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« Trump: I Heard Obama Was a "Terrible, Terrible" Student; How'd He Get Into Havard? He Should Release the Records. | Main | Maybe Obama's Just Not That Good At Politics, Part II »
April 26, 2011

Hmmm: Harvard Adopted Affirmative Action Policy For Law Review Well Before Obama Matriculated There

This has been discussed, but I haven't seen a citation for it. (Then again, I never really investigated it.)

JeffB. sends this along. This is the Harvard Crimson, which should know about its own law school's policies.

In 1981, all 80-some editors except one were white, and it would be another decade before the Review elected its first black president, Sen. Barack H. Obama, (D-Ill.) Fewer than a dozen of the editors on the Review were women, although Susan R. Estrich, the law professor and Democratic political operative, served as the Review’s president in 1977.

It was then that the saga of the Law Review’s affirmative action program began, when the editors adopted a race- and gender-conscious policy by a 45 to 39 vote, to the vehement opposition of some faculty members. Several months of intense debate and negotiations ensued between the Review and the faculty, at the end of which the Review began for the first time considering factors other than merit in choosing its members.

Prior to 1981, law students could join the Review either by being among the top five students in their first-year sections—each class used to be divided into four sections—or through a combination of their grades and their scores on an annual writing competition, a process designed to preserve absolute objectivity.

But the 1981 editors felt it necessary for their admission policy to take into account the underrepresentation of minorities and women.

Under their modified plan, the top four students in each first-year section would still be elected to the Review, but the fifth spot would be reserved for the top-scoring minority student among the top 25, and if no such minority student existed, the fifth spot would go to the woman with the highest grades.

Two days after the adoption of this policy, three editors—including one woman—resigned in protest.

In response, the Review’s leadership convened to reconsider their plan, opting for a non-quota system that would merely take race and gender into consideration. But despite the modification, the Review continued to encounter opposition from students, alumni, and most importantly, from the faculty.

It has changed a bit, but we don't know when it changed:

The Review’s selection process has also markedly changed since the disputes of 1981. McGrath said that “the writing competition is [now] the central part of the process.”

Today, 14 editors are selected with equal weight on grades and writing competition scores and 20 on the basis of the competition alone.

The remaining seven to nine spots are filled on a discretionary basis, which McGrath wrote “can be used for [the] affirmative action program.”

And this new policy, which is also heavily A-A, is supposed to represent a limitation on the use of race factors that had existed before the implementation of the new policy -- that is, before this, race factors counted for more.

Obama entered Harvard Law in 1988 and graduated 1991, meaning he was either there for one Affirmative Action regime or another, slightly-better-disguised one.

So Trump could be right that his grades weren't good, despite the Law Review credential.

One thing, though, is the magna cum laude honor, which is semi-independent of the Law Review one (though, often, they go together, being both largely based on grades -- usually).

While I have heard of AA for law review, I haven't heard of it for the magna honor. (Or cum, or summa-- whichever.) Usually this is based simply on grades, and this being the second-highest academic accolade. But who knows -- Harvard might have automatically made anyone on Law Review magna or better, or might have added a special AA element to this too, or maybe some kind of special circumstances thing ("He did thirty hours of work in a soup kitchen or community organizing" or some weak crap like that).

Easy Magna? Where I went to school, magna was reserved for the top 5%. When Obama was at Harvard, it was much, much easier to grab that accolade -- only after he graduated did they institute a policy limiting magna to 10% and cum laude to 30%, which means, of course, before he graduated the honors were given out much more freely.

How freely? This freely:

Under the old system, 76% of Harvard Law grads earned honors, the school said."

Eric adds:

So when Obama graduated in 1991, all he had to do was graduate in the top 76% of the class to get a cum laude honor. The article doesn't specify, but I expect that the cutoff for Magna Cum Laude was 50%. Which means a C student could graduate with a Magna Cum Laude.

Yes, I suspect that too. That sounds plausible to me -- if three quarters (3/4ths!) of your class is getting the "with honors" accolade, then magna is going to be 50% or 40%. "Magna" could have meant as little as a B- average, which is easy-peasy in a school notorious for grade inflation (Harvard men should compete against Yale, not each other, sniff, quaff cognac, adjust bowtie).

Thanks to Eric for that.

Wow, you guys are good!

So, in summa: When Barack H. Obama attended Harvard Law School, it was during a period when it was possible for him to get on Law Review with the least true academic achievement in the school's history (with stronger-form AA in effect), and also required the very lowest academic achievement in the school's history to get the magna honor (or any other honor); so much so that the school revolted against awarding these honors to virtually anyone who graduated and instituted a hard cap on the percentage of students receiving them.

No wonder he won't release the grades, and no wonder Harvard has them on lockdown.

More: Alamo adds:

Beyond those rather loose standards for academic "honors', 30 years ago I witnessed minority students whose class discussions and projects, no matter how lame or illogical, were given accolades by predictably leftist professors. The grading itself was many times subjective. The instructors would laud the product of some students regardless of merit and refer to the authenticity of their views and conclusions based on their personal experiences or cultural perspective- not fact or logic.

Yes of course; I'm not highlighting that, though, because that case would be hard to prove. You can know someone's grades; it's much harder to know why they got the grades they did. You could only "prove" this, or, rather, evidence this, but a meticulous study and backgrounder of each of Obama's courses and the tendencies of each professor grading him.

One way to figure out if some chicanery happened here is to compare his grades in his core coursework (the first year regimen of Contracts, Torts, Crim Law, Constitutional Law, Property, and Procedure) with his later grades in his electives. If there's a sudden rise in grades, it's because he did poorly in the required, more objective coursework and "flourished" in the electives, where he got to pick and choose between tough and easy professors.

If his later courses seem to be light and fluffy, and suddenly his grades improve, there's good evidence for Alamo's hunch.

By the Way: None of this means he's dumb. He's not dumb. Not if testably dumb, anyway; dumb in worldview and assumptions, but I'm sure he'd get 110-120 on an IQ test.

However, the accolades we're talking about here are offered as evidence that he's more than simply above-average in intelligence. The stuff we're talking about here has the implication of "genius," and that's certainly how Obama's been sold.

Law Review didn't used to be some kind of social-engineering fakey honor. It used to be reserved for the top-graded people in a class, and all taking pretty much the same damn courses (the rigid first year curriculum where I think you get exactly one elective all year or something). That, and, in some schools, a blind writing competition -- no name attached, your identity (and race) carefully hidden behind only a number assigned to your paper.

Similarly, when I think "magna," I think "top of the class," and go with my own experience that it really means "seriously, the top of the class, not the top 50% of the class."

Obama may have had outstanding grades and may have earned every inch of the Law Review and magna honors. But the fact that his grades are kept as state secrets, while only the honors themselves are mentioned, makes me think we're looking at C+/B- situation here.

Like -- about the same as George Bush (and about the same as Al Gore and John Kerry, not that the media ever talks about their lackluster academic performances).

Genius? Now that I know there are alternate pathways to these honors besides genius, no, I'm not willing to even entertain the idea of "genius" until I see the evidence.

These honors, it turns out, are easily procured at Harvard Law.

Let's see the grades, the SATs, the LSATs.

Obama's IQ Is 116. Hah! This guy guestimates that based on tangible proxy evidence, which is right in the middle of where I figured it would be.

Now, this guy is not just completely making things up. He knows, because there are records of it, that Obama was not a National Merit Scholar, or National Merit Finalist, or the lowest subcategory, "Outstanding Participant." (This seems to be an honor conferred by the College Board (the SAT people) primarily if not exclusively based on SAT scores.)

Since Obama did not make the list for any of those automatically-conferred SAT-based recognitions, we know his SATs must be below those thresholds, setting a hard upper cap on his possible SAT scores.

We can then figure his highest, likeliest IQ score, because the SAT is just a modified version of the old Army IQ test. Current IQ tests and the SATs are both derived straight from the old Army IQ test, testing pretty much the same things and in pretty much the same ways. Different scoring system, but same ultimate term of comparison -- how you rank compared to the general population, expressed as percentile.

Not dumb, but I never thought he was dumb -- just not a genius. 116's a perfectly respectable score, but no one goes bragging on it and claims to be a genius at 116.

No on ever says, "I'm a mere 30 points away from qualifying for Mensa," for example.

Good catch on that National Merit thing.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:36 PM

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