« on: January 22, 2008, 05:38:06 PM »
Minority Law School Enrollment Declining
New York Lawyer
January 22, 2008
By Leigh Jones
The National Law Journal
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A web site recently established by an elite law school paints a dismal picture of enrollment among certain minority groups in law schools generally — a picture that may well become still bleaker.
Enrollment of blacks and Mexican-Americans has fallen by 8.6% in the past 15 years, according to a Web site created by Columbia Law School and the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT).
The decline has occurred as applications to law schools among those two groups have remained constant and as law school enrollment overall has increased since 1992.
With law schools continuing to revere U.S. News & World Report rankings and with anti-affirmative action initiatives possibly being on the ballot in five states in November, it appears that the situation may only worsen.
"It's not a pipeline problem," said Conrad Johnson, clinical professor of law at Columbia. Johnson and two law students working with the school's Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic helped create the Web site, along with SALT. He said that the statistics, compiled from information provided by the Law School Admission Council, dispute the notion that the low enrollment numbers among blacks and Mexican-Americans are due to dwindling applications from those groups.
Eye on rankings
From 1992 to 2006, the number of blacks and Mexican-Americans enrolled in the nation's law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) fell from 3,937 to 3,595. During that same time period, the number of ABA accredited law schools grew from 176 to 195.
Johnson acknowledged an uptick in African-American enrollment in 2006, the biggest increase in 10 years, but he said that a combination of both groups showed a continuous decline during the 15-year period.
Vernellia Randall, a professor at University of Dayton School of Law and creator of the The Whitest Law School Report, published online, said that law schools, concerned about their U.S. News & World Report rankings, are requiring higher scores from applicants on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which has resulted in lower admission numbers among people from the two minority groups.
In the rankings, a school's median LSAT score is part of a larger score designed to measure a school's selectivity in choosing applicants who enter an incoming class. Selectivity accounts for 25% of a school's ranking.
The Columbia Law School Web site notes that LSAT and grade-point average scores have increased among African-American and Mexican-American applicants. But more demanding requirements from law schools continue to outpace improvements in scores, Randall said.
"It's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better," she said.
U.S. News & World Report does not include diversity as one of the factors in the rankings, but it does publish a separate ranking of law schools that have high minority enrollment numbers. Revamping the general law school rankings to include diversity as a factor would be difficult, said Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News & World Report.
Not only would the standard need to account for the difference in minority populations in various parts of the country, but the rankings would require a value judgment regarding which minority groups' enrollment "improved" a school, he said.
Part of the concern about the low numbers relates to efforts in five states to ban race- and gender-based preferences. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma all have initiatives under way to place questions on November ballots that would end programs that increase minority and female numbers in education and in government. The effort is led by Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Liberties Institute, which led successful efforts to ban such preferences in California, Michigan and Washington. "Preferences are morally wrong," said Connerly, who is black.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, that the University of Michigan Law School's race-preference admissions policy served a compelling interest in maintaining a diverse student body.
Marquette University Law School Dean Joseph Kearney said his school relies heavily on affirmative action to recruit minorities. Marquette was ranked No. 8 among Randall's latest ranking of the "Whitest Law Schools." Its student body is 89.5% white, with black enrollment equaling 2.7% and Mexican-Americans making up 0.7%, according to the 2007 ABA Official Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools.
Kearney, who challenges the validity of Randall's list, attributes his school's low numbers to competition from its state competitor, University of Wisconsin Law School, which has lower tuition and is aggressive on minority recruitment.