Universities Slash Standards with Goal of Boosting Diversity

(LifeZette) On Monday, Georgetown University’s School of Law announced that it would no longer require applicants to provide LSAT scores and that GREs would be accepted instead as part of a move designed to increase diversity.

Georgetown University campus photo

Photo by Ken Lund (CC)

“While the LSAT remains an important admissions tool, we also believe that it is well past time that the legal profession open wide the doors to an even more diverse population that better reflects American society as a whole,” said Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt in an official statement posted by the school. “We think that allowing the use of the GRE will help us to accomplish that goal.”

Dean William Treanor reiterated the motivation of the school to drop the requirement in order to boost diversity.

“Georgetown Law is committed to attracting the best and the brightest students of all backgrounds,” said Treanor. “We believe this change will make the admissions process more accessible to students who have great potential to make a mark here at Georgetown Law and in successful legal careers, but who might find the LSAT to be a barrier for whatever reason,” he said.

The decision drew raised eyebrows from observers who noted the university seemed to be effectively saying minorities were not capable of doing well on the standardized test.

“There is a sad but real bias in the diversity world – and its been there a long time, not only among the diversity proponents but among the left at large – that black people and to some extent Hispanics lack the capacity to compete in academic arenas,” said Ward Connerly, founder and President of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national non-profit which works to end affirmative action.

These people think that “if you use things like the SAT and the LSAT and the MCAT that those things will lock out quote ‘minorities,'” Connerly told LifeZette. “I think that is sad — I think it’s best to set standards and to some extent that will inspire people to meet those standards,” he said.

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A professor at Georgetown Law said he could see the motivation being invoked at a public university but that it made less sense at a private college.

“As a general matter, one might conceivably make the case that a public law school could be justified in lowering admission standards (which is what this amounts to, no matter how much this fact is sought to be fuzzed over) in order to adjust the student body to reflect the ethnic makeup of the electorate,” granted William Otis, a professor at Georgetown Law.

“But even if there is a plausible case for that, which I doubt, admission standards for private law schools are a different matter,” Otis told LifeZette. “Private law schools exist, not to embrace a political goal (whether widely approved or not), but to produce the best lawyers they can,” he said.

Otis noted the LSAT and other admissions factors do offer real insight into the capacity of the individual to be an effective lawyer.

“In my 25 years as a litigating lawyer, I never thought, and I do not think now, that one’s race or color had beans to do with being a good lawyer,” Otis said.

“Since you often don’t know who the judge will be, or who’s going to be on the jury, the way to present your case is to go through the facts with a fine-toothed comb, research the precedents, write out your argument (and revise it and revise it again), and practice, practice, practice. Absolutely none of this is related to race,” Otis continued. “It does, however, tend to be reflected in one’s academic record at rigorous undergraduate schools, and on tests that have been shown to measure achievement in these specific disciplines,” he said.

Georgetown’s decision is the latest incident in an increasingly widespread pattern and practice within academia of changing standards with the goal of boosting diversity. The very same day Georgetown announced its policy, the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law revealed a similar new policy, announcing it would also begin to take GREs into account instead of LSATs.

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In July, Rhode Island introduced legislation requiring school districts to record and report detailed information about the individual ethnic backgrounds of their Asian students. Critics say the move is designed to prevent students of Chinese descent from getting accepted into college over students from other South East Asian populations.

“This data will easily be manipulated to advance race-based policies,” Chinese-American activist Jianhao Chen wrote in a protest letter to Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Critics of these sorts of policies contend East Asians in particular have been discriminated against, despite being a minority, for having high levels of academic achievement.

Harvard University is currently the subject of a lawsuit which maintains that the university rejects prospective Asian students in favor of less-qualified students solely because of their race.

“It falls afoul of our most basic civil rights principles, and those principles are that your race and your ethnicity should not be something to be used to harm you in life nor help you in life,” Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, the organization that is suing Harvard, told The New York Times last week.

Otis, the professor at Georgetown Law, said the academic world has a choice to make.

“The question comes down to whether we are dedicated to excellence,” said Otis. “If we want something else, let’s say so directly and understand that excellence is going to get diluted.”

Republished with permission from LifeZette via iCopyright license.

  • Eve Smith

    I don’t see how this is “lowering standards.” The GRE is a stiff exam, taken by people seeking admission to grad school for a Ph.D. It’s just not as sharply focused as the LSAT on legal skills. The “diversity” being sought here will be in intellectual strengths and maybe academic backgrounds: They’ll be able to pull in people who have spent their time in fields far from law, people whose style has been more theoretical or more emotional or more physical than the “practical reasoning” that is legal reasoning, but who might be very bright and very able to learn to “think like a lawyer” with a bit of time and training. They’ll also be able to attract people who aren’t sure whether they want law school or grad school, thus have to take the GRE, and don’t want to have to take both; again, these could be very desirable students, in that the law often needs expertise in other topics (statistics, science, economics, whatever) yet most law students and lawyers are narrowly competent in traditional legal analysis. Why does everyone assume this is about race?

    • Alan Black

      It IS about race.

  • Mary

    Universities are not pillars of low expectations. CSU system in California will not test for math and language placement as the students cannot meet the goals.

  • Meg

    Before long, all they will have to do is just show up to get a degree.