As readers of the Arkansas Project know, I recently sued my law school (the UALR-Bowen School of Law) to get access to admissions and bar-passage data. I wasn’t planning on doing that, but it became necessary after the administration refused my Freedom of Information Act request about these matters. After I filed suit, the school gave me the data I wanted. When I examined that data, I discovered a set of uncomfortable facts that was difficult to reconcile with the narrative that my law school had presented.
Litigation produces results, even though I had hoped (like all potential plaintiffs) to avoid its time and expense. As a lawyer and law professor, I understand the value of the American dispute resolution system, i.e., courts. I’ve done what I teach my students: I’ve used courts to pursue justice.
As I was pursuing my lawsuit and chasing the data, I was challenged by my colleagues (which was o.k.) and attacked by them (which was not o.k.); I added retaliation claims to my lawsuit; and I published a law-journal article in which my PhD-in-statistics coauthor and I confirmed that the UALR law school had admitted some minorities with significantly lower incoming metrics, which corresponded with significantly worse bar-passage rates. Since then, I have been appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’s Arkansas Advisory Committee.
As a result of my lawsuit, I received a spreadsheet containing ten years of data — broken down by year — with the following elements for each individual graduate: ethnicity, term starting law school, undergraduate GPA, LSAT score, law-school graduation date, law-school GPA (to the tenth place), first-time bar passage (yes or no), and overall bar passage (yes or no).
Since then, I looked back at a relevant December 15, 2015, mass email from Bowen Law School Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz, wherein he stated:
I have been contacted by students and alumni asking questions about the performance of Bowen students in law school and on the bar exam. On the three most recent administrations of the Arkansas bar exam, the first-time bar pass rate for white students is 75%, and the first-time bar pass rate for minority students is higher, 80%. Bowen’s overall first-time bar pass rate has not changed, while most other law schools throughout the country have seen a marked decline. As for the students currently attending Bowen, in the past two years, the academic attrition rate is minimal for all students, less than 3%, with only a marginal difference between white and minority student attrition. These good results are directly attributable to the law school’s cutting-edge academic support and bar pass programs.
When the Dean had sent that email, I had asked for a breakdown of the other groups — as Whites were the only ethnic cohort whose data were separately provided. No breakdown was forthcoming. Now that I’ve been given data, I have revisited this question.
The data I received isn’t presented by bar exam, as discussed above; instead, it is presented by individual. So I tried my best to analyze the same universe that had to been evaluated by the Dean. I looked at the school-provided spreadsheet of those students who graduated in 2014 and 2015. This is probably not exactly the same group analyzed by the administration, but I think there’s likely a large overlap. Also, I believe that the administration was examining first-time bar-passage rates, as this is the more commonly assessed metric. So I did the same.
The cohorts in these classes are (using the descriptors provided by the administration): White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific-Islander, American-Indians, and unknowns. I eliminated the unknowns from the analysis, because they are, well, unknown.
Similarly, the school provided information regarding first-time bar passage in terms of pass, fail, and unknown. Again, unknowns were not part of the calculation.
The two largest groups are, respectively, White and Black, with the former being dramatically larger than all other cohorts, even when combined. I present below the percentages to compare with those related numbers provided in the Dean’s above email, but I caution that the overall totals are relatively small (approximately 160 White graduates with bar-passage information, 20 Black graduates with bar-passage information; and 10 Hispanic, Asian/Pacific-Islander, and American-Indians graduates, combined, with bar-passage information). As such, I make no large claim of statistical significance. I simply provide a snapshot — just as the Dean did in his email.
Here are the facts: White graduates with bar-passage information passed the bar the first time with a 78% pass rate. Black graduates with bar-passage information passed the bar the first time with a 53% pass rate. Hispanic, Asian/Pacific-Islander, and American-Indian graduates with bar-passage information, combined, passed the bar with an 80% pass rate.
The vast bulk of these graduates (combined day and night students) likely entered school somewhere during the period of 2010-2012. The bottom quartile LSAT score for both 2010 and 2011 was 151, and 149 for 2012. (For 2015 it was 146, as the school continued to admit students with lower metrics.) Of the Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific-Islander, and American-Indian graduates with bar-passage information, all combined, who failed the bar (first time), only two had an LSAT above 151.
To say the least, it is as if the Dean and I are looking at two different universes of data. What are we to make of these dramatic differences between my snapshot and the administration’s? I doubt that the administration lied to us; I doubt the administration was unable to apply simple analytics to describe bar performance. Rather, I suspect that the disparity results from the relatively narrow (albeit inevitably largely overlapping) slices of data that we both examined. Of course, an advocate for the Dean could suggest in response that my snapshot, rather than the administration’s, will turn out to be the anomalous picture. This, however, is likely not the case, because the data slice I present here is wholly consistent with the conclusions in my coauthored law review article in the Texas Review of Law and Politics. That analysis used a large, longitudinal dataset; it clearly showed statistically significant disparities in bar passage between the two largest ethnic cohorts, which resulted from dramatically different admissions metrics.
I believe that a future of high-quality legal education at Bowen depends on an honest re-evaluation our admissions and disclosure practices in depth. As educators and fiduciaries at a taxpayer-funded school, we need to be dutiful stewards of the public fisc and the public trust — and we must be vigilant in offering transparency and forthrightness to our past, present, and prospective students.