On Monday we briefly mentioned a case in which a student who worked in the admissions office at the law school revealed the truth about affirmative action at Georgetown. The incident is illustrative as it shows the extreme lengths the University will go to avoid talking about the issue and keep it shrouded in secrecy.
But Georgetown isn't alone in its desire to keep hidden the facts surrounding affirmative action and the role it plays in admissions. Both liberal groups and university administrations nationwide try to keep the information secret. One researcher in California had to take to court the University of California system to get the information, and others have been blocked in their attempts to examine the relevant data for the purposes of scholarly research in the hopes of determining affirmative action's efficacy as a social program.
More recently another researcher at the University of Arkansas sued his own school to force it to comply with the state's open-records law, but instead of merely letting the issue be litigated (or even easier, following the law and releasing the data), the school retaliated and accused him of being a racist then initiated an investigation into his teaching practices. There is a court hearing over the matter set for later this month.
Lately there have been efforts by reporters and researchers to get colleges and universities, in the interests of fairness and transparency, to release the data. At TGA, we think Georgetown should do the same and make the information available for examination. We've already sent private emails to the Georgetown administration over this matter, but have so far been ignored.
As you'll see tomorrow in our examination of University policy regarding affirmative action, the administration talks out of both sides of its mouth and avoids honest discussion of the issue. This is not just sad and indicative of an extreme lack of confidence in University policy, but is also inappropriate at a Catholic university where integrity and truth are key precepts and supposed to be highly valued.
As we showed on Tuesday and Wednesday, affirmative action harms its purported beneficiaries. Not only are students mismatched, but their long-term professional opportunities and income are also affected. And of course there is also the unfortunate stigma attached to members of groups which receive affirmative action, even though not all members of the group received special treatment when it comes to admissions or hiring.
We suspect the University will not release the data regarding affirmative action, but in the interest of fairness, transparency, and justice, we are formally and publicly requesting they do so. If, as some of the supporters of affirmative action claim, the program works and is neither discriminatory nor detrimental, then it seems to us the University would not only want to release this information, but would shout it from the rooftops. Instead, they take elaborate steps to keep the data hidden and punish those willing to speak up.
Don't believe us?
Then read some more about how the matter has been handled at Georgetown . . .
Secrecy has always been an important element of any race-preferential admissions policy. Consider, for example, the case of Timothy Maguire. In early 1991, this third-year law student and former Peace Corps volunteer took a job as a part-time file clerk in the Georgetown University Law Center admissions office, figuring it would be an easy way to earn some extra money without cutting too much into his study time. He never dreamed of the trouble he was getting into: In a few weeks, he would be vilified by the Georgetown University faculty, his fellow students, and the editorial pages of some of the nation’s major newspapers. Over the course of the next year and a half, he would be fighting for his right to practice law.
Maguire had heard many times that affirmative action was all about putting a gentle thumb on the scale in favor of minority applicants. It was a tiebreaker, nothing more. But the admissions files he was seeing told a different story. The gap in academic credentials between white and African-American admittees was very stark.
Maguire therefore decided to do a test. Taking what he regarded as a random sample of the files, he did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations and found that the average white student accepted to the law school had an LSAT score of 43 and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.7. The average accepted black student, on the other hand, had an LSAT score of 36 and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.2. To put those figures in perspective, an LSAT score of 43 was just shy of the top 5 percent among those who took the exam. A score of 36, on the other hand, was only in the top 30 percent.
To be sure, students in the top 30 percent are good students, all fully capable of becoming, in one form or another, successful lawyers. They are more typical, however, of law schools like Drexel University, the University of Louisville, and the University of Nevada than they are of highly competitive, academically oriented schools like Georgetown, which holds itself out as a law school for outstanding students, not just for good students. Rightly or wrongly, the admissions office would not have given a white student with an LSAT score of 36 and an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 a second glance: Of over 100 white admittees sampled, not a single one had an LSAT score under 39.
Maguire published his findings in the student-run newspaper, the Georgetown Law Weekly, along with an essay critical of the school’s separate and less-demanding admissions standards for African Americans. He called the credentials of white and African-American admittees “dramatically unequal” and argued that Georgetown was being dishonest in failing to inform its students about the gap. The failure to disclose the credentials problem made enrolling a racially diverse class seem easy, he wrote. It made it appear that if the school did not have enough African-American students, it was because the school just did not care enough to reach out and encourage them to attend.
The campus erupted. Within days, the Black Law Students Association had filed a formal complaint demanding that Maguire be expelled. The next week, 600 Georgetown law students crammed into a lecture hall for an emotionally charged “town meeting,” while others spilled over into another classroom to watch the event on closed-circuit television.
Maguire had obviously touched a raw nerve. “The central issue is racism,” said a white female second-year law student. “I think the article is assaultive. People were injured. I think this kind of speech is outrageous.” Another student called the article an attempt to chill Georgetown’s “commitment to legal education for African Americans.”
While they were not numerous, a few students defended Maguire, who had decided not to attend the meeting himself. Third-year student Adam Magazine told the crowd that affirmative action had been “swept under the rug before, because white people were afraid to say anything and black people felt threatened.” Maguire was thus performing a service of sorts by getting the issue into the open. “Are we really going to say that because we don’t like what [Maguire] said we are going to throw him out of school?” he asked.
Magazine’s question may have been intended as rhetorical, but it was not treated as such. Shouts of “Yes!” rang up from some in the crowd. Tempers were flaring.
All during the meeting, Dean Judith Areen blandly assured the crowd that Maguire had gotten his facts wrong. The gap was not what he suggested it is—or so she implied. She steadfastly refused, however, to provide the actual figures or to provide any details whatsoever as to Georgetown’s actual affirmative action policy. This caused even supporters some unease. “Affirmative action is a good thing,” said a male first-year student. “But so much of what we’re saying today is in the dark, because the administration won’t give us the facts."
As the story leaked out to the mainstream press, Dean Areen kept up her assurances that Maguire had gotten it wrong and that his “random sample” was not random at all. Maguire had evidently taken a large pile of admissions files representing students who had been admitted, but he had no way of knowing whether that pile was really a random sample.
Following her lead, The New York Times editorialized that Maguire was “without the scarcest hint that he knows what a random sample is.” Even if true, this was harsher than necessary for the Times editors to make their point. This was a law student they were attacking, a law student writing in a school newspaper who was no doubt astonished to find himself suddenly thrust onto the national stage. Surely, the editors of one of the world’s leading newspapers could pick on someone their own size.
But the editors showed no mercy. They went on to ridicule Maguire, accusing him of writing “pretentiously” and stating that “he has learned very little” and “hasn’t a clue about the broad purpose of a great law school.” The raw nerve that Maguire had touched evidently had dendrites reaching into the editorial offices of The New York Times. If anyone had ever had any doubt about whether it was safe to talk critically about affirmative action in public, that doubt would be erased by this incident.
As it turned out, Maguire was more likely understating the gap than overstating it. Shortly after the controversy exploded, an internal memorandum surfaced, the authenticity of which was confirmed to The Washington Post by university sources. Authored by Georgetown admissions director Andrew Cornblatt, it stated that the median LSAT score for full-time African-American students at Georgetown in 1989 “increased to 33, up from 32 last year and 30 two years ago.” According to the memorandum, the median for the entering class as a whole in 1989 was 42, which would make Maguire’s figure of 43 for white students in all likelihood on target.
A score of 33 was not quite in the 56th percentile, and a score of 32 was in the 52nd percentile. Both scores were thus quite ordinary among test takers nationally. Among actual law students, however, they were below average, since low scorers on the LSAT frequently do not attend any law school. A score of 30 was in the 41st percentile—below the average for test takers and much below the average for actual law students.
In the midst of the fury over his article, Maguire was charged by the school with violating confidentiality (although he had disclosed no individual information and had published only the kind of information found in the Cornblatt memorandum and reported to the American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report). The case was to be tried by a panel of two professors and one student, and possible sanctions included expulsion. Fortunately for Maguire, his lawyers were able to negotiate a settlement with Georgetown. Rather than being expelled, he was issued a letter of reprimand and allowed to graduate.
This did not sit well with everyone. An unhappy faculty group accused the administration of “a panicked reaction” that failed to “celebrate and vigorously defend” affirmative action. On graduation day, approximately a month and a half after publication of the offending article, a number of students wore green ribbons to protest the settlement. A few carried placards like the one that read, “Ethics … A Meaningless Word.” A group of about 10 African-American alumni, calling themselves the Concerned Black Law Alumni of the Georgetown University Law Center, staged their own muted protest.
Unfortunately for Maguire, the story did not end there. After graduation, Maguire took and passed the New Jersey bar examination. But he was found to be unfit for the practice of law by a panel of the Committee on Character. Only after protracted litigation was he finally able to practice the profession for which he had trained.
After such a story, no one should be surprised to learn that only a small number of intrepid souls are willing to bring the facts about affirmative action to public light or even to debate it. As far as I have been able to determine, Maguire himself never commented again on the subject in public.
Tomorrow we conclude our series.
Those interested in submitting rebuttals are welcome to do so and we'll publish them next week. Also, feel free to speak out in the comments section below.