I came out of my encounter with the politically correct all right, I guess. I was graduated from Georgetown University Law Center (GULC), as the Georgetown law school is called, in spite of calls for my expulsion. I received only one death threat. And I got lots of publicity, which I have tried to use to my advantage (for example by writing this article).
Nevertheless, the response to “Admissions Apartheid,” the exposé I wrote last spring of the racial preferences in the admissions program of GULC, was the most depressing experience of my academic career. This response revealed that a policy, whose fairness and wisdom are doubtful, has remained in force not on its merits but through the suppression of any criticism of its flaws. And the response also raised questions about the honesty and integrity of the administrators of GULC’s affirmative-action programs.
In “Admissions Apartheid,” which was published in our law-school student paper, I used a random sample of applications to GULC to generalize about the respective credentials of blacks and whites who were ultimately admitted. According to that sample, the average white student accepted by GULC had a score of 43 on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) out of a possible 48 on the scale then in use; his average black counterpart had a score of 36. The average white student accepted by the school had maintained an undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.7; for the average black, the figure was 3.2. In addition to exposing these disparities, “Admissions Apartheid” also rejected such familiar explanations for them as hostile environments, lack of role models, and biased curriculums—most pointedly by noting levels of achievement at historically-black colleges. At Grambling, for instance, 84 percent of those students who took the LSAT ended up in the bottom 10 percent of test-takers nationwide.
The article was, admittedly, a provocation. It was written in a tone which could fairly be described as mean-spirited. And it was based on student records which I had been hired to file, not to analyze for the purposes of an exposé. Nevertheless, “Admissions Apartheid” did call the attention of the Georgetown community to a major institutional problem which had previously been ignored.
Not that efforts were not made to continue ignoring it. On the contrary, there was a concerted attempt to prevent all questioning of the school’s admissions policies. Thus the Georgetown Black Law Student Association demanded that I, and the entire editorial board of the student paper, be expelled, and in statements to the national press, it compared my article to anonymous hate notes which had recently been sent to black Yale law students. Thus, too, the dean of the school, Judith Areen, had a letter placed in every student’s mail folder in which, among other things, she criticized the paper for printing this “misleading mix of opinion and data” without first verifying the accuracy of its findings.
Yet Dean Areen did not explain what was inaccurate in my article. Instead she asserted that GULC need not discuss disparities in qualifications between its white and black students because the school’s reputation had grown since the institution of affirmative action; because this discussion might cause people to judge individual members of the benefited groups; and because all students at Georgetown are “qualified to meet the standards to graduate.” All this, while declaring that Georgetown was not trying to stifle discussion of controversial matters.
The attack on me, combined with the refusal to respond to my article’s allegations, did more to discredit the school and divide the student body than anything I had written. Officials like Areen fervently decried the racial tensions raised by my piece. But they themselves repeatedly compounded these tensions. They ordered the confiscation of every copy on school grounds of the offending issue of the student paper, thereby denying students their opportunity to read an article which would be discussed every day in Washington’s newspapers. And while deploring the “hurt” caused by my article, they ignored instances of politically-correct intimidation of students who felt that the school should explain how its affirmative-action policies worked.
Then there was Dean Areen’s public claim that consideration of race was not a part of the school’s admissions process, and that her main concern was the confidentiality of applications. Yet within days of this claim, it was revealed that one of the school’s most-renowned professors, Father Robert Drinan, had once put statistical comparisons of minority and white GULC students on the blackboard as part of a class in constitutional law. Like me, Drinan had found “significant differences” in the grades and test scores of whites and minorities. Contrary to what one would think from the administration’s statements, then, I had not released information which had been guarded as zealously as that pertaining to the manufacture of atomic bombs.
It turned out, moreover, that my random sample had understated the race-based disparities at the school. In 1989, the median LSAT for incoming white students at GULC was 42; for incoming blacks it was 33, “up from 32 last year.” Nor was this extreme disparity confined to Georgetown: exactly the same figures obtained at the University of Texas Law School. And the most recently reported average LSAT score for whites admitted to all American law schools was 36; for blacks it was 28.
Indeed, it is generally conceded that less than 1 percent of top law-school student bodies would be black under race-blind admissions. To cite only one instance, the director of admissions at the University of California Law School at Berkeley noted several years ago that, nationwide, “only five blacks who took the LSAT had scores and GPA’s that equaled [Berkeley’s] average.” Yet blacks are represented at many law schools in greater numbers than they are represented among college graduates. This can be accomplished only through a process of insulating blacks from competition with better-qualified whites and applying much lower standards to black applicants.
Thomas Sowell and others have shown how admitting underqualified blacks to elite undergraduate programs harms the intended beneficiaries, who do badly against the stiff competition of some of the best students in the country, when they would do well in schools to whose standards they were better matched. It should be noted that, for a number of reasons, those consequences are magnified at law schools. First, law schools contain no academic ghettos to which less-qualified students can be directed; the student with the lowest LSAT score spends his first year taking the same courses as the student with the highest, and most likely finishes the year at the bottom of the class. Second, law schools are trade schools, providing neither sports programs, social activities, nor nonacademic extracurricular challenges to replenish self-esteem lost through academic underperformance. Third, since law firms and bar examiners are (as yet) unwilling to lower their standards for individuals who fail to learn the trade, the time such individuals spend in law school can be wasted.
Last spring, the Washington Post columnist, William Raspberry, while supporting color-conscious affirmative action, expressed concern about the legitimacy of automatic racial preferences. He noted that “fairness is the ultimate test and . . . it is time to put the issue on the table.”
Raspberry’s concern is widely shared. Overwhelmingly, it is true, Americans would like selection processes to take more than naked test scores into account. But a dual system of criteria based solely on race strikes most Americans of all races as offensive. For under such a system, the daughter of an unmarried white salesclerk is less likely to be admitted to a law program (for example) than the son of a wealthy black politician. And this is true even if she has a 39 LSAT score and a 3.25 grade-point average while he has a 36 LSAT score and a 3.0 GPA.
In fact, while law schools supposedly follow the dual system for the sake of fairness to people who have been hampered by discrimination and other obstacles, there is no indication that they take any steps to provide fair treatment of less-privileged applicants as such. For example, no attempt is made to ensure “adequate” representation of Evangelical Christians—who are less esteemed, and less well represented in positions of influence, than America’s blacks.
To be sure, law-school administrators often claim that, rather than applying race-based dual systems of admissions, they merely “look beyond the numbers” where all candidates are concerned. But this is implausible in light of the fact that the only applicants regularly admitted with credentials well below institutional norms are blacks—and members of other accredited minority groups.
Speaking of other minority groups, the rationale for giving them special preference is to create ethnic “diversity.” Yet it is unclear why proportional ethnic representation is desirable, and it has been argued (most eloquently by Thomas Sowell) that nowhere in the world does such representation occur naturally.
Be that as it may, the danger in looking “beyond the numbers” is that law-school administrators will use the selection process to forge student bodies unrepresentative of the general American population—as unrepresentative as they themselves are. These administrators, like the faculties over which they preside, are, as a group, politically liberal and secular. They tend to see law as a means of social change rather than as a trade, often have practiced little law themselves (except for appellate clerkships), and not rarely have contempt for commercial firms. The personal essays students submit as part of the law-school application process suggest that in hopes of impressing evaluators, applicants often represent themselves as public-service-minded rather than as looking forward to private practice, and take the liberal position on volatile legal issues like abortion, affirmative action, and the rights of criminal defendants.
“So what?,” one student commented on my piece. GULC’s admissions program may have been unfair, but life was unfair. And historically life in America has been more unfair to blacks than to whites. Yet racial preferences are not merely unfair to those excluded by them. They also have effects that touch the entire law-school communities in which they are aggressively pursued.
Group preferences require that selectors be less selective with some groups than others. But it is axiomatic that the more selective one is in filling a position, the stronger the candidate who fills that position will be. At GULC, for example, administrators strive for a 1:1 gender ratio. Yet more men than women apply to the school. Georgetown is therefore somewhat more selective toward its male candidates, with the result that two-thirds of the magna cum laude graduates in my class were men.
The most extreme disparities between male and female students are multiplied five and tenfold between white and black students at prestigious law schools. The consequence is that black affirmative-action beneficiaries are routinely outperformed by white students. They almost never obtain “race-blind” invitations to the most prestigious student journals. Their success in moot-court competition is often assured only by all-black moot-court teams. They regularly complain that the better firms do not hire them because such firms refuse to look beyond grades (in my graduating class, only one out of about 60 black students graduated in the scholastic top third of the class).
Unfortunately, reforms cannot be undertaken in the present law-school environment, because the problem cannot be openly addressed. Since the truth about present practices makes black students and their empowered defenders uncomfortable, everyone is forced either to ignore these issues or to live a lie. And as I discovered from the response to “Admissions Apartheid,” affirmative action not only promotes lying, it fosters the sort of name-calling, along with threats against innocent persons merely for associating with the targets of the attack, that were so notoriously characteristic of McCarthyism.
Thus, having been branded a “racist,” I found it difficult to obtain legal representation in fighting the move to expel me. When two members of the faculty of the D.C. School of Law, Robert Catz and Thomas Mack, stepped forward to aid the organization managing my defense, I assumed that they opposed affirmative action and that the D.C. School of Law was a more open-minded institution than Georgetown.
My assumptions were wrong. Both Catz and Mack disagreed with my position on affirmative action, but both believed that Georgetown was treating me unfairly, and both thought that no person should be denied legal representation merely because he is politically incorrect. As for my second assumption, the D.C. School of Law turned out to be just as closed-minded as Georgetown. Its dean ordered Catz and Mack not to represent me, and the students there advocated sanctioning them for assisting in my defense.
But Catz and Mack held firm, and thanks to the help of people like them, I was able to graduate with my class. A settlement was reached under which my punishment was restricted to a letter reprimanding me for having breached a duty of nondisclosure. Georgetown students promptly denounced the administration for showing me “favoritism,” and black alumni protested at our graduation ceremony. As for the Georgetown administration, its purpose in settling the case was to end what had become a public-relations fiasco—so that it could then continue following its detrimental and unfair admissions policies without any further disturbance from troublemakers like me.