SAN FRANCISCO — Unlike its sister law schools at UCLA and UC Davis, UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law admitted significantly more black and Latino students this year than last, prompting some UC regents Thursday to question if it had developed a way to get around the ban on affirmative action.
Regent Ward Connerly led the board in peppering the law school's dean with questions about how it managed to increase the admission of African American students by 77% although applications from blacks fell by 20% this year.
"I take it at faith that we didn't use race," said Connerly, the regent who orchestrated the ban on racial preferences. "But how did you do it?"
Boalt Law Dean Herma Hill Kay said that although many factors played a role, the school was able to pick more blacks this year because the pool of African American applicants had much higher grades and Law School Admission Test scores than in the past.
She also suggested that academically weaker black and Latino students were no longer applying to Boalt Hall, believing that they did not stand much of a chance without affirmative action.
Kay and other UC administrators were summoned before the Board of Regents by Connerly, who has made it his mission to discourage practices based on race.
On Thursday, he questioned not only the law school admissions but ethnic studies programs and graduation ceremonies staged by black and Latino student groups.
"Are ethnic studies courses valuable and critical to the university's mission?" Connerly asked. "Or have, in fact, these diversity courses from a feel-good time in the 1960s outlived their usefulness. . . . It is time we reexamine all of this."
On the issue of who gets into law school, Kay spent more than an hour explaining Boalt's "subjective" admissions process. Besides evaluating students on grades and test scores, admission officers give added weight to candidates who come from poverty or those whose background and experiences give them a potential voice to contribute to classroom discussions.
But that was not the reason for the increased admissions of blacks, Kay said. To the contrary, she said, Boalt administrators found that giving weight to low socioeconomic status did more to boost the chances of poor whites and Asian Americans than Latinos or blacks.
She said Boalt officials are reconsidering this and other admissions criteria in their effort to pick a diverse group of students next year.
Regent John Davies said he was disturbed to hear that Boalt was continually adjusting its admissions policy in an effort to find "a proxy for race."
"I wish we would see less tinkering with the admission process and more recruiting," he said.
Boalt officials say they admitted 18 African American students last year--three more than original reports--but none actually enrolled, all choosing other law schools.
This year, Kay said, six of the 32 black students said they plan to show up for classes in the fall. Although school officials hope to persuade others to attend, such top minority students generally have their pick of schools--and Boalt does not expect to get most of them.
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UC Law School Admissions
UCLA and UC Davis law schools admitted fewer black and Latino students than last year, when the ban on affirmative action first took effect. But the number of admitted students from these minority groups soared at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall, prompting questions from UC Regents. Not all applicants who are admitted enroll.
1997 1998 % Change American Indian 2 4 +100% African American 18 32 +77% Latino 46 60 +30% Asian American 149 143 -4% White/Other 645 618 -4% Total 860 857 -0%
1997 1998 % Change American Indian 5 7 +40% African American 21 17 -19% Latino 74 45 -39% Asian American 200 167 -16% White/Other 707 596 -16% Total 1,007 832 -17%
1997 1998 % Change American Indian 7 7 0% African American 20 17 -15% Latino 50 50 0% Asian American 128 179 +40% White/Other 600 540 -10% Total 805 793 -1%
Source: University of California