Law admission policies questioned

By Kevin Lyons

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series on affirmative action at NIU’s College of Law. Today’s piece focuses on NIU’s policies and possible discrimination within the admission process.

The admissions policies at the University of California at Berkeley’s law school and NIU’s are not the same, but the question of whether NIU’s policies are discriminatory lingers.

In the past three years, law school minority enrollment at NIU has been on the rise.

Figures comparing the last three entering classes show a positive trend in minority enrollment, which NIU and the law school have been striving to attain for years.

The most amazing jump in minority enrollment occurred between 1990 and 1991. During that time, the College of Law first-year minority enrollment soared from 10 to 25 percent.

James Alfini, dean of the College of Law, said these increases are due to aggressive minority recruitment and a rise in minority applications.

General applicant numbers have been rising steadily by nearly 300 students per year. However, in 1991 and 1992, the percentage of those applicants who identified themselves as minorities remained the same.

In both years, 15 percent of the applicants were minorities. In 1991, 10 percent of the students accepted were minorities, while there was 25 percent first-year minority enrollment in 1992.

“The 25 percent minority goal just happened,” Alfini said.

He said he thought it was very likely that the 1991 minority class simply had more qualifications.

The 1978 Bakke decision outlawed reverse discrimination, but said that race, gender, ethnicity and background may play a role in the admissions process.

At NIU’s law school, the weight that those factors hold is entirely left to the discretion of the faculty committee. There are no specific guidelines that say which factors should hold more weight in the admissions process, Alfini said.

“We may eventually have to consider changing to an automatic admit system because of the volume of applications,” Alfini said. However, Alfini said he didn’t see anything wrong with the current system.

One of the major issues in the Cal-Berkeley decision, according to the Department of Education, was the issue of quotas.

It said that goals set up to ensure a first-year class of between 23 and 27 percent minorities were merely another description of a quota.

Although Boalt Hall officials denied having quotas, the federal government said it did.

A letter from the Department of Education to Boalt Hall officials stated: “The manner in which race and ethnicity were considered had the effect of circumscribing competition and effectively excluding applicants from consideration for available positions based on their race or ethnicity.”