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Confessions of a Law School Admissions Officer By: Robert H. Heidt
The Indianapolis Star | Tuesday, January 14, 2003

By implication, the legal challenge to race discrimination in admissions at the Michigan Law School now before the Supreme Court of the United States also challenges the race discrimination in admissions at the Indiana University Law School in Bloomington.

As at Ann Arbor, we at Bloomington enforce a de facto quota of the minimum number of blacks and other minorities we are determined to enroll in each first-year law school class. And as at Ann Arbor, we engineer our admissions process to guarantee that when the first-year class shows up in late August, our de facto quota will once again be met.

We differ in that to meet our de facto quota, we regularly lower our usual standards of admission more than our counterparts at Michigan lower theirs. For example, to meet our de facto quota of blacks in each first-year class, we deviate from our usual standards of admission more than any remotely comparable law school is willing to do. In fact, of all the law schools in the country approved by the American Bar Association, none regularly lowers its standards of admission for affirmative action purposes as much as we do. As a result, black applicants whose low grades, LSAT scores and extracurricular record would otherwise win admission only to Howard Law School in Washington, D.C., regularly win admission from us. And the overwhelming majority of applicants -- perhaps 80 percent -- for whom we lower our standards so drastically are from out of state.

Such is the affirmative action admissions policy we at the IU Bloomington Law School have followed for more than 30 years. We follow a similarly heavy-handed affirmative action policy for financial aid and faculty recruitment.

A policy however well-meaning in the abstract can feel foul to those given the job of implementing it. And in my four years on the admissions committee, routinely leapfrogging minority applicants over so many dramatically more qualified non-minority applicants, foul is how our affirmative action policy came to feel. Seeing the photographs and reading the record and personal statements of non-minority applicants whom we rejected in order to admit the far less qualified left me feeling as though I should wash. Eventually, I could not acquiesce in this policy any longer.

To be sure, every applicant has something positive in his or her record to which an admissions officer can point in order to justify admission. The great weight given race and ethnicity only becomes apparent when one sees the many positives in the records of those non-minority applicants denied admission.

Roughly speaking, to meet our de facto quotas, we must leapfrog less qualified minority applicants over approximately 330 more qualified non-minority applicants each year, many of whom, of course, will be Indiana residents.

Predictably, my opposition to our policy has been futile. Memos of my concerns -- concerns now taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court -- received no reply. As I said to the Indiana Policy Review in submitting a statistical report on our policy a few months ago, "On this subject the faculty and administration are entrenched in a Thermopylae of poor judgment and blocked imagination from which apparently no force on earth can dislodge us."

How entrenched we are in our policy may be revealed if the Supreme Court strikes down as unconstitutional Michigan's policy. Just recently, the IU administration, in an article published in our local newspaper, denied ever discriminating in favor of blacks and minorities in admissions. One cannot help but admire such brazenness. However, many fervent supporters of our policy are idealists, and, as the saying goes, the first thing an idealist will do for his ideals is lie.

Even if IU eventually 'fesses up, it still has left a host of technical claims about how the Supreme Court's decree does not apply to us, not to mention the options of delay and defiance. I believe that bringing a colorblind admissions policy to IU will require the determination of state legislators who are not afraid to use their control of our purse strings and who are savvy enough not to expect good-faith compliance from the faculty and administration.

But no court, not even the Supreme Court, can light such a fire under our state legislators. The match for that fire can only be struck by the people of Indiana.

Heidt, who teaches law at Indiana University in Bloomington and who has sat on the school's admissions committee, is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.

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