LEGAL MANEUVERING: Law Schools Struggle to Produce despite Affirmative Action Bans

By A, Constance | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

LEGAL MANEUVERING: Law Schools Struggle to Produce despite Affirmative Action Bans


A, Constance, Black Issues in Higher Education


LEGAL MANEUVERING: Law schools struggle to produce despite affirmative action bans

Years ago, law schools did not so much recruit applicants as wait for them to apply, and then pick the best and the brightest. However, a ban on affirmative action policies and a decline in the overall applications and enrollment of potential law students has changed the recruitment efforts of law schools across the country.

The ban against affirmative action was felt immediately at the University of California-Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law. After California voter initiative Proposition 209 passed, 14 African Americans were admitted to the school in 1997, All opted not to attend the school. The one African American student who did attend that year was admitted in 1996, but postponed his enrollment. At the beginning of the fall semester, Eric Brooks was greeted by a barrage of reporters and television cameras, and was forced to hold a press conference.

In previous years, Boalt Hall officials had prided themselves on having an enrollment that reflected the diverse population of California. In 1996, before the ban on affirmative action was imposed, 34 percent of the first-year class was composed of people of color -- 14 percent Asian, 8 percent African American, 11 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Native American. After the ban, 20 percent of the class members were minorities -- 14 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic, with just one African American and no Native Americans.

If the California law schools were no longer allowed to consider race, then officials at Boalt Hall decided to change the way they do business in the hopes of bolstering minority enrollment.

"We believe that it is really essential to a good legal education to study with people who represent a cross- section of American society," says Assistant Dean Luguana Treadwell. "It's been a very difficult time for the school -- making the improvements and continuing to look for ways to increase minority enrollment [without violating the ban]."

One of the methods the school used was a change in the personal essay statement, increasing its length. Officials intensified recruitment of minorities by visiting more historically Black colleges than in the past. The school also enlisted the help of minority alumni who hosted parties for possible students.

Additionally, once minority applicants were accepted, the school campaigned to have them commit to attending Berkeley. Once accepted, minority students were invited to a daylong orientation at the school, which included dinner with the first Black mayor of Berkeley, Warren Widener, who is also an alumnus of the law school.

As of last year, those extra efforts appeared to have paid off. The first-year class was 30 percent minority -- 18 percent Asian, 3 percent African American, 23 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent Native American.

"We are under heavy scrutiny by politicians of every stripe and that makes life a little more difficult," Treadwell says. "We're operating in a fishbowl, but we are generally pleased with the improvements we've been able to make."

Financing and Leveling

California's experiences were echoed in Texas as law schools were forced to ban the use of racial and gender consideration in their admission policies following the 5th U.S. Circuit Court's Hopwood ruling.

After experiencing a decline in minority enrollment, Texas law schools have also tried new ways to recruit minorities. The boldest effort underway, is a $100 million grant approved by the state legislature in May. "Toward Excellence, Access, and Success" -- the name of the grant program -- is, according to The Dallas Morning News, the largest onetime allotment of scholarship money by the Texas Legislature.

The grant is based solely on financial need and gives students $2,500 for tuition and fees at any college or university in the state of Texas -- and it does not have to be repaid.

At the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, applications have increased, but that school has made a practice of accepting students that other law schools would typically reject. …

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