Affirmative Action and Minority Enrollments in Medical and Law Schools
Wu, Frank H., The Journal of Negro Education
Affirmative Action and Minority Enrollments in Medical and Law Schools, by Susan Welch and John Gruhl. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. 221 pp. $39.50, paper.
Despite the controversy generated by affirmative action in higher education, the actual effects of the programs have not been thoroughly analyzed. Instead, the arguments over race-based remedies have been symbolic. With respect to professional training, such as that provided by medical and law schools, the role of affirmative action has been based on anecdotes and assumptions about a few outstanding individuals. These include Bernard Chavis, the African American doctor who graduated from University of California-Davis medical school through the special admissions program Allan Bakke challenged. Initially held up as a success story, Chavis, with later malpractice allegations raised against him, was turned into a cautionary example. Among other examples are Benjamin Carson, the African American who chairs the pediatric neurosurgery department at prestigious Johns Hopkins University, and who separated twins conjoined at the head; Johnny Cochran, who led the "dream team" defense counsel in the 0. J. Simpson murder trial; and Vernon Jordan, one of the most powerful lawyers in the nation's capital, regardless of race.
Affirmative Action and Minority Enrollments in Medical and Law Schools presents a longawaited and much-needed empirical basis for the public discourse. Welch and Gruhl's book is a supplement to the massive Bowen and Bok (1998) study, The Shape of the River. It differs from that work in its emphasis on institutional decision making in response to legal doctrines. Although this type of evidence is vital to the affirmative action debate, it is not, as the authors themselves implicitly conclude, sufficient to resolve the matter. As Christopher Edley, Jr. (1996), the Harvard professor who led the Clinton Administration's "mend-it-don't-end-it" review of affirmative action policies, has argued, facts matter but "values matter most" (p. 73). At stake are competing visions of what the institutions of this nation, elite as well as public, should look like and how best to realize those ideals. Both the ends and the means are contested.
Using a questionnaire sent in March 1989 to the 118 medical schools and 154 law schools that were operating when the Supreme Court decided Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (1978), Welch and Gruhl describe how these institutions practiced affirmative action, whether they changed in response to legal restrictions, and, most importantly, whether these efforts to remedy racial/ ethnic discrimination worked. Their study deserves consideration by all policymakers and administrators who care about racial/ethnic diversity in higher education.
As Welch and Gruhl explain, the Supreme Court was highly divided in Bakke, with four justices voting in favor of affirmative action in theory and four justices voting against affirmative action as it was being practiced. Justice Louis Powell, the Richmond, Virginia, corporate lawyer who had led the American Bar Association, reached a famous compromise. He reasoned that affirmative action could satisfy constitutional standards if it resembled the Harvard College plan, which took race into account as a factor, but it violated constitutional norms if it relied on strict quotas. The Powell opinion has been heavily criticized from all quarters as being impossible to follow. Nonetheless, until the Supreme Court ruled in its 1995 case of Adarand v. Pena (1995) that affirmative action is the legal equivalent of invidious discrimination, the Powell approach effectively governed affirmative action.
Welch and Gruhl present many basic findings about the role of legal doctrine in shaping institutional behavior related to affirmative action. Not surprisingly, they note, virtually all those responding to their survey had heard of the Bakke decision. Surprisingly, however, 77% of medical school officials and 63% of law school officials reported that it changed their policies "not at all" (p. …