Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Writing in the New Yorker in 2005, Malcolm Gladwell (pictured) argued that the fuss over admissions is best understood as consumerist: ivy league schools are a "luxury brand" - - - "an exquisitely constructed fantasy of what it means to belong to an élite - - - and they have always been mindful of what must be done to maintain that experience."
Most élite law schools, to cite another example, follow a best-students model. That’s why they rely so heavily on the L.S.A.T. Yet there’s no reason to believe that a person’s L.S.A.T. scores have much relation to how good a lawyer he will be. In a recent research project funded by the Law School Admission Council, the Berkeley researchers Sheldon Zedeck and Marjorie Shultz identified twenty-six “competencies” that they think effective lawyering demands—among them practical judgment, passion and engagement, legal-research skills, questioning and interviewing skills, negotiation skills, stress management, and so on—and the L.S.A.T. picks up only a handful of them. A law school that wants to select the best possible lawyers has to use a very different admissions process from a law school that wants to select the best possible law students. And wouldn’t we prefer that at least some law schools try to select good lawyers instead of good law students?
This search for good lawyers, furthermore, is necessarily going to be subjective, because things like passion and engagement can’t be measured as precisely as academic proficiency. Subjectivity in the admissions process is not just an occasion for discrimination; it is also, in better times, the only means available for giving us the social outcome we want.
While Gladwell doesn't discuss the specific type of "affirmative action" at issue in Fisher, his essay is certainly relevant to law school admission policies and to Fisher's articulation of the harm of not being admitted to UT undergraduate school.
[image of Malcolm Gladwell via]