A new and provocative study on affirmative action, which will appear in the Stanford Law Review this month, is attracting such attention that there is a special click-through on the publication's Web site to field questions about it. The conclusions of the study, that racial preferences at law schools produce fewer rather than more black lawyers, is already generating controversy that is sure to only increase.
The study, "A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools," argues, using statistical analysis, that although total elimination of racial preferences would cause a 14 percent reduction in the number of blacks accepted to law school, there would be an 8 percent increase in the number of blacks actually becoming lawyers. The reason for this, according to the analysis in the 100-plus page study, is because of the improvement in grades, graduation rates, and rates in passing bar examinations that would result from color-blind admissions policies.
The author of the study, Richard Sander, is a law professor at UCLA who is also trained as an economist. It is interesting to also note that, according to press profiles, Sander is a long-time liberal and advocate of race-conscious public policy. His apparent motive in doing the study was to provide rigorous analysis that would examine if indeed racial preferences produce the net benefit to blacks that are the alleged justification of these policies.
In a recent Los Angeles Times column, Sander makes it a point to avoid being placed in any ideological camp. His stance, inferred from the column, is that racial preferences are justifiable if they indeed lead to the goal of a color-blind society. On the question of law school preferences, he suggests eliminating, or cutting them back, because his data indicate that they hurt blacks and not because he opposes them in principle.
Nevertheless, the conclusion of Sander's study, that racial preferences in law schools result in a net reduction of new black lawyers, is an eye opener.
What can we expect now?
For those already staked out against affirmative action, Sander's study will simply fuel the fire and be touted as evidence supporting an already existing position.
We're already seeing the reaction from affirmative action advocates. They are challenging Sander's assumptions and conclusions. A central conclusion of the study that is aggressively being questioned is that elimination of preferences would only reduce black law school admissions by 14 percent. Some claim that it would be at least double that.
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