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Pidgeonholed

Diane Curtis’ article (December) on Professor Sander’s study regarding the effect of affirmative action programs on black law students was interesting, but it omitted one other effect of these programs on minority students — namely, the assumption by some portion of the legal community that any student from an affirmative action school must have gotten into the school only because of the affirmative action program.

During my years at USC Law School (1987-1990), I was personally acquainted with a number of black and other minority students who were extremely well-qualified to attend the school of their choice. A number of those students were accepted at UCLA Law School as well as USC and other schools, but specifically chose not to attend UCLA because they did not want to get pigeonholed as affirmative action students when they went into the job market. I suspect they were not the only ones who felt that way, and I suspect this problem has unfortunately not yet disappeared.

As such, highly qualified minority students are subjected to pervasive discrimination as a direct result of a program the benefits of which they did not need in the first place. While Professor Sander’s study seems to have focused on the students who are admitted to schools through affirmative action programs, it is also the case that schools with such programs do a disservice to their minority students who do not need artificial preferences and special standards to compete with the best.

D. Scott Abernethy
Placentia

Financial constraints make a difference

I do not have empirical evidence to refute Professor Sander’s claims that African-American law students attain weaker grades in law school. However, I question the usage of passing the bar admission examination as a useful factor per se.

I attended UCLA School of Law and fared well. I began my law school education after four years in the Navy and thoroughly enjoyed the return to academics. At UCLA, I received an excellent law education in the sense of thinking and analyzing as an attorney should. However, as excellent a legal education I received in an academic sense, the courses were not necessarily the best preparation for the bar admission examination, either the essays or the multi-state multiple-choice portions.

My class was one of the first in which affirmative action gave an opportunity for minority students, primarily African-American and Hispanic, to attend the law school. While minorities were well represented among my classmates, I was struck by the lack — zero — of minority students in the largest bar admission preparatory course I attended. I have concluded that many minority students did not attend the preparatory course because of financial constraints. Without that preparation, they were not competing on a level playing field with those of us who had. Does Professor Sander’s data take into consideration the passage rate of those who do and do not take preparatory classes?

Howard C. Cohen
San Diego

An obligation to do more

Recent studies show that while 45 percent of children in California public schools are Latinos, only 2 percent graduate as UC-eligible. Overall, while more than 42 percent of California’s high school graduates are black, Latino, and Native Ameri-cans, those groups together make up 14.8 percent of UC Berkeley’s freshman admits. This year, black students comprised only 2.5 percent and 2.3 per cent of UC Berkeley’s and UCLA’s freshman admits, respectively. With these kind of numbers for undergraduates, the problem only gets worse at law schools.

These numbers are the effect of Propositions 13 and 209. As public schools have received less money, the quality of public education has gone down, especially in low-income areas where primarily minorities live. That, coupled with Proposition 209’s dictates, has resulted in the lowering of minorities at public law schools. We as a society have an obligation to do more, not less, as Prof. Sander proposes.

If “mismatches” have resulted from the affirmative action programs, as Sander puts it, it is not due to the admission of minorities at educational institutions. Rather, they have resulted from the mistaken idea that all that needed to be done was to admit minority students from generally inadequately funded schools and expect them to survive.

What is needed in addition to the affirmative action programs are academic support programs to assist those students who were cheated of an adequate education in their first 12 years of schooling. I teach at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where such a program has increased the success rate of the disadvantaged students of all races and ethnic groups that are admitted through a special admissions program.

Our state cannot continue on its present course. Rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we should look at ways to help the babies reach the maximum of their potential. Eliminating affirmative action has not accomplished that.

Connie de la Vega
Professor of Law University of San Francisco School of Law

A bunch of swill

What Sander and white people in general are loathe to admit is that the discrepancies in performance and other measures that exist between whites and other groups — discrepancies which they love to recite in support of their oft-times subconscious, yet readily-transparent racist inclinations — are a direct function of the preferential treatment systematically, historically and perpetually accorded to whites in every area of western society in general and U.S. society in particular. Only a person whose pigmentation accords them virtual automatic entree to the full panoply of white privilege could draw the specious conclusion that people of color would do better in the legal profession if we didn’t admit so many of them in the first place.

White folks’ persistent resistance to affirmative action, while basking in its glow since time immemorial, speaks volumes about their emotional dishonesty and utter inability to face themselves squarely as it relates to their racism and their historical and systematic exclusion of other groups.

The intensity and persistence of that resistance is telling: at its height, affirmative action may have increased the presence of non-whites in various professions by mere percentage points, but apparently this has been enough to send white people into a real panic. (If we keep admitting people of color at current affirmative action levels, their numbers in the profession might reach upwards of . . . what . . . 3, 4, 10 percent? And then we have to add those people of color who don’t matriculate through affirmative action programs, too?)

Thus, according to Sander’s logic, we’d be better off not admitting them at all, so they could what? Do better? The real point is this: whatever minimal gains have been made as a result of affirmative action, it has never been at any level that poses a threat to white hegemony.

Sander’s argument is illogical, indefensible, insupportable and racist. Pure swill. I don’t care if he was married to a black woman.

Aundré M. Herron
San Francisco

Take that, lefties!

I applaud David Gettis for pointing out how the Conference of Delegates in particular and (for that matter) the State Bar in general is alienating members who don’t subscribe to the far-left views expressed in their name.

I know that, during the 1990s, because of the bar’s leftist politics, I for one fiddled while the bar burned.

Mark Siegel
Fresno

The truly disabled

It is Mr. Crowell, and those who think like him, who are “disabled,” not Ms. Male, or those like her who meet each day with challenges most of us cannot comprehend (December letters). A brief stint (months) in a body cast and using crutches after a car accident helped me to learn about the challenges that our able-bodied environments throw up unthinkingly.

I hope by now the very able Ms. Male has had lots of job offers from thinking employers

Valerie Stewart
Fremont

Can’t get a job

I read the August article about disabled attorneys and the subsequent letters to the editor with great interest. As an attorney diagnosed with AIDS, I am aware of the lack of employment opportunities for disabled attorneys. Although I completed my third year of law school and prepared for the bar after my diagnosis, I have been unable to find work as a practicing attorney, even though I can do a full day’s work at home, researching memoranda and briefs.

In this era of telecommuting, I would be an asset to a firm that values good research skills and good writing.

It is discouraging that I am not benefiting from equal opportunity policies for disabled persons. Yet I appreciate very much your efforts on behalf of equality for disabled attorneys in the California State Bar.

Jeffrey M. Ginsberg
Fairfax

Appalled by bar’s position

I read your article in November regarding a requirement for mediators and arbitrators who happen to be lawyers to maintain active status to so serve and was appalled by the bar’s position.

The most telling argument against the requirement is that acting as a mediator or arbitrator is not considered the practice of law. There are many non-lawyers in both roles, often serving constituencies where knowledge of the particular trade or profession is far more important than knowledge of the law.

Why should lawyers who fully leave active practice to act as mediators or arbitrators face a requirement that a bricklayer who mediates masonry disputes or an accountant who arbitrates accounting disputes does not? Will pastors who help settle disputes among their flock have to also become members of the bar?

This whole thing appears to be aimed at retired judges who have found they can make a far better living working for JAMS or the like than they could working for the State of California. My mother told me that when someone says, “it’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing,” it is virtually always about the money. The State Bar should either look to other sources or reduce expenses if it finds itself short of funds.

Pete Axelrod
San Rafael

Watch where you’re going

I get your publication periodically. My favorite part is Trials Digest. In December, you report a case where a grocery shopper tripped and fell over some boxes left in an aisle by an employee. Hey! Watch where you’re going! The verdict — $1,086,603! Over a million dollars for tripping over a box? It’s hilarious. You lawyers sure know how to screw people.

John Y. Torres
Oakland

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