matters of race and color.

Daniel Acosta Jr. lives in Austin and was born and raised in El Paso. He has a professional degree in pharmacy and a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology. He spent 45 years as an educator, scientist, and administrator in academia and the federal government.