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Some law students, faculty take stance on Civil Rights initiative
STANFORD -- Approximately half the Stanford Law School faculty and 203 of 564 Stanford law students expressed their opposition to the California Civil Rights Initiative at a campus press conference on Tuesday, April 18. Representatives of the group said the proposed initiative was "a wolf in sheep's clothing, draping its racial divisiveness and real intentions in the language of fairness and equal opportunity" while intending the opposite.
"We oppose the anti-affirmative-action initiative because it would prevent public institutions from adopting practices that have proven immensely valuable at Stanford Law School," said law Professor William Simon at the press conference attended by approximately 160 people, mostly law students, at the law school.
Simon is one of 21 regular law school faculty, from a total of 41, to endorse the group's campaign against the initiative, which supporters hope to place on a 1996 state ballot. The initiative would bar public institutions from considering race and gender in college admissions and state hiring decisions. Six visiting faculty and lecturers also endorsed the group's stand. The permanent law faculty includes 27 white males, eight white women and six ethnic minorities.
Offering the law school as an example of what affirmative action can accomplish, Daniel Weiss, a second-year law student from Los Angeles, said that 40 years ago before affirmative action, fewer than 10 percent of Stanford's law students were women or minorities. Today, he said, "more than half of Stanford law students are women and more than 20 percent are minorities. Four of the last six presidents of the Stanford Law Review have been women. Four of the last six law review presidents have also been minorities. Our vigorous and comprehensive admission standards seek to capitalize on the rich variety of ways individuals contribute to society."
Weiss and law Professor Barbara Babcock both emphasized that affirmative action is still necessary to diversify classrooms racially, although Babcock said, Stanford Law School no longer has to "reach out for women; the brightest and best come to us."
The first female professor to receive tenure at the law school, Babcock said she was proud to speak as a "beneficiary of affirmative action." In a profession that is "profoundly dependent on networks and reputation and referrals," she said, affirmative action was necessary to bring women trained in law onto the faculties of law schools.
Babcock contrasted law school student bodies and faculty today with those when she attended Yale Law School in the early 1960s. Then, 3 percent of the law students were women and 1 percent of the law faculty were women. Today, more than 40 percent of law students nationally are women, as are 24 percent of the faculty.
She also noted that the concept of affirmative action "sometimes fails. Unqualified people get in positions where they perform badly. This 'personnel-type' error did not start with affirmative action for white women and minorities of course. But human perception being what it is, we remember and remark on the errors more strongly when it is an African American, for example, who has been mistakenly advanced."
Simon, who participates in the law school admissions process by being one of the faculty readers of student applications, said that "no one is admitted to Stanford Law School purely on the basis of grades and test scores." It would be "irresponsible" to focus primarily on these numerical indicators, he said, because "there is no evidence that test results prior to or during law school reliably measure a person's abilities to perform well as a lawyer or in any of the other government and business roles law school graduates perform."
He said that the school's faculty began using "qualitative" criteria as well as test scores and grades before affirmative action was instituted because it produced a more talented mix of students.
Simon said that he feels taking race into account as one of these qualitative factors is "critical both to maintaining a stimulating educational environment and for creating a corps of graduates with members capable of responding to the full range of the society's needs for legally trained professions."
Kim Mueller, a third-year law student and former Sacramento city councilwoman, noted that women are now 30 percent of the more than 100,000 lawyers in California but hold only 7 percent of the partnerships in law firms. She accused the initiative's advocates of wanting to "devour our society's main way of achieving equal opportunity . . . under the pretense that discrimination no longer exists."
Asked whether the initiative would have any effect on Stanford, speakers said that it could indirectly cause changes, because policy for public institutions tends to have symbolic value for the private sector and might also affect how the courts view private affirmative action.
Sally Dickson, a lecturer in the law school and the director of the university's Office for Multicultural Development, said that it is likely to have one more direct effect: Stanford's applicant pool of minority students will likely increase, she said, if affirmative action is ended at public universities.
Joe Gelman, the campaign manager for the civil rights initiative, said later by phone from his Los Angeles office that the campaign will probably start collecting signatures this summer. Of the law school students and professors who oppose it, he said: "They must have a very low opinion of [non-white] people's ability if they assume they wouldn't be able to compete on a level playing field. I would also say that their position that race should be a factor is inconsistent with the 1964 Civil Rights Act" and Martin Luther King's stated position in his well- known "I have a dream" speech.
Tom Wood, director of the California Association of Scholars, said from his Berkeley office that while he personally endorses the initiative, the organization of university professors itself is not endorsing it. "I am hoping campus chapters of the association will support debates on campus, pro and con."
Stanford computer science Professor John McCarthy, who is a member of the association, said that so far its members on the Stanford campus had not discussed what to do, if anything, about the initiative. Two Hoover Institution fellows, Thomas Sowell and John Bunzel, have been active in writing opinion pieces for newspapers that criticize existing affirmative action, although Bunzel is careful to point out that he neither opposes nor endorses the initiative. Law Professor Tom Campbell, the Stanford area's representative in the state Senate, has sponsored legislation similar to the initiative.
The Stanford law faculty who signed the statement opposing the initiative are Janet Cooper Alexander, Barbara Babcock, Lawrence Friedman, Richard Ford, Marc Franklin, Barbara Fried, Paul Goldstein, Robert Gordon, Henry Greely, Thomas Grey, Janet Halley, Thomas Heller, Bill Ong Hing, Mark Kelman, Linda Mabry, Miguel Mendez, Deborah Rhode, Margaret Jane Radin, William Simon, Kim Taylor-Thompson and Robert Weisberg.
Visiting faculty and lecturers who also endorsed it include Sally Dickson, Ian Haney-Lopez, Carey Heckman, Lynne Henderson, Linda Krieger and Sophie Pirie. The student organizers also listed endorsements from 26 faculty members at other California law schools.
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