Texas Tech law minority numbers up

By Ann Sutton

NEWS REPORTER

Minority enrollment in the Texas Tech University School of Law made a sharp increase in 1998 as a result of an aggressive recruitment program.

The three-fold program, which included changes in admissions policies and meetings with potential students, helped increase the school's minority enrollment to 18 percent from 12 percent in 1997.

"We involved faculty and alumni, and they were required to expend more effort more quickly. That made a substantial difference in the number of students who came," said Frank Newton, dean of Tech's law school.

Minority enrollment at the school was 14 percent at the time of the 1996 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' Hopwood vs. Texas decision, which ended affirmative action in higher education admissions.

The case was filed by several white students who claimed they were denied acceptance to law school at The University of Texas because of affirmative action.

At the UH Law Center, which reported its preliminary minority enrollment early in September, the percentage of minority students has remained steady since Hopwood, averaging around 20 percent.

Before the Hopwood decision, minorities were encouraged to attend college through race-based scholarships and an early entrance program that allowed those with lower LSAT scores to enter in the summer.

"After Hopwood, there was a fear that there would be a decrease in our enrollment, (but) Dean Newton led an all-out blitz to encourage, persuade and help minorities attend Texas Tech," said Jaime O. Lopez, a third-year law student and member of Tech's Mexican-American Law Students Association.

Newton said diversity is important to the educational experience, even though he said many Texas universities are not actively recruiting minorities.

"It would defy logic to argue that an all-white school could reasonably represent a brown or black population," Newton said. "A reasonable representation would be closer to 50 percent, not 18 percent, so there is still some distance to go."

In looking at admissions, the law school focused on factors like leadership and experience rather than race or ethnicity.

"We don't just recruit based on ethnicity, but now we're forced as a public law school to act like Harvard or Yale and recruit using interviews and activities," Newton said.

Faculty, students and alumni encouraged minorities to enroll by visiting with potential students in their hometowns. Recruiters visited mostly Texas students, but endeavors were also made to recruit students in New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

"We have alumni in multiple cities working as lawyers. The meetings were held in their offices, giving students a chance to see what they were in for after graduation," Newton said.

MASLA, under the organization of third-year law student Sandra Avila, was part of a phone bank which helped recruit minority students over the telephone and quell their concerns about Lubbock's primarily Anglo population.

"Some students may not be ready for the culture shock that Lubbock may pose, but I do not know of anyone who has had problems because they are minorities," Lopez said.

African-American enrollment now totals five and Hispanic enrollment is 29 students, which represent 400- and 71-percent increases from 1997, respectively. This year's entering class also includes two Asian/Pacific Islanders and one American Indian.

The law school saw an almost 10-percent increase in overall enrollment upon acceptance, and Lopez said MASLA has seen an approximately 30-percent increase in membership in the last two years.

A possible future aid to Tech's minority enrollment is the summer Law School Preparation Institute, a pilot program which prepares undergraduate students for law school.

The program was developed by University of Texas at El Paso political science professors Robert Webking and William Weaver, and is offered cooperatively by Tech's School of Law, UTEP, Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the South Texas College of Law in Houston.

"The program should help to encourage minority enrollment, but as the first session was last summer, those students won't be applying until next fall," Newton said.

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