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A national survey of this year’s crop of new law school students seeks to apply objective numbers to a subjective and controversial question that attorneys — including justices of the U.S. Supreme Court — have long argued. Question: How does student diversity affect the learning experience? In addition to ethnicity, race, income level and sex, the 13-page survey asks students at 68 campuses around the country a number of hot-button questions. Categories include: � Lifetime experience in terms of discrimination � Attitudes and beliefs on social and political matters � Law school expectations � Career aspirations and expectations of the legal world According to Professor Charles E. Daye of the University of North Carolina School of Law, who originally proposed the survey, a statistical finding of response variables based on socioeconomic factors would provide law schools and other institutions with a scientific basis for advocating the value of student diversity. Six local campuses — New York University School of Law, Syracuse University College of Law, City University of New York School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Albany Law School and the University at Buffalo Law School — have been asked to participate in “The Educational Diversity Project: An Empirical Assessment of Race and Other Factors.” The estimated $500,000 cost of the study, conducted by legal, psychological and sociological academics at the University of North Carolina and the University of California at Los Angeles, is being underwritten in stages by the Law School Admission Council of Newtown, Pa. The study results — with a preliminary report due next spring — take on added impetus in light of two affirmative action decisions handed down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases arising out of the University of Michigan and its law school. In Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, a majority of justices affirmed that campus diversity enhanced education for all students. Writing for the majority in Grutter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said of benefits referenced by amicus briefs:
These benefits are not only theoretical but real, as major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints. Moreover … individuals with law degrees occupy roughly half the state governorships, more than half the seats in the United States Senate, and more than a third of the seats in the United States House of Representatives. In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to the talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.

But given the history of racial division in the United States, a divide that remains very much a part of the nation’s courts, Professor Daye suggested that decisions Grutter and Gratz may not be the last word in the complexity of polyglot America. Crediting law school officials and others with enlightened intentions and racial goodwill, Daye asks, “Can you empirically demonstrate the assumption that a lot of people bring to this question?” In discussing the matter with colleagues, he said, “Sociologists told me that the hardest things to investigate are the most obvious.” Prompting Daye’s investigation was a 1996 opinion handed down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. Texas, 861 F., Supp. 551, which prohibited the University of Texas Law School from considering race in admissions determination. The court found, “The use of race, in and of itself, to choose students simply achieves a student body that looks different.” Such a criterion, according to the 5th Circuit decision, “is no more rational on its own terms than would be choices based upon the physical size or blood type of applicants.” Daye begged to differ. “I’m a 60-year-old African American male who grew up in the South. I do believe my experiences were different when I enrolled in [Columbia Law School] 1966 than those of my white classmates who’d grown up in Connecticut,” he said. “If we’d been asked our worldviews, I think we would have seen some variances in things. “Nobody wants to claim that all black people think alike. Look at Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas,” said Daye. “Nor is anybody claiming that all white people think alike. But we only know these things intuitively.” Law firms and campus officials contacted by the New York Law Journal were intrigued by the work of Daye and his colleagues. “Thank God they’re doing it,” said Kristin Booth Glen, dean of CUNY Law School. CUNY was found to be the nation’s most diverse campus in a survey conducted last year by U.S. News & World Report magazine. “One of the things I like about this very systematic study is that it not only looks at race, it looks at class. We don’t know how race and class and gender might aggregate, but it will be interesting.” Edwin Bowman, diversity manager for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said whatever the results might be, “It’s a snapshot that could be very helpful in getting us to assess the things we need to be aware of. Just awareness, all by itself, gives you a way of being proactive in terms of how you treat people, how you deal with things that bother them.” Christine Cesare, a partner in the New York office of Bryan Cave and a member of the firm’s diversity steering committee, said the study would provide further dimension in communications with young lawyers. “Understanding what law students expect and desire is a very valuable tool for us, in terms of recruiting and retention and helping us to craft [associate development] programs,” she said. With reference to numerous studies showing that the law, as an industry, has lagged behind other enterprises in opening its doors to women and minorities, Cesare added, “You’re always much more successful if you bring in people who can contribute different perspectives and backgrounds. When we do that, we provide our clients with better advice.”

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