July 12, 2011

If race preferences don't work, wouldn't you like to know?

By If race preferences don't work, wouldn't you like to know?

Author: Joshua Thompson

Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal denied rehearing in Sander v. State Bar of California. The case concerns a public records request made by UCLA Law Professor Rick Sander. Professor Sander seeks data collected by the State Bar of California detailing the bar passage of rates of students taking the California bar exam.

Professor Sander has a theory that students who receive racial preferences to attend law schools perform less well (in law school and on the bar exam) than students who receive no racial preference.  Because these students are attending law schools for which, were race not a factor, they would be unqualified, they are competing against students that are more (academically) qualified.  Accordingly, they are ill-prepared for the bar exam.  He calls his theory the "mismatch effect" — meaning students are mismatched with law schools according to their race.  For more on his theory you can follow these links.

Interesting, right?  Even if you are a proponent of racial preferences, wouldn't you like to know whether racial preferences actually work to the benefit of those they are designed to help?  Or wouldn't you like to know if they harm minorities?  That was the point of an excellent op-ed coauthored by Professor Sander and Law Professor Vikram Amar, the latter of whom is not (yet) convinced by Professor Sander's theory. 

Yet, the State Bar of California has vigorously defended releasing the data that will help Professor Sander study the effects of preferences on minority law students.  This data, regardless of what it eventually shows, can only serve to provide the public, politicians, and minorities more information for deciding whether race-preferences serve any beneficial function. It would be a sad day if minority students continue to be harmed because the State Bar stubbornly refuses to release data that would allow Professor Sander to effectively research the effects of race preferences.  Fortunately, Professor Sander has won the latest round, and while the legal battle over release of this data is surely not over, Professor Sander is one step closer to obtaining this valuable information.

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