My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


On Affirmative Action

Not sure how I missed this from Sunday's NYTimes, but here it is: affirmative action may have a negative impact on career success.

At least for lawyers.

a recent study published in The Stanford Law Review by Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found a new way to inflame the debate. In fact, the study has ignited what may be the fiercest dispute over affirmative action since 2003, when the Supreme Court found some forms of it to be constitutional.

Professor Sander's study tests a simple, but startling, thesis: Affirmative action actually depresses the number of black lawyers, because many black students end up attending law schools that are too difficult for them, and perform badly.

If black law students were accepted to lesser law schools under race-blind admissions, Professor Sander writes, they would receive better grades and pass the bar in greater numbers. Even accounting for the many black students who could not attend any law school without affirmative action, the ultimate number of black lawyers would still increase, he concludes.

This is startling, on its face. The idea that allowing students admission who do not necessarily meet the criteria for admission may adversely effect their performance. . . REALLY? But what's more interesting is that the inability to overcome that barrier may depress the ability of those AA beneficiaries to even sit for the bar would, I believe, constitute prima facia discrimination itself.

I remember having this dialogue about a year ago as the state legislature was considering ending affirmative action at state institutions. The bill ultimately failed, but I did pose the question at the time of whether AA had any positive effect on minority success. The only answer I got came from the News' Linda Seebach, who noted that California's experience was one of minority frustration. I suppose this study bears that out pretty well.

Now, I know it's easy to start making excuses and attacking the messenger. But before you do, consider these grafs:

The basic numbers are not in serious dispute.

Using a standard 1,000-point scale to reflect both L.S.A.T. scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, Professor Sander writes, the average black student's score was 130 to 170 points below that of the average white student.

Once at law school, the average black student gets lower grades than white students: 52 percent of black students are in the bottom 10th of their first-year law school classes, while only 8 percent are in the top half. And the grades of black students drop slightly in relative terms from the first year of law school to the third.

Black students are twice as likely as whites to fail to finish law school. Nineteen percent of the black students who started law school in 1991 had failed to graduate five years later; the corresponding figure for whites was 8 percent.

About 88 percent of all law students pass a bar exam on the first attempt; 95 percent pass eventually. For blacks, the corresponding figures are 61 percent and 78 percent.

Pretty damning, I would say.

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