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Monday, January 23, 2006

Florida Administration Responds to Student Petition on Diversity

Florida_1On Sunday, we blogged press reports of a student petition at Florida complaining about the lack of diversity in the faculty and student body.  Associate Dean George Dawson yesterday sent this memo to the faculty in response to the petition:

Colleagues

Yesterday, many of you saw a copy of a one page open, unsigned letter addressed to Dean Jerry. The letter asserts that the "current numbers [of students enrolled in the group that began their legal study this month] leave little doubt that this administration lacks concern over improving cultural diversity at the law school." It goes on to state that "positive strides can be - and should be - taken by this administration to allay our concerns about the direction our law school is heading," and urges (1) reinstatement of the MPLE scholarships; (2) active recruitment of a broader pool of students; and (3) seeking active assistance from student organizations in mentoring and recruiting students. The administration of the College of Law recognizes that diversity in the legal profession is an important goal not only of the College, but also of many other groups, including the judiciary and the bar. It shares this goal and is committed to continuing and strengthening our efforts to recruit and enroll students of color in the College of Law.

The College welcomes assistance from student organizations in achieving this goal. It is important to note that the MPLE scholarship program was not a College of Law program, but one that was initiated and funded by the State of Florida and open to students attending all of the law schools in the state. Regrettably, in May 2002 the Florida Legislature enacted an immediate phase-out of the MPLE program. The justification for eliminating the MPLE program was two-fold. First, the state approved funding for two new state law schools at universities that traditionally enrolled large numbers of students of color: Florida A&M University and Florida International University. Second, the Legislature concluded that, pursuant to One Florida, all race-based scholarships sponsored by the state should be eliminated. One Florida prohibits the College of Law, and all other State University System schools, from considering the race of applicants when making admissions decisions.

Much of the text of the letter also contains data on which the letter writers base a conclusion that the College is "at the very bottom of all the top AAU public law schools" in percentages of people of color in its student body. This statement is incorrect. The letter writers have used incorrect data and have misperceived or misunderstood other data.

As a result, their conclusions about the enrollment of students of color, and the relative effectiveness of the College of Law in diversifying its student body, are wrong. First, it is correct that 17 students of color began their legal studies in January, 2006 - 2 Asian students, 7 Black students, and 8 Latino students. However, only 91 total students began their legal studies at that time, so the percentage of students of color in the group is 18.7, not 17% as the writers assert. Far more important is the fact that the percentage of students in the complete 2005 entering class is 22.8, well above the percentage reported by the letter writers. The 91 students who began their studies in January represent only a portion of a unitary class selected from a single pool of applicants in the spring of 2005. There was no separate application and selection process for the students who began their legal studies this January. Some of these students (207) began their studies in August 2005 and the balance (91) started in January 2006. Of the 298 students in the total class, there are 12 Asian students, 26 Black students, 29 Hispanic students, and 1 Native American student. This total of 68 students of color in a class of 298 constitutes an overall percentage of students of color of 22.8.

Finally, to support their conclusion that the College of Law was "at the very bottom," the writers of the letter cited percentages of students of color at a number of public law schools. They appear to have obtained their data from the 2006 Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. The percentages they cite for other law schools, however, are of students of color in the entire student body (all years) and not the percentages for first year students alone. Thus, their numbers are misleading because they compare percentages derived from different groups of students: first year students at the College of Law, and all students at other law schools. When the percentages of students of color in the first year classes at all of the law schools are used, the College of Law certainly is not "at the very bottom." Those first year class percentages for the comparator schools, and the correct percentage for the College's complete 2005 entering class, appear below:

    1. University of Illinois 37.3%
    2. University of California, Berkeley 35.3%
    3. University of California, Davis 33.8%
    4. University of Texas 31.8%
    5. University of Arizona 31.6%
    6. University of Maryland 30.6%
    7. University of Wisconsin 30.1%
    8. University of California, Los Angeles 29%
    9. University of Michigan 26.4%
    10. Ohio State University 26.2%
    11. University of Colorado 25%
    12. University of Florida 22.8%
    13. University of North Carolina 20.7%
    14. University of Minnesota 17.7%
    15. University of Washington 17.1%
    16. University of Virginia 16.9%
    17. University of Iowa 15.9%

Finally, it is important to emphasize that under One Florida the College of Law is prohibited from considering the race of applicants when making admissions decisions. Most of the other law schools on the list above are not subject to such a prohibition. The College of Law recognizes that it is vital to maintain and strengthen our efforts to increase diversity in law schools and in the legal profession. It also recognizes that there is room for improvement in the enrollment of students of color at the College of Law. It also is important, however, to understand the current factual situation correctly.

George

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Comments

Interesting post. Usually I wouldn't comment just to say "interesting" but I've noticed that posting is pretty slow on this blog, so I thought the feedback would be welcome, even if it is shallow or simple.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Jan 24, 2006 5:59:46 PM