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Study: California Law Schools Evading Affirmative Action Ban

The top two public law schools in California have been working to evade the state’s ban on affirmative action at their campuses, a new study says.

Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California-Berkeley, analyzed application data at the law schools of Berkeley and UCLA to determine how black applicants fared in admissions at the school following the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which banned race- and sex-based affirmative action at all public institutions in the state.

Since Proposition 209′s passage, admission rates for blacks at UCLA and Berkeley fell sharply from 61 percent to only 31 percent. However, according to Yagan, the number should have actually been far lower.

“Black admission rates would have fallen to 8% (not just 31%) had all races been subjected to observed pre-ban white admission standards based on LSAT, GPA, and inferred strength,” Yagan says in the paper.

Yagan concluded that the schools were able to partially circumvent the affirmative action ban by placing greater emphasis on so-called “black-correlates,” or traits that would correlate more with black applicants than with others. For example, a greater advantage was given to those coming from poorer backgrounds or from those who contributed a strong diversity essay (which did not exist prior to the ban).

Ultimately, Yagan found that black applicants were admitted at a rate 23 percent higher than observably similar white applicants, with their advantage rising to as high as 63 percent for applicants who most closely straddled the dividing line between acceptance and rejection.

Yagan says the results demonstrate that “affirmative action ban avoidance is far from complete,” but still exerts a significant influence on applications.

The report is the second sign of evasive practices at California colleges in recent months. In April, UCLA Professor Tim Groseclose published Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions, which argued that UCLA’s undergraduate admissions practices continue to engage in de facto affirmative action despite the state’s ban.

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