Why U.S. News & World Report
Failed Diversity 101: Vivia Chen
By Vivia Chen
Its foray into law school diversity ranking has been a fiasco. Is this emblematic
of how even some sophisticated institutions mishandle diversity?
This is not the most politic thing to say but here I go: We should stop putting old
White men in charge of decisions about diversity.
I know that’s a comment that will raise eyebrows but that was my gut reaction when I
heard about U.S. News & World Report’s embarrassing foray into law school
diversity. That august publication just came out with its latest law school rankings,
and this year’s birth was a bit of a disaster. And yes, the chieftain behind the
enterprise happens to be an older White guy.
But before you get all hot and bothered, let me say this: Of course, I know White
men of all vintages who are enlightened about race issues. God knows we need their
support. The effort at U.S. News also started off with good intentions. For the first
time, U.S. News decided to launch a diversity scorecard based on racial and ethnic
data provided by the nation’s law schools.
Then, it went off the rails. For unexplained reasons, it dropped both Asian and
multiracial students from its diversity count. Law schools protested, and U.S. News
recategorized Asian students as diverse. However, it continued to omit multiracial
students, prompting 162 law school deans to pen a letter dated March 24 to U.S.
News in protest.
In the letter, the law school deans called the omission of multiracial students “wrong
and unacceptable,” adding, “these students consider themselves, and are considered
by others, to be racially diverse, and they are underrepresented in the legal
profession,” reports Law.com’s Karen Sloan. The letter also reminded U.S. News that
it had changed course on Asian students, urging it to do the same with multiracial
students. The upshot is that its law school diversity ranking is now on hold.
Good grief. Does anyone at U.S. News, which commands a fearsome empire that
decides the prestige of higher education institutions worldwide, need this memo
that multiracial people and Asians aren’t White? And what unfortunate timing. As
Law.com notes, U.S. News initially released the embargoed rankings that excluded
Asians from its diversity count on the day that six Asian women were shot to death
in Atlanta. It’s as if it needed that jolt to be reminded that Asians are minorities.
It’s a grand mess.
And the one in charge is Robert Morse, the chief data strategist for
U.S. News, to whom the letter by the 162 law school deans was directed. A 45-year
veteran of U.S. News, he’s the guru of academic rankings, responsible for churning
out its famous Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools editions. He appears to be a
legend at U.S. News and an icon in the field of academic rankings.
So what does Morse have to say about this fiasco? I asked Morse to comment and he
replied in an email: “After receiving feedback, we decided to delay the law diversity
ranking so we can devote more time to ensuring it accurately reflects the data of
underrepresented minorities, including students of two or more races. We will
publish it at a later, as yet undetermined date.”
I pressed further. Why were Asians and multiracial students excluded from the
diversity calculus in the first place? He answered: “We do not share our internal
editorial deliberations and decision-making, but we can share that we received
feedback that will help shape our rankings.”
I am not here to make Morse the villain of the show. I don’t know if he personally
pushed to exclude Asians and multiracial students for some reason or if the decision
was made by committee. He seems sincere in wanting to get it right. And I give him
credit for not dodging responsibility or my questions.
Still, as an Asian woman and former lawyer, I want to ask him, what the hell were
you thinking? The whole episode underscores how even sophisticated people in the
“woke” world of mainstream media can fail spectacularly to grasp the fundamentals
of what it means to be a minority and how hurtful it is not to be acknowledged as
“To me, this is symptomatic of people who don’t think about race very often,” says
Sarah Zearfoss, admissions director at University of Michigan Law School about the
U.S. News diversity venture. “It shows we’re still at the kindergarten level on race
when we should be at least on the college level.”
To Zearfoss, the U.S. News’ mishandling of diversity strikes home. “It was very
poignant to me because my husband is Japanese American and my kids are mixed. I
had a friend [in academia] say to me, your kids are Asian and White so they have too
much advantage.” She adds, “the race discussion gets very muddled.”