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The Face of the Law School

Dean John Jeffries

John C. Jeffries, Jr. '73

This issue of UVA Lawyer celebrates diversity in the Law School. Diversity, of course, has many dimensions. Perhaps the most important—and certainly the most disputed—is use of diversity as a factor in admissions.

At the Law School, assessments of individual applicants begin with intellectual aptitude and academic achievement. We also look for accomplishments and experiences that predict success. These include significant achievement in extracurricular activities, meaningful work experience, successful military service, and contributions to campus or community through service and leadership. Also important are personal qualities, such as a history of growth in response to challenge or the ability to meet and overcome disadvantage. Finally, we seek diversity of all sorts—geographic, racial, ethnic, social, economic, and ideological.

The inclusion of race and ethnicity among the factors that can influence admission is, of course, deeply and durably controversial. It divides the Supreme Court (with a majority approving our current practice) and the nation at large. My own views are expressed in an excerpt reprinted elsewhere in these pages, but I am fully aware that many disagree. Some think we go too far in seeking diversity among our students; others think we don’t go far enough.

To the critics of our admissions policy, I offer one comment. No one should ignore the sincere and heartfelt convictions that lay on both sides of this difficult issue, but I believe that concerns about affirmative action generally would be substantially allayed by familiarity with its actual operation here in the Law School. Unlike the experience at some other institutions, our students do not divide themselves into hostile factions. The racial, ethnic, economic, social, and ideological differences among our students are far less prominent than the commonality of the experience that unites them. The civility, mutual respect, generosity, and affection that have long characterized the Law School community remain vital and vigorous today. In that environment, diversity actually works—as it should—not to divide or separate but to enhance and enrich the education of all.

Lillian BeVier’s “Charge to the Class”

Also noted in this issue is Lillian BeVier’s “Charge to the Class of 2004.” The idea for this event came from the students. They asked Lillian to speak to them about their opportunities and responsibilities as Law School graduates. To my knowledge, the class meeting held for this purpose was the first such event in the history of the Law School, though members of the Class of 2004 hope that others will follow their lead.

In any event, you will be interested—and perhaps inspired—to hear what Lillian had to say. And you will be proud to welcome these fine young lawyers as the newest members of our alumni family.

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