Hispanics in Texas File Bias Lawsuit

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A coalition of Hispanic organizations and students last week filed suit in federal court charging that higher-education policies in Texas discriminate against Hispanics.

The suit is one of the largest discrimination-related cases ever filed solely on behalf of Hispanics, according to Norma Cantu, one of the lawyers with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund who will be arguing the case. The 12-member litigation team includes nine state lawmakers.

The lawsuit is also being supported by the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, among other groups.

The lawsuit charges that state officials practice illegal discrimination against Hispanics in both admissions and recruitment policies at the state's "traditionally white" public colleges and universities.

In the spring of 1986, for example, almost 24 percent of the graduating high-school seniors in Texas were Mexican-Americans, but Hispanics constituted fewer than than 12 percent of the incoming freshmen at the predominantly white campuses that fall, said Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of maldef.

The suit also charges that state officials have failed to provide adequate counseling, financial aid, and other measures that would help Hispanics remain enrolled in higher education.

In addition, the suit alleges that the geographical placement of graduate programs discriminates against the heavily Hispanic south and west regions of the state.

"State funding is strongly driven by how many graduate programs there are at a particular institution," said Ms. Cantu. Thus the suit also alleges that state officials engage in "discrimination in resource allocations against persons residing in underserved areas," she added.

There is only one gradute program offered by a public institution located south of Austin, she explained. In "stark contrast," she said, there are more than 300 publicly funded graduate programs in the Dallas metropolitan area alone.

The size of the state forces some students to travel more than 300 miles to the nearest graduate program, she said. "The distances are such that students are geographically excluded from graduate programs."

The lawsuit names as defendants the governor, the commissioner of higher education, the members of the state's coordinating board for higher education, and the regents of the state's major universities. --ws

Vol. 07, Issue 14

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