Minority enrollment big issue for law schools

By Kevin Lyons

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a three-part series on affirmative action at NIU’s College of Law. Today’s piece focuses on policies at the other two state law schools.

Out of the three state-funded law schools, NIU is the only the on the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s chopping block.

The law school’s minority population has been an issue for James Alfini, dean of the NIU law school, since the IBHE proposed eliminating the law school in late September as part of a streamlining process.

The two other state-subsidized law schools are low in minority enrollment but neither school has seen as dramatic an increase as NIU.

The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana uses the same admissions system NIU uses. A faculty committee handpicks applicants with no specific guidelines, said Pat Bane, the admissions coordinator for U of I’s law school.

For the past three years, U of I’s law school’s minority enrollment has remained relatively steady, Bane said.

In 1990, minority law school enrollment for first-year students was 19 percent.

In the following year, first-year minority enrollment dropped to about 16 percent at U of I.

This fall that figure was back up to 20 percent, Bane said.

Bane said that applicant files are not placed in pools, as they were at the University of California at Berkeley, which came under fire recently for enforcing illegal minority quotas in its admissions process.

Bane said she was not aware of any quotas or goals for minority enrollment.

“We’re always trying to improve, but there have never been any goals set,” Bane said.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is the other state-subsidized law school. Their minority enrollment figures have been the lowest of all three schools.

SIU uses an entirely different admission approach than NIU or U of I. They use an automatic, rolling admission system, which is also found at most private law schools, said SIU Law Professor David Johnson.

Johnson said SIU also has a faculty committee that oversees the admission process. Johnson said he is the chair of that committee.

Applicants are admitted according to their grades and LSAT scores in the first round of admission, and the remainder are considered by the faculty committee according to merit, he said.

In the past three first-year law classes at SIU, minority enrollment ranged from about 12 to 16 percent, Johnson said.

He said goals and quotas have not been applicable because of the nature of the system.

Herma Hill Kay, dean of Boalt Hall Law School at Berkeley, disagreed with the U.S. Department of Education decision against the Cal-Berkeley campus last month.

“There are no places set aside,” she said in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, adding that minority status is a “plus factor.”