Innovation is generally encouraged at institutes of higher learning. But these are testy times. Columbia Law recently caught unwanted attention for requiring transfers to submit a short video as a part of their application materials. Quick to fan the flames on the notion that some far leftist agenda has taken over academia, news sources have accused Columbia of using the videos as a way to sneak affirmative action recruitment in after the policy was effectively overturned by the Roberts Court.
Intending to circumvent the Supreme Court must be the reason that Columbia Law is the only school that has ever incorporated video into applications. Oh, what’s that? Law.com has a list of other schools that have done similar things?
[C]olumbia’s program wasn’t a novel concept. A number of schools have long accepted—if not required—a video submission.
For instance, Vanderbilt Law School requires that all binding early decision candidates must complete a video essay on their application portals, according to the school’s website.
“A binding early decision application is not complete and will not be considered under binding early decision without a video essay,” according to the policy, adding that the video essay is a way for the admissions committee to “get to know you better and learn more about your interest in the legal field.”
The University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Law requires a five- to 10-minute online interview that “allows us to get to know you beyond your LSAT scores, GPA and other components of your application,” according to the school’s website.
Was each one of these schools preemptively conducting this policy so that when affirmative action got overturned, they’d have an alibi for the video submissions? I highly doubt that. Maybe, just maybe, each of these schools determined independently that videos can help applicants round out their applications. Columbia is just being targeted for jumping on the bandwagon at a time with particularly bad optics.
I will admit that it was weird for Columbia withdraw the video requirement so quickly. Sure, there was backlash, but a good majority of it was something along the lines of “What can a video do that a letter can’t?” I think that Columbia would have been fine with replying that it is 2023 and applicants shouldn’t be limited to applying the same way that students in 1850 did. It is a common refrain among admissions officers that they look at each application individually and try to get a feel for each potential student. Seeing a short video of a person talking about something they are passionate about could be the thing that differentiates that applicant. For another student, a trite presentation or statements that contradict other parts of their application could let an admissions officer know that this particular student might not be the best fit for the university.
Let’s be honest with each other about two things.
First, student videos have been a secret component of school applications for years now. Just ask the quarterback who lost his scholarship for saying a slur on social media. A Kaplan Test Prep study reported that not only have 40% of law school admissions officers looked up applicants on social media, about the same amount have found videos that have negatively impacted the applicant. Explicitly requiring a video to gain admission at least has the benefit of giving the student some control over their image.
Second, if circumventing affirmative action was their goal, Columbia Law wouldn’t be this dumb about trying to achieve it. These are smart people here. You don’t need a video to determine the race or sex of an applicant. There are many other proxies for race and sex that admissions officers could look to that are a lot less obvious.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and by tweet at @WritesForRent.