Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Is Affirmative Action Responsible for the Achievement Gap between Black and White Law Students? a Correction, a Lesson, and an Update/revisiting Law School Mismatch: A Comment on Barnes (2007, 2011)

Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Is Affirmative Action Responsible for the Achievement Gap between Black and White Law Students? a Correction, a Lesson, and an Update/revisiting Law School Mismatch: A Comment on Barnes (2007, 2011)

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 2007, the Northwestern University Law Review published an essay that I wrote entitled Is Affirmative Action Responsible for the Achievement Gap Between Black and White Law Students?1 The essay joined a scholarly debate regarding the potential deleterious effects of affirmative action in the law school admissions process. The debate was rekindled by an empirical study published in the Stanford Law Review by Professor Richard Sander in 2004 that suggested that affirmative action policies were counterproductive, 2 followed by a series of replies from other academics and rejoinders from Professor Sander.3

The purpose of my essay was to provide a framework with which to test different theories regarding the effects of affirmative action. The essence of Professor Sander's claim was that minority students matriculate to law schools that are above their capabilities because of affirmative action. This mismatch, in turn, largely explained the worse outcomes that black students obtained.4

Although I recognize that the mismatch hypothesis valuably questions whether students and their institutions maximize the students' success in law school and in law life, I argued that worse outcomes for black students may be the product of other cultural differences across schools.5 Indeed, the insight behind the mismatch hypothesis is unrelated to race: mismatch relies solely on the interaction of student ability and institutional quality. I framed a broader test of the mismatch hypothesis that separated mismatch in general, which affects all students with low credentials, from these cultural aspects, which affect all black students.

In 2008, Professors Doug Williams and Richard Sander contacted me regarding replication of my results. Unfortunately, I had changed institutions between the time the essay was slated for publication and this contact. Due to my own negligence, although I thought I had transferred all of my files to my computer at my new institution, I had not. Thus, I did not have the original programs that I used to analyze the data. I reconstructed the programs for Professors Williams and Sander and their colleagues Dr. Roger Bolus and Dr. Marc Luppino but was unable to replicate the same results as presented in the original essay. Because my first commitment is to the truth, or as much thereof as the limits of logic, method, data, and human capacities allow, this Revision followed.

Research is a process of formulating and reformulating theories on the basis of new information. Empirical research, in particular, involves the often public debate regarding the appropriate methods, analysis, and conclusions to be drawn from data. By its nature all empirical research is imperfect in some way. Some imperfections are correctible, and although all empirical researchers hope that mistakes in analysis are infrequent, the academic process of replication, further investigation, and debate (like the methods of science more generally) is built to find flaws in current research in order to improve knowledge.

I am very grateful to Professor Williams, Professor Sander, Dr. Luppino, and Dr. Bolus for their effort in replicating my results and their diligence in helping to advance our understanding of the empirical validity of the mismatch hypothesis. I mix a sense of embarrassment at the problems with my original analysis with the pleasure of seeing the methods of science and scholarly discourse work the way they should.

Before revisiting the main arguments and results of my 2007 essay, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the process by which law professors publish their research and how others can avoid my error in the future. The preferred method to avoid errors is, of course, not to make them. This, however, is not always possible.

For myself, my practice for submitted papers has changed. The best practice to avoid mistakes in coding is to double code every program,6 and I now do so. …

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