STUDY: Credentials, not race, determine bar passage rates

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor has published his findings on race-based admissions policies despite being pressured for months to abandon his research.

In their working paper published last week, professor Robert Steinbuch and University of California-Los Angeles law professor Richard Sander argue that some race-based admission preference policies may put students at a disadvantage when it comes to passing bar exams.

[RELATED: Univ. of Arkansas prevents prof. from studying race-based admissions data]

“Mismatch during law school is a major—quite possibly the major—determinant of bar passage among law graduates,” the scholars argue. “Substantial mismatch dramatically lowers one’s chances of passing the bar on the first attempt.”

According to the professors, their analyses suggest that “that a deficit in credentials relative to one’s peers has a larger effect on bar passage than the absolute level of entering credentials,” noting that “When we control for mismatch effects and entering credentials, racial deficits in bar passage rates either disappear or become statistically insignificant.”

The study comes nearly 2 years after Steinbuch sued the university for withholding public data from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that he filed in 2015 for a similar research project. The professor told Campus Reform at the time that the school “took out essentially all of the relevant information,” from the admissions data spreadsheet, including information about race, LSAT scores, and undergraduate GPA.

Steinbuch later claimed that two of his colleagues have also retaliated against him in an effort to discourage and derail his research effort.

[RELATED: Arkansas law prof. faces retaliation for studying race-based admissions policies]

"After the tumult and reaction at my school following my previous public discussions of my research and freedom-of-information-act lawsuit, my absence from the school due to a family-medical issues has largely (albeit not entirely) meant a quiet environment,”  Steinbuch told Campus Reform.

“That's very good news!  And the law school has been wonderful regarding the family issue,” he continued. “However, I just learned from a colleague that the University System is considering eviscerating academic freedom and tenure rights. And I can't help but to believe that the University's attorneys are reacting to my efforts to share my research and enforce my rights."

[RELATED: Arkansas law prof: Court wants me to pay for school’s mistakes]

“The various institutions of legal education, and their leaders...have gone out of their way to prevent the release of the sort of data that would resolve the mismatch debate,” the professors note in their study.

“Nonetheless,” they say, “enough data has come to light to address some long-standing limitations in the mismatch debate, and this working paper examines the light they shed on the interactions of admissions preferences, race, and bar passage.”

While Steinbuch and Sander note that the study should be replicated in other law schools, they argue that their results “suggest that much of the black-white bar passage gap—and perhaps most of the gap—would drop substantially if the mismatch effect could be eliminated or successfully addressed.”

[RELATED: Prof prevails in FOIA fight for race-based admissions data]

The professors also stress the significance of publically available information, underscoring that it is “of great importance that available data sources for studying mismatch more generally—in particular, the California Bar’s admissions dataset—should be made available for objective research.”

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