The war on standards, mock trial edition

Mark Graber is a distinguished law professor at the University of Maryland. Until very recently, he coached the school’s mock trial team, leading it to the national championship in (or around) 2008.

Until very recently, his daughter Abigail Graber assisted him. She’s an attorney in Washington, D.C. who clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and served on the Yale Law Journal.

On Thursday, Professor Graber sent an email to students who had been accepted in his mock trial class and thus, as I understand it, had made the team. The email informed them of the good news. Unfortunately, it also inadvertently contained comments by his daughter on the abilities of Latino students who sought admission to the class.

According to the Washington Post’s account, Abigail Graber, addressing the matter of diversity, lamented that they had “almost no Latino students on team.” She added, however, that the three Latino candidates were not very qualified.

She stated:

If I were to rank purely on performance, I would probably only take 1 of them. Should I take 2? All three? None have mock trial experience.

The mediocre one is extremely involved in community activism/organizing (she’s the one I would probably take no matter what, what she lacks in skill she makes up in confidence, although she may be too busy for this commitment).

Seven minutes after sending the email, Professor Graber, realizing that he had erroneously included his daughter’s candid assessments, apologized by email. It was too late. The school announced that it would be selecting a new mock trial coach.

Obviously, Gruber should have made sure his daughter’s comments were not included in the notification to team members. The University perhaps could reasonably believe his carelessness has undermined his viability as a coach.

But in the context in which she made her comments, there was nothing objectionable about his daughter negatively assessing the ability of the Latino students who sought entry into her father’s class. The context was her desire to have a class and team that, if reasonably possible, contained at least two Latino members. Had she not been concerned about “diversity,” she would have had no occasion to mention the ethnicity of any applicant.

In my view, Ms. Graber should not have been concerned about the ethnic composition of the team. However, I’m pretty sure the University expected her to be concerned about this. Such concerns have become de rigueur on college campuses.

If we accept as legitimate the notion that the mock trial coaches should strive for diversity, there was nothing wrong with Ms. Graber’s attempt to assess the merits of Latino applicants and weigh their shortcomings (which she seems very well qualified to identify) against the desire to have Latinos on the team. This is exactly what she did in the email.

In sum, Abigail Graber (1) wanted an ethnically diverse mock trial team, but (2) also wanted to uphold minimum standards for membership, and (3) wanted to inform her father of the tension between these two desires in this particular instance, and to get his advice on how to resolve it.

She did not — and this is critically important — disparage the abilities of Latinos in general. She only disparaged the abilities of the Latinos who, in effect, were being considered for preferential treatment.

Jocelyn Nolasco, who apparently is the student Ms. Graber referred to as “the mediocre one” whom she would select on merit, rejected Professor Graber’s personal apology to her. She complained that Graber apologized for the students seeing the email, not its content.

As we have seen, that’s all Graber needed to apologize for.

Washington Post reporter Ellie Silverman contributes this bit of idiocy to the story:

Monday was the first day of classes at the University of Maryland, and students returned to a campus that was fraught with racial tension last academic year. A noose was found in a fraternity house, white supremacist fliers were posted on campus, and a coalition of student groups issued an extensive list of demands to the administration, calling for better representation of marginalized communities. . . .

Nolasco said it’s a “waiting game” for the next offensive incident to occur.

“What happens next?” she asked.

The mock trial incident has nothing in common with the noose or the fliers. It stemmed from the Grabers’ desire to promote “better representation of marginalized communities,” which nowadays normally entails preferential treatment and lower standards.

What happens next? More preferential treatment and a further lowering of standards, I predict.