Albuquerque Journal, Friday, February 14, 2003
Race a Factor at UNM Law School
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
New Mexico's only law school could be forced to stop considering
an applicant's ethnic background if U.S. Supreme Court justices
rule against a Michigan school with a similar admissions process.
University of New Mexico's law school policy "would have
to be redrafted to eliminate any reference to the race and ethnicity
of the student," said Suellyn Scarnecchia, dean of the UNM
School of Law.
Scarnecchia took over as dean last month after serving on the
University of Michigan law school faculty since 1987.
Like their counterparts at Michigan, UNM law school officials
can consider an applicant's ethnic background during the admissions
process, she said.
The UNM policy, written in 1996, directs the admissions committee
to consider an applicant's life experiences, "including those
related to ethnicity and national origin." This year, minorities
make up 34 percent of UNM's 324 law students. Scarnecchia said that
figure likely would decline if the school's five-member admissions
committee was forbidden from considering ethnicity.
"I don't think we're at a place where if we don't look at
race and ethnicity, we'll end up with a balanced class," she
The committee has no target for ethnic representation, but the
state's ethnic makeup offers a guide, said David Gonzales, a law
professor and chairman of the admissions committee. Data from the
2000 census showed that New Mexico's population was 44.7 percent
Anglo; 42.1 percent Hispanic; 9.5 percent American Indian; 1.9 percent
black; and 1.1 percent Asian. "We have a sense that we would
like our student body to reflect, in every way we can, the state
of New Mexico," Gonzales said.
UNM's law school typically considers about 700 applications a
year but enrolls only up to 110 first-year students each fall.
Gonzales said ethnicity is only one of many factors considered.
Others are undergraduate grades, scores on the Law School Admissions
Test, work experience, letters of recommendation and personal essays,
Each committee member scores an applicant on a scale of one to four,
with one being the most qualified, Gonzales said. Committee members
then add their total scores and compare the results.
"What we try to do is evaluate every applicant individually,"
Gonzales said. "And one of the factors of an individual's profile
is his or her ethnicity."
The committee consists of three faculty members, the school's
director of admissions and a law student.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled in April to begin hearing
two Michigan lawsuits. One challenges the University of Michigan's
undergraduate admissions policy, which uses a 150-point system to
cull applicants. It awards up to 20 points to those from underrepresented
minorities. The other lawsuit challenges the admissions policy at
the university's law school. The law school does not use a point
system but allows admissions officials to consider an applicant's
A Michigan law school administrator defended the school's policy
this week at a forum at the UNM School of Law. Michigan's policy
has not diluted the quality of law students, said Charlotte Johnson,
the law school's assistant dean. "Every person that we admit
is highly qualified," she said.
Affirmative action opponent David Rogers responded that race-based
admission policies amount to "racial bean-counting" and
violate the constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination.
"It's time to set aside these ugly policies, and the division
that results from them," Rogers said.
Rogers and others sued the University of Texas School of Law in
1996, alleging they were barred from the school in favor of less-qualified
minorities. The lawsuit led to a ban on race-based admission policies
in Texas colleges.
Copyright 2003 Albuquerque Journal