Professor Sandra Sellers & Georgetown Law School — Increasingly, Facts Are Considered Racist

    A man walks through Georgetown University’s campus, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

    Cancellation has become so frequent that there’s a tendency to note the latest example perfunctorily and move on, hoping you’re not the next victim.

    Last week’s termination of Professor Sandra Sellers of Georgetown Law School bears more than a perfunctory mention. In what she thought was a private conversation with a fellow faculty member after a virtual class, Sellers said, after discussing the performance of a black student in her mediation class:

    You know what? I hate to say this, I end up having this angst every semester, that a lot of my lower ones are blacks. It happens almost every semester, and it’s like oh, come on. You know, we get some really good ones but there also are usually some of them that are just plain at the bottom.

    Unbeknownst to the professors, the conversation was still being recorded and was uploaded, along with the rest of the class, into a digital database with the appropriately dystopian name Panopto. A few weeks later, the Georgetown Black Law Students Association became aware of the conversation and immediately began calling for Professor Sellers’s head. BLSA claimed:

    These racist statements reveal not only Sellers’ beliefs about black students in her classes, but also how her racist thoughts have translated to racist actions. Professor Sellers’ bias has impacted the grades of black students in her classes historically, in her own words.

    That, to put it conservatively, is a heckuva lot to glean from Sellers’ statements. Nonetheless, Georgetown fired Professor Sellers, put the other professor on leave, and engaged in the customary ritual abasement to try to get this to go away.

    Of course, there’s one question that’s almost never asked (at least publicly) after one of these incidents: What if the statement accurately describes relative black student performance?

    Universities and law schools guard information about the comparative qualifications of admittees from different racial groups more tenaciously than the military guards nuclear launch codes. Absent state disclosure laws (for public universities) or legal action, not one college will release this information. We can, however, get a fair idea of whether there are appreciable differences in academic qualifications among different racial groups by looking at historical information about Georgetown’s practices, as well as those of other schools.

    Althea Nagai of the Center for Equal Opportunity has spent years studying racial disparities in undergraduate and law-school admissions. She’s studied law-school admissions at the University of Oklahoma, University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, University of Utah, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and University of Michigan. Every single one of these law schools admitted black applicants who were significantly less academically qualified than white applicants. Dr. Nagai found:

    In all 15 cases, the median LSATs of white admittees were greater than the medians of black admittees. The largest differences were found at Nebraska in 2006 (a 12-point difference), Wisconsin in 2006 (11 points), and Nebraska in 2007 (10 points). The smallest gap in median LSAT scores between white and black admittees was at Arizona State in 2007 (5 points).

    In all 15 cases, the college GPAs of white admittees were greater than those of black admittees. Here too the largest black-white difference was found at Nebraska in 2006 (a 0.6-point difference), followed by Arizona in 2006 and Arizona State (0.5 of a point). The smallest difference was at Arizona in 2005 (a 0.1-point difference).

    There’s no reason to think that Georgetown Law is immune from giving racial preferences to black applicants. For one thing, we know that they were giving preferences to black students as far back as the late 1980s. As my colleague Gail Heriot recounts in her upcoming book, A Dubious Expediency, a Georgetown law student working in the admissions office found evidence in 1991 that there were stark disparities in the academic credentials of admitted black and white students (and no, the white students weren’t the ones getting preference). Then, as now, a firestorm erupted at the school and spread to the nation’s elite media institutions when the evidence was disclosed. Some truths are just too inconvenient to acknowledge.

    Why do racial preferences in admission matter to the case of Professor Sellers? Because, quite simply, if a student is admitted with lower academic qualifications than his classmates, he’s likely to continue to perform at a lower level than his classmates in law school. Students rarely “catch up” to their better-prepared classmates. Rather, as Rick Sander and Stuart Taylor detail in their book, Mismatch, these students are likely to fall further behind. When members of one racial group are mostly admitted with a racial preference, they start out in the lower part of the class, and they’re likely to stay there. That circumstance then is used as evidence of “systemic racism,” justifying even more preferences. And the cycle repeats.

    Increasingly, the expression of facts not just opinions — that offend elite sensibilities are being weaponized against us. Truth is no longer a defense.

    Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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