University of Michigan Bar Passage 2004-2006: A Failure to Replicate Professor Sander’s Results, With Implications for Affirmative Action

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In a recent issue of the Denver Law Review, Professor Richard Sander present data on
race-based affirmative action that purportedly support his theory that any benefits African
Americans enjoy from affirmative action are more than offset by detrimental effects of academic
mismatch. Specifically, he references a yet unpublished study in which he claims to have found
that for the years 2004-2006 the bar passage rate of African-American graduates of the
University of Michigan Law School is 62 percent for first time takers rising to only 76 percent
after multiple takes. This paper shows that these results are quite implausible given the best data
we have on African American bar passage rates at schools similar in selectivity to Michigan,
and then reports the results of an effort to replicate Professor Sander’s methods with more
complete data. The replication yields quite different results as it indicates that during the years
Professor Sander studied the bar passage rate for Michigan Law School’s African American
alumni was about 78% on first attempt with a lower bound estimate exceeding 90% where there
had been an opportunity for repeat test taking. Moreover, the data are quite inconsistent with the
predictions of mismatch theory. Hispanic students, many of whom benefited from affirmative
action, had about the same bar pass rates as white students who did not, and Asian students who
did not benefit from affirmative action had bar pass rates not much different from those of
African American students who did benefit.

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