Minority enrollment suffers at public law schools

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LANSING — Michigan public law schools are admitting fewer minority students than most of the state’s private law schools, a new study shows.

The reason, experts say, is a 2006 constitutional provision, Proposal 2, which prohibits public colleges and universities from considering the race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin of applicants.

The University of Michigan and Wayne State University have public law schools with 22 and 16 percent minority enrollment, respectively.

The state’s private schools are Michigan State University, Thomas M. Cooley and the University of Detroit Mercy. The minority enrollment rate for these institutions ranges from 19 to 27 percent.

Comparatively, Michigan’s population is 24 percent minority, according to the 2010 census.

Officials at both U-M and Wayne State said that Proposal 2 makes it difficult to compete with private law schools, which can consider race and ethnicity of applicants.

“Prior to 2006, our African-American student population was around 20 percent. This year our African-American student population was 5 percent,” said Ericka Jackson, dean of admissions at Wayne State.

“Similarly, the same statistic is true for Hispanic and Latino and even Asian-Americans. We have seen dips in our numbers, and that is directly linked to Proposal 2.”

On March 7, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will consider whether Proposal 2 violates the U.S. Constitution.

Jackson would like to see it overturned. “I definitely think it would help level the playing field in terms of the students we are able to attract and recruit.”

U-M is one of the few public law schools in the nation’s top 10 law schools and competes with top private schools for students. Many private schools offer scholarships based on minority status, said Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at U-M.

The top private law schools in the country have close to 30 percent minority students, according the Law School Admissions Council.

“Any minority student that we are able to admit at Michigan is going to be admitted at the very best law schools in the country, because every other top school can take race into account at admissions,” Zearfoss said.

Public and private institutions agree that diversity is essential.

“It’s sad to see such a huge decline in minority representation in law school, because if you take a look at the populations that are probably in most need of legal assistance and representation, it tends to be minority populations,” Jackson said.

MSU Law Dean Joan Howarth said MSU is successful in building diversity in its classes and is committed to doing so because experience with diversity is essential in training lawyers.

U-M’s Zearfoss said, “We very much value diversity. It is just that we are hampered by law with the way we can achieve it.”

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