While their former classmate Bill Clinton LAW ’73 addressed Yale students in Woolsey Hall, approximately 200 alumni of the Yale Law School gathered in the Levinson Auditorium of the Law School to hear a lecture by Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier LAW ’74 who Clinton nominated in 1993 to serve in the Department of Justice.
Addressing the topic “Out of the Grutter and Into the Mainstream: From Adversity to Diversity,” Guinier’s talk about diversity in higher education kicked off the Law School’s 2003 Alumni Weekend.
This year’s Alumni Weekend, for which over 940 members of 12 law school classes registered to attend, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision with speeches and panel discussions, Law School Associate Director of Public Affairs Jan Conroy said.
Guinier’s talk addressed concerns about affirmative action and diversity in the wake of the Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger Supreme Court decisions.
“I’m always imagining a better future. The purpose of this lecture is to imagine a better future for higher education,” Guinier said. “The issue of affirmative action has been a decoy, a lightning rod which has distracted attention.”
Guinier said in her talk that race could be used as a diagnostic tool to help universities and law schools fulfill their mission statements, which often emphasize public service. Guinier said admissions committees should focus on admitting students with the potential to be leaders in their communities.
“The students who are making up the classes of [selective universities and law schools] are not necessarily the students who go on to do public service,” Guinier said.
Guinier said that at the University of Michigan Law School, which was the center of controversy in the Grutter v. Bollinger decision, students with the highest undergraduate credentials were among the least likely to fulfill all three elements of the school’s mission: achieving financial success, enjoying their careers and being leaders in their communities.
Guinier said that law schools’ admissions decisions should be governed by a set of two principles.
“Decisions should be transparent, not behind closed doors,” Guinier said. “[And] admissions decisions need to be democratically accountable.”
Guinier was Clinton’s controversial 1993 nominee for head of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice; Clinton eventually withdrew Guinier’s name from consideration after an outcry by conservatives. In 1998, Guinier became the first black woman tenured professor at Harvard Law.
Guinier’s talk was the 2003 James A. Thomas Lecture, an annual event named after Law School Associate Dean James Thomas that typically addresses a group marginalized by society, Conroy said.
Conroy said 2003 was a reunion year for Clinton, who joined his classmates for dinner but could not stay for the rest of the weekend.
Howard Glickstein LAW ’54, Dean of Touro College Law Center in Huntington, New York, said this year’s program was nostalgic for him even though he will not celebrate his 50th law school reunion until next year.
“I was in law school at the time of Brown v. Board of Education,” Glickstein said.
Conroy said 12 members of the Class of 1943 registered to attend their 60th reunion.