This, I would remind you, is why the emphasis of the first Ethics Alarms post on this mess involving my former employer and alma mater was that GULC adjunct professor Sandra Sellers was culpable for the inevitable results of her unintentionally public candor for incompetently broadcasting her private observations over an online conferencing platform. I predicted that she was a goner once the school’s black student organization saw a grandstanding opportunity (and if it wrecks a lawyer’s reputation and career–so what? After all, she’s just another racist white bitch…), and I was right, in part because I know what the Law Center has become in recent years.
I also predicted a groveling apology from Sellers rather than the ringing defense of her observations that might have been helpful in both clarifying her comments and exposing the Law Center’s spectacular embrace of Rationalization #64, “It Isn’t What It is.” Poor, weak, technologically inept–but not wrong!–Sellers sent the Washington Post a copy of her grovel, which could have been drafted by a computer. She apologized for the “hurtful and misdirected remarks,” carefully chosen words indeed. Her remarks were “misdirected” because they were intended only for another professor, not the universe, and they were “hurtful” because they created a student relations crisis for Georgetown—which it has thoroughly botched. Sellers also said in the letter
“I would never do anything to intentionally hurt my students or Georgetown Law and wish I could take back my words. Regardless of my intent, I have done irreparable harm and I am truly sorry for this.”
Well, I give her some credit for declining to say that she didn’t mean what she said, or that what she said was untrue. Some. In essence she apologized for what I had written was the problem with her statement: it was careless to let it be witnessed by people who would—mostly deliberately— misinterpret it. Her carefully composed non-apology was clever, but it doesn’t help. The school’s statement, through GULC second-in-command Dean Trainor, was despicable—unfair and cowardly. It called the episode indicative of “structural issues of racism” (Translation: Sellers is a racist) and “explicit and implicit bias.”
Yes, a dean of a major law school declared on behalf of that law school that accurate observations involving student education are racist, presumably because they don’t advance a convenient but false progressive narrative. He also suspended the law professor Sellers was talking to because he didn’t meet his “bystander responsibility” and confront her over her non-racist statement as if it were racist.
I did not adequately clarify the full absurdity of this in the brief post late last night announcing Georgetown Law Center’s response to demands that Sellers be fired. Fortunately others with a bigger megaphone than mine did, notably Prof. Eugene Volokh, a nationally recognized constitutional law expert, over at Reason. He wrote in part,
You can draw what conclusions you like about the tone of the conversation (which is of course a casual conversation, not a formally planned presentation). But I wanted to speak to the broader factual matter that the remarks raise—whether a disproportionate share of students at the bottom of the class in top law schools are indeed black.
There appears to be some data on this; here, for instance, is an observation from Yale law professors Ian Ayres & Richard R.W. Brooks in Does Affirmative Action Reduce the Number of Black Lawyers?, 57 Stanford Law Review 1807 (2005):
“With the exception of traditionally black law schools (where blacks still make up 43.8% of the student body), the median black law school grade point average is at the 6.7th percentile of white law students. This means that only 6.7% of whites have lower grades than 50% of blacks. One finds a similar result at the other end of the distribution—as only 7.5% of blacks have grades that are higher than the white median.”
This is data from the 1990s, but I have heard no evidence that the results are vastly different today; my colleague Rick Sander tells me that newer data has not been generally made available by administrators. Sander’s theory is that this gap is a predictable consequence of race-based affirmative action:
1. The usual predictors (the LSAT score and the undergraduate GPA) do a pretty good job of predicting law school performance; not perfect, of course, but the correlation is quite substantial.
2. Therefore, if you let in any group with considerably lower predictors, they’ll on average do worse than their peers (including on blind-graded exams, which are common in law schools), and will be particularly likely to fall near the bottom of the class.
3. Race-based affirmative action programs in many law schools tend to let in black students with considerably lower predictors than other students; indeed, such programs are structured precisely to do that.
To quote Sander’s testimony to the Commission on Civil Rights:
It’s important to note that this performance gap has nothing to do with race per se; whites who attend law schools where their credentials are far below most of their peers have pretty much the same types of troubles. The performance gap is a function of preferences [i.e., race-based preferences in the admission. -EV].
Sander adds to me that, “My work found that virtually all of the black-white grade gap disappeared when one controlled for LSAT scores and undergraduate grades.”
Now others take different views, and point to other possible reason for black students tending to cluster near the bottom of the class in most schools. Ayres & Brooks, for instance, write, “If not mismatch, then what explains black underperformance in law schools? One possibility is stereotype threat [presumably stemming from black students’ being affected by the stereotype of blacks as less academically successful -EV] …. [S]tereotype threat is activated by the … subtle and pervasive mechanism of contending with situations in which one knows one can be viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype. It has little to do with expectations of poor performance and everything to do with the contextual environment that black law students face. ‘Stereotype threat follows its targets onto campus, affecting behaviors of theirs that are as varied as participating in class, seeking help from faculty, contact with students in other groups, and so on.'”
But in any event the phenomenon of black students being near the bottom of the class at many law schools appears to be real. (This is of course an average effect; the actual grades differ by student and by school. Schools that don’t have race-based admissions preferences, or that have smaller race-based preferences, might lack such an effect, or have a much smaller effect. My own UC campuses, for instance, are forbidden by law from offering race-based preferences; to the extent such a prohibition is complied with, one would expect both black students’ predictors and their grades there to be much closer to the overall class median. I don’t know what the actual statistics are for UC law schools, or for my UCLA law school in particular; to my knowledge, such numbers are generally not publicized.)
Thus the headlines I saw last night on “conservative media” were “Georgetown Law Professor Fired For Telling The Truth” or some version thereof Lawyer-commentator Hans Bader, who, he pointed out in an email, “practiced education law for years, including a stint in the federal Office for Civil Rights,” wrote in part,
A law professor at Georgetown University has been fired for pointing out that black students got lower grades in her classes. This was not due to racism. Black students get lower grades at selective colleges because they are admitted with lower grades and test scores than their non-black classmates, due to racial preferences in admissions at schools like Georgetown.
Recipients of non-racial preferences in admissions also get lower grades at the schools that admit them. I received lower than average grades as a student at Harvard Law School. Why? I was admitted with lower-than average credentials than most of my classmates (because I pledged to go into public-interest law afterwards). So I was less prepared than most of my classmates, and occasionally had to struggle to keep up with my classmates. This did not mean I flunked out of school…
The professor was targeted simply for telling the truth, says Ted Frank, a lawyer who has won over $100 million in lawsuits, and several landmark court decisions: “The only thing reprehensible here is the statement of the Dean throwing his faculty member under the bus instead of telling students unpleasant truths. GU Law grading is blind and anonymous!” So the professor is not saying he engaged in any kind of racism. As Frank notes, “African-American law students good enough to get into Georgetown Law end up going to Harvard and Stanford instead” because of those universities’ racial preferences in admissions.” As a result, “Georgetown Law has to” lower standards for black applicants, and “dive deeper into the pool to get a racially balanced class.” As a result of these lower standards for black and non-black students, “African-Americans attending Georgetown Law are less qualified than average students, and perform worse in school.”
As Frank notes, it is utterly predictable that black students will get lower grades at Georgetown…This firing violates the “academic freedom” that Georgetown University contractually promises its faculty, which implement the “core principles” of academic freedom laid down by “the American Association of University Professors” (AAUP).
Obviously, Bader must be a racist, just like Sellers. Volokh is a racist, I’m a racist…I hear the old Dr. Pepper jingle echoing through my skull…
“I’m a racist he’s a racist she’s a racist we’re all racists wouldn’t you like to be a racist too?“
…because being willing to make a factual observation and criticism based on facts the political correctness bullies insist must be ignored makes one a racist. Facts don’t matter.
I looked for a critical view of Sellers’s comments on the progressive sites. Here was the best The Root could do:
“Maybe that means you should do a better job of reaching out to those students, perhaps see what factors might be contributing to their perceived underperformance and provide some recommendations on how they can improve. If it really “drives you crazy,” then do something more than just complaining about it over Zoom.”
Now that’s certainly lame:
- Sellers wasn’t “complaining over Zoom.” She was having what she thought was a private conversation with a single colleague.
- How does The Root know what kinds of efforts Sellers was engaged in to help her African American students?
- It wasn’t “perceived” underperformance. It was and is underperformance, just as it was when I was involved in discussion about the problem at Georgetown.
- Note that The Root doesn’t dispute the substance of Sellers’ complaint. Her offense was daring to mention reality.
Over at Jezabel, which never allows facts to get in the way of woke grandstanding, I read of the Sellers-Batson exchange,
“The vile interaction drew the ire of students past and present who had been in Sellers’ class and felt the impacts of this bias.”
How was it “vile”? There have been no claims that Sellers had been biased in her classes: grading at GULC is anonymous.
The “racism” here, as it often is in The Great Stupid, is the acknowledgment of inconvenient facts.