View in searchable PDF format: 1987.04.30 – Leon Letwin affirmative action memo.OCR
LOS ANGELES: SCHOOL Of LA•
April 30, 1987
FROM: Leon Letwin
RE: May 1 meeting
In my view, we should take the following steps at tomorrow’s meeting:
1) We should postpone action on the admissions and retention
proposals until the beginning of next semester.
2) We should immediately adopt such changes and additions to the
academic support program as we are prepared to make without further study.
3) We should charge a committee with the responsibility to further
study and develop, over the summer, a fuller academic support plan. The
planning should be in consultation with interested students, minority
alumni, and educational consultants who may have insights into the special
problems of academic support at the graduate level. As much of the new
support program as possible should be timed to go into effect for the
entering class of 1987-88.
4) We should create an analogous program for those students who will
find themselves on probationary status during 1988-89.
My reasons for favoring postponement of the admissions and retention
proposals are these:
1) The process of deliberation thus far employed by the law school
has allowed an inadequate opportunity and a poor setting for discussion
within and between concerned groups in the law school community. Further,
as to the admissions issues, there is not the slightest need or
justification for the rush to decision, since we are yet eight or nine
months away from our next admissions season.
2) The discussions have been conducted in an atmosphere which,
though not so intended, has had a destructive effect upon minority
students and upon the community as a whole. A fact of minority student
life is that such students continually receive signals that they are not
here by right but at sufferance, as a favor; that they are not valued for
what they bring to the educational process; that their presence in the law
school is illegitimate, the anachronistic remnant of a bygone political
era; in short, that they don’t “belong.” Such an atmosphere does little
to inspire the sense of security and well-being so important to the
I know of the law school’s commitment to minority education over the
years and of the broad support such efforts continue to enjoy within the
law school. Yet this supportive attitude is not shared by all. The
sentiments of those that do not share it are ~ inevitably transmitted,
UNIVERSITY OF CAUFORNIA-(Letterbead for interdepartmental Use)
May 1 meeting – 2 April 30, 1987
subtly or otherwise, to minority students. The harmful effect is magnified
in an atmosphere of suspicion, powerfully reenforced as it is by realities
of the external culture–! have in mind the recent happenings on many
college campuses, and in the larger society as well. To be sure, we are
not primarily responsible for those external realities, but neither can we
ignore them in assessing the impact of what we do upon our students and
upon their law school experience.
The way we have gone about this discussion induces many to believe
that the school’s central concern is not to help students improve their
academic work but rather to kick substantial numbers of them out for
reasons that are important to us: to raise “academic standards,” to
improve our bar pass rate (and with it our public image), or to impose
on students our conception of what is in their own “best interest,” by
failing them out.
3) Our top priority should be to improve the quality of our student
support services and to enhance the likelihood that students will succeed;
in short, to do a better job of meeting the students’ educational needs.
That the law school has been deficient on this account seems to be agreed
on all sides. The students agree; and it is a major strength of the
dean’s approach that she has insisted upon our developing a program of
support services attuned to the responsibilities that flow from the
diversity admissions program.
4) A final reason for postponement is that we need to know more
than we now do before we can intelligently resolve retention and admissions
issues . To offer a couple of examples: Admissions standards for
Southwestern and U.S.F. as a whole appear to parallel closely those of our
diversity program, yet their bar success rate seems to be significantly
higher than ours. This is a striking fact, one demanding study and
explanation. It may be that further investigation would disclose that the
comparison for some reason is of limited utility. However, we should not
rush to manipulate admissions and retention standards until we are clearer
about whether other schools have developed alternative solutions to
problems we too face that might have potential application to us.
Second, whether and how we should revise our approach to academic
probation should depend in part on the kind of support program we are able
to generate. It seems premature to consider expanding the size of the
probationary group without knowing the terms of the associated support
program. Changes in the probationary program should therefore await more
thought and planning over the summer as suggested above.
In summary, I agree fully that we need to do “something” now; but in
my view , that “something” is not the proposed revision of admissions or
retention standards; it is the aggressive development of student academic