Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rants of a former advocate of diversity/scholarship in the legal academy....

While many of my fellow bloggers on the site typically submit posts on a variety of important topics that directly affect the Latina and Latino community, I have found myself often writing about more general issues related to the challenges and costs of diversity. While I typically write on Latina-Latino-related issues in my articles and books, I find blogging a great way to not only vent about what is currently on my mind, it is a useful vehicle to begin to collect my thoughts on future book projects.

In an effort to continue my ruminations on subjects that have captured a good deal of my attention of late, and perhaps to overcome a case of writers block, I will attempt here to recast my views on the value of diversity as well as the importance of scholarship in the legal academy.

In terms of diversity, there is little doubt about the legal academy's stated support for the value of diversity. There are several well-known statements by both the ABA and AALS. Indeed, if there is any profession in the world that should, and in fact has made statements about the importance of diversity, it is legal education. For instance, the AALS's powerful statement on diversity issued in 1995, provides that "the commitment to diversity reaches beyond merely granting access to persons from underrepresented groups, but actually increasing the number of minorities in the profession." The ABA likewise has a similar goal "to promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities." The AALS announced that it: "expects that by providing an educational experience and environment at its members schools that is inclusive and representative of our multicultural society, there will be increased and more meaningful representation and access for all members of society before our many different legal forums and systems."

These statements are truly impressive, but the question I have found myself asking is whether they are enough. Do law schools meet their respective obligations to promote diversity by merely pronouncing that they support it? Most would respond to this question by saying " obviously not." Yet most law schools fall terribly short of truly being diverse environments. Some might counter by saying law schools actually do better in terms of both students and faculty than many other disciplines and cynics like me should be grateful. Really? If this last approach is true, attempting to meet the goal of diversity is a gift to the less qualified. We, the beneficiaries of diversity goals and programs like affirmative action should be eternally grateful for what we have been given.

The problem is that when examining the facade of merit and inclusion, what some still see is a profession that extols inclusions, but exists in a state, to put it as generously as possible, where peculiar statistics exist. For instance, virtually every law school in America has at least one African-American faculty member, but most, irrespective of the size of the faculty, have no more than a handful at best( excluding HBCU's, that obviously have become experts on recruiting and retaining faculty of color). As I have written and spoken about elsewhere, for African-Americans, this profession's view of diversity for most law schools resembles a 1960s dinner party by an appropriately liberal Northerner--there is the one diverse invitee and the obligatory second. Are there really so few African-Americans out there? Or do we still use the classic, but inaccurate argument, that there is a dearth of qualified candidates? I think my fellow travelers know the answer here. I would nonetheless love to hear from them.

And as the handful of you that know my work would understand, the statistics for Latinos and Latinas are even more bleak. Indeed, as I have written about in the past, half of American law schools, despite their stated commitments to diversity, do not have a single Latina or Latino faculty tenured or tenure-track member. Yet Latinas and Latinos represent roughly 10% of law school student bodies and these individuals are the largest minority group in the country. How about the qualified candidate argument? As the work of AALS President-elect Michael Olivas has illustrated, Latina and Latino faculty have qualifications that typically exceed those of non-minority candidates. More recently, Profssor Olivas questioned Hispanic Business Magazine's ranking of top law schools for Hispanics by noting: "if these figures are to (not) be believed. Even counting as “Hispanic faculty,” those
who have eaten in Mexican restaurants, these are inflated." If the above is true, and diversity is either avoided, or distorted, then what is at play in this era of a "post-race" world? Can someone explain this to me before I jump ship?

If in fact advocating for diversity and arguably a more just academy is a waste of time and actually against my own interests in terms of advancement, I am left with the choice of being tactical. Shouldn't I ponder whether I should formally abandon my writings of social justice and civil rights, and merely attack diversity and openly write about opposing affirmative action? Perhaps this way I can prove myself worthy? Perhaps this way I can prove I should not be feared? At the very least, it may leave me less frustrated with statements like " scholarship is the coin of the realm for this profession." Is it really? In actuality, just a few years ago I never would have asked that question, but experience with school after school suggests my cynicism may stem from some truths.

If abandoning diversity isn't worthwhile and support of diversity isn't dangerous, what happens to race scholars like myself that achieve or exceed, by any objective measures, the label of being successful scholars? Do schools clamor for our services? Do the postulates of supply and demand come into play and make us valuable in the market place? If not, what then is at play here?

Irrespective of what your responses are to these questions, I hope you think about them as we approach our faculty recruiting season. Do we really believe in diversity in our profession? Let's not lose sight of what I recently told a school, that I am sure I frightened: if we believe in diversity, there should be a value to it and that value must be measured against the costs that are all too often used to discount reasons to hire a diverse candidate. The realities are, statistically speaking, for every racially and ethnically diverse professor there are at least 20-30 non-diverse professors, and the numbers are worse for faculty candidates. Unless diversity means something real and has a true quantifiable value, there is always a reason not to hire that potentially scary and different faculty member.

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