Here are a couple of observations from my assistant, Brian Sopp:
Diversity outweighs freedom on campus
On June 29, the National Association of Scholars released a study of university websites revealing what Stephen Balch, president of NAS, calls "an obsession with diversity unparalleled in any other sector of American opinion leadership." The report, entitled "Words to Live By: How Diversity Trumps Freedom on Academic Websites," found that the number of references to diversity on the websites of the top 100 universities in the "America's Best Colleges 2006" edition of U.S. News & World Report exceeds references to American ideals such as freedom, liberty, democracy, and equality. In contrast, a representative sample showed that the number of references to words such as freedom exceeds references to diversity on the websites of corporations, religious organizations, political parties, mainstream media, popular blogs, and labor unions.
Balch believes that these results illustrate "the great gulf that has opened between our universities and the rest of the country." He concludes the report with apprehension:
The onward march of diversity as an ideal, revealed in these data, may portend a profound transformation in America's conception of itself. Since its inception, America has seen itself as largely a community of individuals who, having put aside prior group loyalties, live together in equality under the law. If any nation has embodied a liberal, universalistic conception, it has surely been the United States. If we are currently moving toward a new vision, in which America becomes a congeries of groups, a collectivity of collectivities, a domain of many peoples and cultures, the consequences not only for what has been America, but for the entire world, will be vast.
The report has been heavily criticized for its simplicity and rhetoric. But even if this study does not prove Balch's assertions, it is difficult to deny that universities are obsessed with diversity. One illustration of this obsession is the creation of the position of "chief diversity officer" at more than 30 universities. Many of these positions are created in addition to existing diversity administrators and lack a clear job description.
While the findings of this study may not sound the death knell for American culture as we know it, they are further evidence that, at least in the realm of education, traditional American values are at risk of being sacrificed in academe's pursuit of diversity. As Michael Barone points out in his criticism of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions "Equal Opportunity and Diversity" standard, this is already happening.
Faculty members win grant for law school diversity research
Faculty members from the University of North Carolina campuses at Chapel Hill and Greensboro as well as from UCLA have received a $540,000 grant from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to continue their study of whether racial diversity in U.S. law schools results in educational benefits.
The grant is being given to the Educational Diversity Project at UNC-Chapel Hill. Law Prof. Charles E. Daye and psychology Prof. Abigail T. Panter of UNC-Chapel Hill; Walter R Allen, professor of sociology and education at UCLA; and Linda F. Wightman, emeritus professor of educational research at UNC-Greensboro, have already completed the first facet of the study, which involves following 8,500 students who entered about 70 law schools in the fall of 2004 and tracks their progress while taking into account their backgrounds and aspirations for law school. The grant was awarded by LSAC under its empirical research program, which awards grants for research about law schools, law students, and legal education. The council has awarded more than $1 million to the project's comprehensive research study since 2004. The latest grant funds the project through June 2008.
As highlighted by the Educational Diversity Project, "controversy exists as to whether racial diversity offers measurable educational benefits in the law school setting and in the increasingly diverse workforce and society beyond law school." So, it is important to discover the true effect of affirmative-action policies. However, the timing and the background of the study's authors suggest that LSAC may have commissioned professors to produce support for a valued position (that affirmative action is just and beneficial) rather than an answer to a perplexing question (is affirmative action beneficial?).
Charles Daye, former LSAC president, participated in the preparation of and cosigned the amicus brief that the University of North Carolina School of Law submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan School of Law in the Grutter case. Furthermore, one of his professional interests is "assuring access to the legal profession by members of under-represented minority groups." Linda F. Wightman, former vice president of operations, testing, and research at LSAC, has done extensive educational research. One of her studies, entitled "Are Other Things Essentially Equal? An Empirical Investigation of the Consequences of Including Race as a Factor in Law School Admission" and featured on LSAC's website, concludes that "the data provide compelling evidence disputing the claim that including race as a factor in law school admission decisions resulted either in admitting students unqualified for the academic rigor of a legal education or in undermining the academic standards of participating institutions." She came to this conclusion by avoiding "the misleading conclusions that can result from simple comparisons of total group performance, either on admission credentials or law school performance."
The Educational Diversity Project claims that its methods will "provide further nuance, depth, and richness" to the study. The nuance may be intended to eliminate "misleading conclusions" that can result from comparing "total group performance."
This grant comes shortly after Richard Sander, a law professor at UCLA, wrote his study, "The Racial Paradox of Corporate Law Firms," which will be in the next issue of the North Carolina Law Review. Sander concludes in his study that racial preferences in law firm hiring may actually hurt minority lawyers. Sander is also the author of "A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools," published in 2004. This report concluded that affirmative action in law school admissions hurts minorities. By placing minority students in more elite schools than they should be attending, affirmative action has caused some of the disparity between minority and white law school dropout rates and bar passage rates. Sander suggests that without affirmative action, there may in fact be more minority lawyers. This study caused much controversy and led to the publication of many counter studies from what Sander calls "the affirmative action establishment."
While it is important to assess the effect affirmative action has on student performance and educational experience in law school, such an assessment is only valuable if it is unbiased and truthful. LSAC, as an administrative organization, should be pursuing truth rather than any specific agenda.
Unfortunately, commissioning a study to professors with a strong bias is a step in the wrong direction. It seems possible that this study's consideration of "nuance" and educational experience may suggest that it is being conducted to rebut studies, such as Sander's, that focus on more tangible factors such as law school performance.