Harvard Law Review Expands Affirmative Action Program to Include Gender

The Harvard Crimson reports:

The Harvard Law Review, which has historically been staffed by disproportionately more men than women, has expanded its affirmative action policy to include gender as a criteria in its editor selection process.

Following a year in which just 20.5 percent of its elected editors were female, the Law Review will consider gender when choosing some of its applicants for the first time ever this year.

The majority of the Law Review’s returning editors approved the policy change this January in an attempt to increase the number of female editors on the staff. Because of the specific nature of the Law Review’s admissions process, the new policy will be used in choosing 12 of the Law Review’s next 46 editors.

Second-year Law School student Gillian S. Grossman ’10, the recently elected president of the Law Review who will lead the organization’s 127th volume, wrote in an email that the policy change was among many considered to “enhance the diversity of the editorial body.”

“Volume 127 decided that adding gender to the list of criteria considered by the discretionary committee was one good step in that direction,” she wrote.

This was a major subject of debate when I was a student at Harvard Law in the 1990s. Back then, the thought among the Law Review editors was that members of the Law Review went on to become the leaders of society while non-law-review types toiled away in obscurity. Affirmative action to better equalize the numbers on the Review would help ensure that tomorrow’s leaders would include as many women as men. In 1997, the Law Review did a major survey of the entire law school student body to find out what was going on. It turned out that the women and men who actually applied to be on Law Review were admitted at equal rates. The problem was that fewer women applied: According to the survey results, women tended to prefer other extracurricular activities to being on Law Review. So the Review decided to focus on recruiting instead instead of expanding its affirmative action program. The issue has come up from time to time since then, though — here’s an article on the subject from 2006 — without the Review taking action.

One interesting aspect of the timing is that it’s hard to blame the unusually lopsided gender numbers at the Review on the leadership of the law school. In the past, there was some thought that perhaps the low number of women who tried out it reflected the tone of the school set by its traditional male Deans. But Harvard hasn’t had a male Dean since Elena Kagan took office in 2003, at least other than when Howell Jackson non-acting“>briefly was Acting Dean. And the current Dean is Martha Minow, who is not generally thought to be an oppressive symbol of the patriarchy. So whatever the cause was of the low numbers, presumably it was not related to the Dean. (FWIW, I never tried out for Law Review and wasn’t on it, so while I watched the debate as a student I wasn’t directly involved in it. Anyway, back to toiling.)

Hat tip: How Appealing

UPDATE: Kevin Walsh weighs in with his interesting perspective from having been a Law Review editor who helped implement the Review’s preexisting affirmative action policy.