By Sidd Sinha
When Dr. Amy Wax presented her case at the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal’s (CPILJ) Symposium on disparate impact last month, there were several rattled audience members afterwards. Wax’s presentation was titled “Chasing the Unicorn” and challenged the rhetoric of having programs that were used to benefit minorities. Her data suggested that the efforts that are taken for any programs that help the disadvantaged demographics are not efficient. The most controversial parts of the presentation focused on Wax’s theory that there is no need for disparate impact programs and that the resources used for assisting the underrepresented demographics were essentially being wasted.Seemingly uncomfortable, several individuals left the symposium during this particular discussion.
The CPILJ Editorial Board responded to private messages from those concerned after the symposium. Wax has an outstanding résumé that features impressive academic successes across highly-accredited, Ivy League universities. The decision to have her as the keynote speaker was made by CPILJ’s Symposium Editors, who wanted to have a fair representation of all the various perspectives on the topic.
Professors Dalié Jiménez and Jill Anderson put together a brown bag lunch to discuss any concerns that may have arisen from the Symposium. The lunch took place about a month after the Symposium and went over any issues that were still lingering amongst the law school community. Deans, professors, students, members of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), and administration from the UConn-Storrs campus came to discuss some of the flaws in Wax’s arguments.
While a common theme was reviewing Wax’s inability to correctly answer questions about housing laws in Connecticut and dismissal of studies raised to show incorrect assumptions in her presentation, a more profound message came from the lunch. It was clear that Wax had an unpopular view but the larger issue was an underlying skill law students ought to learn in their advanced education: refuting arguments with poise, composure, and data.
CPILJ is hoping to get a full article from Wax and intends to publish a response paper detailing the gaps and assumptions that Wax put forth, which may have been articulated well, but do not contribute to any fair study of how to approach improvements that may be needed in the disparate impact model. While there are studies to support Wax’s case, the basis for her work was not presented clearly enough with information that was credible. CPILJ was glad to have attention brought to the issue and considers the event a success.
More information on Wax’s study and upcoming activities for CPILJ can be found at http://cpilj.com/.