UC Berkeley press release


Minority applications to UC Berkeley's law school decline 3 percent

by Lujuana Treadwell

Berkeley -- Administrators at UC Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall) report a 3 percent decline this year in the percentage of the applicant pool who identified themselves as minorities.

The demographic information concerning the applicant pool was taken from data compiled by the Law School Admission Council, the non-profit corporation that administers the Law School Admission Test.

According to the Law Services data, this year there were 4,086 applications to Boalt Hall, which will have an entering class of 270 students. Corresponding data from this time last year indicated that Boalt had received 4,621 applications. This 11.6 percent drop is consistent with a national trend toward declining law school applications. Nationwide, law school applications fell by about 9 percent this year.

Applicants to Boalt Hall who identified themselves to Law Services as minorities declined from 39.4 percent of the total pool in 1996 to 36.3 percent of the total pool in 1997. The decline occurred among African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Native Americans.

By contrast, Asian American applicants increased by 0.3 percent of the applicant pool and white/Caucasian applicants increased by 3.1 percent of the applicant pool. Nationwide, the percentage of the applicant pool who identified themselves to Law Services as minorities did not decline markedly this year.

The decline in minority applicants to Boalt Hall is worrisome to those who are trying to maintain diversity within newly imposed constraints. This is the first year that the UC Regents' decision to eliminate race and ethnicity from consideration for student admissions will be implemented at the law school.

In past years, the law school sought to achieve a racially and ethnically diverse student body through affirmative action, and it succeeded in achieving a high degree of racial and ethnic diversity. Last year, 34 percent of the entering class at Boalt Hall was composed of people of color, due in substantial part to affirmative action.

The law school believes it will not be able to maintain that level of diversity now that race and ethnicity have been eliminated as factors in the admissions process. Boalt Hall Dean Herma Hill Kay, like many other University administrators, opposed the decision to end affirmative action programs.

Responding to the data showing a decline in minority applications, Kay stated, "This decline will make it even more difficult to maintain a racially diverse student body. Even so, we are doing everything we can to maintain diversity within the alternatives open to us."

"We cannot take race or ethnicity into account in making admissions decisions," said Andrea Peterson, Boalt law professor and chair of the admissions committee. "However, we are permitted to take into account a wide variety of other factors."

"Our admissions policy provides that we are seeking a student body with a broad set of interests and backgrounds, and we invite applicants to discuss how they would contribute to the diversity of the entering class in those ways."

"We also ask applicants to describe any disadvantages that may have adversely affected their past academic performance, such as language barriers or a personal or family history of educational or socioeconomic disadvantage. If the applicant has overcome obstacles in the past, we take this into account in judging the applicant's potential to succeed in the study and practice of law."

Dean Kay emphasized that Boalt Hall greatly values the current racial diversity of its student body and has a great deal to offer students of color.

"We must do everything we can to encourage those students of color who are admitted to Boalt Hall to accept our offer," said Kay. "Minority students who enroll at Boalt Hall will find a supportive environment here. Our curriculum includes courses taught by a diverse faculty dealing with issues of concern to traditionally disadvantaged groups. Boalt students publish a range of nationally-recognized law journals, including journals that focus on legal issues specifically related to various ethnic groups. Moreover, Boalt's minority student organizations are very active in the life of the law school."

"Boalt Hall is proud of its history of admitting academically excellent and racially and ethnically diverse student bodies," said Kay. "We continue to seek a student body with a broad set of interests, backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives."

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