- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

The Center for Equal Opportunity a nonprofit, Sterling, Va.-based research and educational organization is publishing today a 50-page study that documents evidence of racial and ethnic discrimination in the admissions policies of Virginia's three public law schools: the University of Virginia, William and Mary and George Mason University. This is the first analysis of this kind ever done for law-school admissions anywhere in the country.

The study is authored by Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai of Rockville, but all the data on which it relies were supplied by the three law schools themselves. The center obtained the data through freedom-of-information requests and turned it over to the Lerners, who did a sophisticated statistical analysis using multiple logistic regression equations. In layman's terms, they looked to see whether the data showed that skin color and ancestry influenced an applicant's chances of admission.

For two of the schools Virginia and William and Mary the evidence is overwhelming that race makes a huge difference. Indeed, the numbers for Virginia are the worst that the center has ever seen, having published studies looking at preferences for 47 undergraduate institutions across the country (including 10 in Virginia) and for six medical schools. The law-school and other studies are all available on the center's Web site, www.ceousa.org.

At Virginia, the odds favoring a black candidate over an equally qualified white candidate were an astonishing 731 to 1 in 1999 and 647 to 1 in 1998. To put it in other terms: In 1999, if you had an LSAT score of 160 and an undergraduate grade-point-average of 3.25 these are the two measures that law schools typically weigh most heavily you had a 95 percent chance of getting in if you were black, but only a 3 percent chance of getting in if you were white.

At William and Mary, there was also strong evidence of pronounced discrimination favoring black Americans. The odds ratio favoring blacks over whites there was 168 to 1 in 1999 and 351 to 1 in 1998. Thus, in 1999, if you had an LSAT of 155 and an undergraduate GPA of 3.0, your chances of getting in were 84 percent if you were black but only 3 percent if you were white. The black-white gap in GPA during the first-year of law school was greatest at William and Mary: six-tenths of a point on a 4-point scale.

Only George Mason University School of Law can plausibly claim to be treating black and white applicants on a nondiscriminatory basis. There was no statistically significant evidence of racial or ethnic discrimination at GMU in the 1999 data provided, and while the black-white odds ratio in 1998 was statistically significant (2.9 to 1), it was still quite small in comparison to Virginia and William and Mary.

It is interesting that, in 1998 and 1999, the two most recent years for which data were available and which are the focus of the study, there is no evidence that Latinos were given a preference over whites at any of the three schools. There was statistically significant evidence that Asians received preferences at the three schools, but it was relatively small compared with the preference given black Americans, and was never greater than 3.9 to 1.

The center has also published analyses by the Lerners of the admissions data obtained, with the help of the Virginia Association of Scholars, from 10 undergraduate public colleges and universities in Virginia. Evidence of discrimination was found there, too, particularly at the more selective schools.

Indeed, as a result, the University of Virginia's board of visitors appointed a special committee in 1999 to look into the school's admission policies. It leaked out that the committee had found problems, and the university's president, John T. Casteen, eventually revealed that he had ended a policy of formally awarding admissions points based on race to black applicants.

But it was also clear that the university's admission policies were still taking race into account, albeit more circumspectly. The center has subsequently called on the university to state publicly how heavily race is being used, but the university has refused to do so, even when presented with another freedom-of-information request.

The law-school study released today highlights again the need for the University of Virginia, and all Virginia public universities, to explain exactly how they are using race to discriminate in admissions. The center opposes such discrimination, but even those who favor it ought to admit that Virginians have a right to know to what extent their taxpayer-funded schools are discriminating against (or for) them and their children.

If the schools are unwilling to stop the discrimination or even to admit what they are doing, then the new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and the state legislature must demand that they do so.

Roger Clegg is general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling.



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