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Number of Black Law Students Rebounds

Education: Aggressive recruitment, new policies revive enrollment at UC Berkeley. Last year, the first after affirmative action ban, was a 'total wipeout.'

August 18, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law announced Monday that nine African American students showed up on the first day of classes, turning around last year's "total wipeout" when none of the black students who had been accepted actually enrolled.

The number of Latinos who enrolled this year also jumped, to 24--up from 14 last year, when the prestigious law school implemented the University of California's ban on affirmative action.

Herma Hill Kay, dean of the law school, attributed the rebounding numbers to newly reconfigured admissions policies--which give extra weight to candidates whose "voice" might contribute to classroom discussions--and an aggressive recruitment drive to persuade qualified minority candidates to pick Berkeley.

Boalt Hall students invited minority applicants who had been accepted to a daylong orientation at the school last spring, which included a dinner at the home of alumnus Warren Widener, the first black mayor of Berkeley.

Alumni in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and other locations held parties for admitted law students to encourage their enrollment. And the San Francisco Bar Assn. created privately funded scholarship programs to give minority students $5,000 for each of the three years of law school--provided they attended Boalt Hall or another Bay Area institution.

"The message we were trying to get across is that Boalt Hall is not a hostile place to minority students," Kay said. "And the message is getting across."

At a luncheon for first-year students Monday, Kay said, "several of the students raised their hands, and said, 'The thing that really influenced me to come to Boalt was the time people spent with me answering questions and making me feel that I wasn't going to be the only African American.' "

That's precisely what happened last August, when none of the 16 admitted black students enrolled, prompting Kay's "total wipeout" comment. One black student, who had been admitted the year before but deferred his enrollment, showed up on the first day of classes to find himself surrounded by reporters and television cameras.

The UC system's second most competitive law school, at UCLA, does not yet have a final breakdown of this year's entering class, which arrives next week. The UCLA School of Law last year enrolled 10 blacks and 39 Latinos.

Although Kay lauded the increase in minority students at her school, she noted that the numbers still fall short of the 20 blacks and 28 Latinos who enrolled in 1996, when the university last was allowed to consider race in picking students.

The ban on affirmative action--first adopted by the UC Board of Regents and then by the voters' passage of Proposition 209--has ended such racial preferences.

Earlier this summer, Kay told the UC Board of Regents that Boalt was able to pick more blacks this year mainly because the pool of such applicants had much higher grades and test scores than in the past. She shrugged off the suggestion by some regents that the school had crafted new "subjective" admission policies to subvert the ban on using race.

In a statement Monday, however, the law school dean did give some credit to the new policies. One part was dropping a practice of giving greater weight to the grades of applicants from elite colleges while diminishing the value of grades earned on California State University campuses or at traditionally black colleges.

Admission officers also now give added weight to candidates who come from poverty or those whose background give them a different "voice" to expand classroom debates.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Class Snapshots

Here is a breakdown by race and gender if Boalt Hall's first-year class in the two years since the ban on affirmative action in admissions.

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1997 1998 Asian 47 50 Black 1 9 Latino 14 24 Am. Indian 0 2 White/Other 178 160 Declined to state 28 30 Total 268 275

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****

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1997 1998 Men 130 124 Women 138 151

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Source: University of California

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