Monthly Archives: April 1987

1987.04.30: Leon Letwin Affirmative Action Memo to Faculty

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April 30, 1987

TO: Faculty

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

learning process.

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

support mechanisms.

LL/1977 /dhb