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Author Topic: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds  (Read 2311 times)

Spallenzani

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Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« on: November 05, 2004, 03:23:20 PM »
Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
By KATHERINE S. MANGAN
Thursday, November 4, 2004
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Affirmative action hurts black law students more than it helps them, by bumping applicants up into law schools where they are more likely to earn poor grades, drop out, and fail their states' bar exams, according to a forthcoming study by a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The author, Richard H. Sander, argues that ending racial preferences in law-school admissions would increase the number of black lawyers because it would help ensure that students attend law schools where they are more likely to succeed.

A report of the study, scheduled to appear in the November issue of the Stanford Law Review, has sparked a contentious debate among supporters and critics of affirmative action.

Critics say Mr. Sander's data do not support his findings, and they have accused him of leaping to unfounded and inflammatory conclusions. Some critics worry that legislators who oppose affirmative action will seize the report as evidence to support efforts to end racial preferences. And they are concerned that it could discourage black students from applying to law school.

"It's touching a lot of nerves," concedes Mr. Sander, who has discussed his findings at two academic meetings and circulated early versions of his report to some of his colleagues. "The study is implicitly pretty critical of what law schools are doing. For any defender of affirmative action, which is a core article of faith in higher education, and especially in law schools, this seems like a fundamental assault on cherished ideas and values."

Help or Harm?

Mr. Sander's main source of data is the last comprehensive study of bar-passage rates, which was conducted from 1991 to 1997 by the Law School Admission Council. That study -- of 27,000 students who entered law school in 1991 -- found a wide gap between the grades and test scores of minority students and those of their white counterparts.

Mr. Sander, who has graduate degrees in law and economics, heads UCLA's Empirical Research Group, which helps law professors perform statistical analyses. He also drew data from his own study of students who entered 20 law schools in 1995. His analysis focuses on black students alone. (He is working on another study that includes other underrepresented minority groups.)

His report, "A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools," says that:

  • After the first year of law school, 51 percent of black students have grade-point averages that place them in the bottom tenth of their classes, compared with 5 percent of white students. "Evidence suggests that when you're doing that badly, you're learning less than if you were in the middle of a class" at a less-prestigious law school, Mr. Sander says.
  • Among students who entered law school in 1991, about 80 percent of white students graduated and passed the bar on their first attempt, compared with just 45 percent of black students. In a race-blind admissions system, the number of black graduates passing the bar the first time would jump to 74 percent, he says, based on his statistical analysis of how higher grades in less competitive schools would result in higher bar scores. Black students are nearly six times as likely as whites not to pass state bar exams after multiple attempts.
  • Ending affirmative action would increase the number of new black lawyers by 8.8 percent because students would attend law schools where they would struggle less and learn more, and earn higher grades.
  • With the exception of the most-elite law schools, good grades matter more to employers than the law school's prestige.

Mr. Sander stops short of calling for an end to all racial preferences, but argues that they should at least be scaled back if, as he contends, they are hurting the intended beneficiaries more than they are helping them.

'Wildly Optimistic' Views

Copies of the unpublished study have circulated from coast to coast and divided Mr. Sander's colleagues.

Lewis A. Kornhauser, a professor of law at New York University, says that he generally favors affirmative action, but that Mr. Sander "raises interesting questions about its efficacy."

James Lindgren, a professor of law at Northwestern University, also views the report as an important contribution to the debate over racial preferences. "With Sander's new study," he says, "we are finally moving to a less fevered and more nuanced discussion of the scope of affirmative action: Which minority students actually benefit and which do not?"

On the other side of the debate, four critics of Mr. Sander's findings have submitted a proposed critique of his study to the Stanford Law Review, which plans to publish reactions in its May issue. They wrote that "Sander's article is premised upon a series of statistical errors, oversights, overgeneralizations, and several implausible (and at times internally contradictory) assumptions. Consequently, his estimates of a post-affirmative-action world are wildly optimistic."

Two of the critics -- David L. Chambers, an emeritus professor of law, and Richard O. Lempert, a law professor, both at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor -- are no strangers to the affirmative-action debate. In 2000 they published a study that found that minority students who graduated from Michigan's law school from 1970 to 1996 were just as successful in their careers as their white peers, even though they started with significantly lower law-school grades and standardized-test scores.

Lawyers cited their study in Grutter v. Bollinger, the case that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding the use of racial preferences at Michigan's law school (The Chronicle, July 4, 2003).

A third author of the critique is William C. Kidder, a researcher at the Equal Justice Society, an advocacy group in San Francisco that promotes diversity in education. The fourth is Timothy T. Clydesdale, an associate professor of sociology at the College of New Jersey.

Mr. Clydesdale is finishing a study that examines the same bar-passage rates but reaches starkly different conclusions from Mr. Sander's. "There are some very significant gaps to be concerned about," Mr. Clydesdale says, but throwing out affirmative action is not the answer. "There's bath water that needs to be rinsed away, but there's a baby in there that's quite fine."

He concluded that minority students, like older students and those with disabilities, often feel like outsiders in law school. Furthermore, the dominant teaching approach -- the Socratic method, in which law professors pose questions to individual students -- can be especially intimidating for those who already feel that they do not belong in law school, he says.

Kathy Hart, a 2003 Harvard Law School graduate who now works for a large law firm in Boston, says racial preferences are not the issue. "The problem is not so much the entry; it's what happens while you're there," says Ms. Hart, who is black. As a minority law student, "you're more likely to feel isolated and marginalized, and feel like 'nobody gets my experience.'" That, in turn, can undermine a student's confidence, she says.

Preserving Opportunities

Richard D. Geiger, dean of admissions at Cornell Law School and chairman of the Law School Admission Council, says Mr. Sander's report does not offer new information.

"I really wonder whether it's going to be more than a dazzling light show of statistics that in the end doesn't tell us much new or offer much in terms of a solution," says Mr. Geiger.

He adds that he finds Mr. Sander's suggestion that black students are being misled about their chances of success as lawyers "kind of paternalistic."

"There are so many cases of people outperforming their academic predictors and having wonderful opportunities because of the law school they graduated from," says Mr. Geiger. "I wouldn't want to deny anyone that opportunity."

Yet Mr. Sander is undaunted by the criticism. "I've sent the article to about 25 people for feedback who span the ideological spectrum, and the dominant reaction has been that it's pathbreaking and persuasive," he says. "It's changing a lot of people's minds."

Casper

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2004, 03:49:25 PM »
WOW, now where's the data so we can perform our own statistical calculations?  I can crunch those numbers using SAS software. 
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Spallenzani

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2004, 04:38:35 PM »
A pre-published draft is available on the author's website.

ScurvyWench

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2004, 11:38:08 PM »
I've often wondered about this. I'm actually afraid this would happen to me (probably an unrealistic fear). Thanks for the info.

vagrant

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2004, 12:01:40 AM »
WOW, now where's the data so we can perform our own statistical calculations?  I can crunch those numbers using SAS software. 

MiniTab!

AaronJ

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2004, 12:32:27 AM »
WOW, now where's the data so we can perform our own statistical calculations?  I can crunch those numbers using SAS software. 

MiniTab!

@#!* MiniTab and SAS.

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Spallenzani

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2004, 02:29:55 AM »
I suck at econometrics.  :'(

Casper

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2004, 10:25:06 AM »
http://www.lawschool.com/hurts.htm

Critics Assail
Study of Race,
Law Students

By JOHN HECHINGER
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 5, 2004; Page B1

A new study that's raising controversy in law-school circles questions whether admissions preferences for black students help them or, ironically, set them back in their careers.

Research by a respected law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, asserts that blacks who benefit from affirmative action are being admitted to law schools where they find themselves in over their heads, achieving lower grades and failing the bar exam in higher numbers than they would have without the preferences.

The research by Prof. Richard H. Sander, scheduled for publication in this month's Stanford Law Review, turns traditional critiques of affirmative action on their heads. It already is under assault.

Some critics say the study dramatically understates the positive impact of affirmative action on black law students. Based on the same data the study used, Richard Lempert, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Michigan, argues that eliminating affirmative action in law-school admissions would reduce the number of black attorneys by at least a quarter.

"I and other people who looked closely at it absolutely despair at the quality of the research," says Prof. Lempert, an architect of the University of Michigan law school's affirmative-action program, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in a pivotal ruling last year. "His conclusions are just dead wrong."

Usually, social conservatives decry preferences because of perceived unfairness to white applicants. Although critics have talked before of a "stigma" that damages black recipients, the new analysis stands out for its detailed focus on alleged harms to the careers of black students.

"We need to take seriously the idea that there are potential costs to minorities who benefit from racial preferences," Prof. Sander says in an interview.

Prof. Sander, who describes himself as a lifelong Democrat sympathetic to the goals of affirmative action, claims that abolishing preferences wouldn't reduce the number of black lawyers. In fact, he estimates it would likely increase the cohort of black attorneys emerging from the Class of 2004 by 8% and the number of those passing the bar the first time by 22%.

The study comes after the Supreme Court last year in the Michigan case narrowly endorsed the use of race as a factor in undergraduate and law-school admissions. The court ruled that diversity in higher education was necessary to cultivate "a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry."

Drafts of the study, which hasn't been made public, have circulated among experts, and Prof. Sander discussed it at a recent academic conference. Critics, including Prof. Lempert, are drafting a harsh critique to submit to the Stanford Law Review.

Prof. Sander relied primarily on data that the Law School Admission Council collected on 27,000 students who entered 160 U.S. law schools in 1991, including their grades in college, test scores and bar-exam results.

The study found a stark achievement gap between blacks and whites throughout the nation's law schools. Close to half of the black law students ended up in the bottom tenth of their class. African-Americans were more than twice as likely as whites to drop out -- and more than six times as likely to fail state bar exams after multiple tries.

Prof. Sander argues that the reason for this outcome stems from a "mismatch" between the credentials of the black students and the institutions theyattend. Because they have weaker credentials, he says, the students achieve lower grades. And since grades are strongly correlated to success on the bar exam, he argues, these students failed the bar in higher numbers.

He argues that students who perform at the bottom of their classes at more selective colleges often are confused by tougher material taught at speeds that challenge higher-achieving classmates. At less selective colleges, the material tends to be simpler, so these students can pull into the middle of their class and pick up the baseline information needed to pass the bar exam. And he says there is a "cascade effect" on every tier of law school, from Harvard and Yale down the ranks, ensuring that, at each level, blacks perform worse and are less likely to become lawyers.

By the study's tally, 86% of blacks currently admitted to law schools would still gain admission without preferences. But they would attend less competitive schools, where they would compile stronger records. The remaining 14% -- 500 to 600 a year -- would likely drop out or fail the bar.

To preserve diversity, Prof. Sander recommends setting modest goals for racial preferences -- about 4% in law school classes -- instead of aiming for twice that figure, which he says is typical. Less selective schools would be able to meet that figure without affirmative action, he argues.

But University of Michigan's Prof. Lempert says the study makes a number of unreasonable assumptions. Without affirmative action, many African-Americans wouldn't attend law school at all, he says. The study assumes that black applicants would merely go to a less selective school, but Prof. Lempert says many would be unable or unwilling to go to such schools because they might be so far away that the students wouldn't even consider them.

He also notes that, although there is a correlation between grades and bar passage, many other reasons explain blacks' poor performance on the test. These, he said, include a documented "stereotype threat," the tendency of minority groups to conform to negative stereotypes about their abilities.

Prof. Sander says he found no data to support Prof. Lempert's critique. James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern University, who is reviewing the same data, also found nothing suspect in the study. Now that the Supreme Court has accepted the legality of affirmative action, Prof. Lindgren says, the study might help "the debate move into a more fruitful and nuanced discussion about whom it helps and whom it hurts."

The new study's conclusions contrast sharply with a prominent study of affirmative action chronicled in the 1998 book "Shape of the River," by former Harvard University President Derek Bok and former Princeton University President William Bowen. Their research, based on voluminous data from selective colleges, concluded that racial preferences were enormously beneficial to African-Americans, who went on to earn unusually high numbers of professional and graduate degrees and achieve success in business and other endeavors.

Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, says that, even if Prof. Sander's findings are correct, he would suggest taking measures to improve African-American student performance, rather than scrap affirmative action. Prof. Edley also says the study gave insufficient weight to the academic benefits of diversity, for which there is "universal celebration" on his campus.

At UCLA, Prof. Sander has been at the center of the debate over diversity. In 1997, after a voter initiative banned affirmative action in California, Prof. Sander helped design and implement a preferential formula to help socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants. But the school turned to other methods after that system failed to achieve enough racial diversity to satisfy some faculty.

 
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Casper

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Re: Affirmative Action Hurts Black Law Students, Study Finds
« Reply #8 on: November 06, 2004, 10:27:06 AM »
I suck at econometrics. :'(

Hahahaa, I never had the opportunity to take those courses. 
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