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  • Writer's pictureThe Moot Times UCalgary Law

Half-hearted Diversity

Guest contribution from LawProfBlawg

Sometimes, law schools claim they are very keen on diversity. They will appear to make efforts. Perhaps they will interview many diverse candidates. They will fly one or two of those candidates back. Then, the schools will throw up their hands when those candidates are not hired.

This circle of life is the basis of Carliss Chatman and Najarian Peter’s article “Soft Shoe and Shuffle.” It’s also the basis of Meera Deo’s book Unequal Profession. It has been documented time and time again that the legal academy is hostile to that which is not elite/white.

Well, sometimes. The legal academy is all in on ensuring diversity of the student body. After all, that reflects well on the school. They can tout that in admissions brochures, with prominent displays of minority and white students. Even the whitest of law schools displays prominently the little diversity they possess.

It’s harder to hide that lack of diversity in law school faculty. Students know quite readily when professors have not had the same experiences as they have. And students can know the priorities of the institution they attend just by tracking who were the faculty hired over the past ten years. Are they all from the same schools? Who has left the school?

This is what I mean by half-hearted diversity: Diversity is made a priority, but not in faculty hiring, or at least some component of faculty hiring. A school might boast a diverse student body and a diverse faculty, yet drilling down might demonstrate that diversity is nowhere on the tenure or tenure track faculty.

Real diversity requires effort, not just talk. I envision obstacles throughout the hiring process and beyond. Here’s how to eliminate those obstacles:

  1. Real commitment of faculty, not lip service. This is very difficult to do. You can demand a faculty hiring committee look for diverse candidates, but that doesn’t mean they will find them.

  2. Actually SEARCHING for diverse candidates. Traditional tools of searching for candidates may not yield diverse candidates. It’s quite easy for a hiring committee at that point to just throw up their hands and say they haven’t found any. It’s like if I were looking for the coffee creamer in my garage. I might search very hard, but it’s just not going to be there.

  3. Ignoring colleagues who have a penchant for torpedoing diverse candidates. Once the candidate gives a job talk, it is classic behavior for someone to target them. So many unconscious biases that will throw the listener to exclaim during the faculty meeting that something “wasn’t right” or the talk “wasn’t great.”

  4. Searching beyond just four or five schools. Traditional elite law schools aren’t great at promoting diversity. Diverse law professors come from a variety of different schools and experiences. That’s in part what makes them diverse.

  5. Replacing members of hiring committees that repeatedly fail to achieve results. As I stated, sometimes hiring committees seem reluctant to follow a faculty mandate to diversify the faculty. Whether this stems from incompetence or flat-out rebellion, it is incumbent upon the Dean to replace committee members who are incapable of follow-through. It’s telling if repeat committees repeatedly fail at hiring diverse candidates with little or no change in membership.

  6. Commitment from leadership (Deans, Provosts). Often times Deans and Provosts say they want diversity. But that doesn’t mean they do. Provosts may prioritize other initiatives that will lead to an outcome adverse to diversifying the faculty. This lack of consistency can erode gains made in diversifying the faculty.

  7. Not shifting the burden for candidates to justify their existence in the academy despite not going to those 4 "special law schools." If a hiring committee that demands candidates who are not from traditional schools justify their existence and place within the academy, the school is striving to kill diversity through elitism. It is signaling to the diverse candidate to look elsewhere.

  8. Reading the scholarship. That means not looking at placement proxies, citation counts, and other proven to be problematic measures. There is a rich literature on the ways in which these measures are biased.

  9. Recognizing that others succeeded even if they aren't identical twins in terms of experience of existing faculty members. This gets more difficult the greater the degree of faculty homogeneity.

  10. Remembering the goal is to improve learning. That means there is value to the institution. To students, to the academy, to everyone. Because intellectual endeavors started in an echo chamber are doomed to fail over time.

  11. Realizing that if your committee brings back "a diverse candidate" you aren't really searching for diversity.

  12. Keeping track of all candidates that the committee interviewed over time to collect data. Interviewed, not just "fly backs." It’s a great way of assuring that hiring committees are doing their jobs.

  13. Defining what is meant by “Diversity.” People have different definitions. At its broadest, it might mean adding faculty from a group that isn’t the dominant group within the faculty.

Oh, and it isn't enough to just HIRE diverse candidates. Schools that aren't diverse will have difficulty retaining and promoting diverse candidates. Because institutions that block diverse candidates from coming in also actively push them out the door once they are there.

To the extent that a law school refuses to do more than letting its hiring committee repeat its failures in their “search” for diversity, it isn’t serious about its efforts. It’s half-hearted.

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