NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 29, 2008

Overly politicized accrediting agencies often demand that colleges and universities fall into lock step on controversial issues like affirmative action, says Gail Heriot is a law professor at the University of San Diego.

Given that federal funding hinges on accreditation, schools are not in a position to argue. That is precisely why the U.S. Department of Education, which gives accreditors their authority, must sometimes take corrective action.

George Mason University's law school in northern Virginia is an example of why corrective action is needed now:

  • GMU suffered 6 years of abuse, because in early 2000, when the American Bar Association became unhappy because only 6.5 percent of entering students were minorities.
  • Outreach was not the problem; even a site evaluation report conceded that GMU had a very active effort to recruit minorities.
  • But it is was not until GMU had lowered admission standards for minority students several times that the school was able to raise the proportion of minorities in its entering class to 19 percent in 2004
  • Still this was not good enough; the ABA complained that number of African-Americans did not rise from enough with the rest of the minority population.

GMU's case is not unique. In a study conducted several years ago, 31 percent of law school respondents admitted to political scientists Susan Welch and John Gruhl that they felt pressure to take race into account in making admissions decisions from accreditation agencies.

It is now time to find permanent solutions to the problems of ABA abuse.  The Education Department should get the ABA out of the diversity business. It is one thing for a law school to adopt its own discriminatory admissions policies; it is quite another to force it to do so on pain of losing federal funding, says Heriot.

Source: Gail Heriot, "The ABA's 'Diversity' Diktat," Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2008.

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