November 2, 1997 in Nation/World

Number Of Minorities Entering Medical Schools Falls Linked To Cutbacks In Affirmative Action, Findings Sound Alarm

Kalpana Srinivasan Associated Press
 

The number of minorities entering U.S. medical schools dropped this year, most drastically in states affected by affirmative action rollbacks.

The Association of American Medical Colleges released a study Saturday of the nation’s 125 accredited medical schools that showed an 11 percent drop in blacks, American Indians, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans and other Hispanics applying to medical schools. In addition, 6.8 percent fewer of those minority students were accepted for 1997 than in 1996.

Some educators fear the figures show that actions of a federal court in Texas and the voters of California to end educational preferences for minorities are echoing through the nation. Minorities are discouraged from applying, and administrators have become overly cautious about admissions policies, they say.

“This is an ominous sign for the medical community and our nation, which badly needs a physician work force that is both diverse and reflective of our society as a whole,” the association’s president, Jordan J. Cohen, said.

He said the downturn is clearly linked to Proposition 209, with which California’s electorate ended affirmative action in state institutions, and the Hopwood federal court decision in Texas. Together, they ended affirmative action in four states.

According to the report, 17 percent fewer minority students applied to their state medical schools in California and in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, states covered by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that affirmative action is unconstitutional. The number accepted in the four states plunged by 27 percent.

“The threat to affirmative action in many states is sending the signal to minority students that they are unwelcome,” said Hector Garza, vice president for access and equity programs at the American Council on Education.

The council conducts its own annual status report on minorities in higher education, which showed slight progress in minority matriculation until 1995-96.

“Just as we were beginning to see some upward mobility at all levels of the educational pipeline, we see this backlash to affirmative action having an adverse effect,” Garza said.

One group that studies problems involving racial preferences, the American Civil Rights Institute, cautioned against attributing national fluctuations to the two California and Texas events.

“It is a leap of logic … to assume that changes in California and Texas graduate schools account for this nationwide trend,” said executive director Jennifer Nelson, who had not seen the report.

But educators at institutions outside those states said they have witnessed the impact of the rollbacks firsthand.

Dr. R. Allen-Noble, an associate dean at the Medical College of Georgia, said the school’s minority enrollment has suffered since it revoked scholarships for minorities in 1996.

Allen-Noble said the state’s former attorney general declared the scholarships illegal in light of the Hopwood decision.

“Institutions are so afraid of a lawsuit that they are being overly cautious,” she said Saturday at the American Association of Medical Colleges’ annual meeting in Washington.

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