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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How a Prof's Race and Gender Affect the 1L Curriculum

Meera E. Deoa (Thomas Jefferson), Maria Woodruff (UCLA) & Rican Vuedd (UCLA) have published Paint by Number? How the Race and Gender of Law School Faculty Affect the First-Year Curriculum, 29 Chicana/o-Latina/o L. Rev. 1 (2010). Here is the abstract:

While there is a relatively standard first-year curriculum at all ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S., no two classrooms are identical. This article examines how the race and gender of law school faculty affect both what is taught in the first year and how that material is taught. Using focus group data from a national, longitudinal, multi-method study of American law schools, this article reveals that faculty of color and female faculty are more likely to engage in “diversity discussions” -- discussions involving race and gender -- than their white male counterparts. While many students appreciate these discussions and mention numerous ways in which these conversations enhance their legal education, some prefer their exclusion. Additionally, a few professors are so insensitive to diversity issues that they may be creating a hostile learning environment for some students. The Conclusion offers implications and policy suggestions to improve learning outcomes for students, retention rates for both students and faculty, and faculty diversity generally.

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Comments

Will the obsession with people's genitalia and pigmentation ever end? What happened to concern with the content of a person's character, or the intellectual diversity?

Posted by: Todd | Sep 28, 2010 8:43:18 PM

Todd,

The obsession with people's genitalia and pigmentation will end when, in the presence of an otherwise free and functioning maket, there ceases to be a correlation between those two factors and economic outcomes. The concern that content of character is not adequately valued by some participants in the marketplace is precisely why there is such an obsession. And if I am not mistaken, I believe this abstract addresses the issue of intellectual diversity in two differing contexts; it is specifically attempting to quantify that intellectual diversity. Maybe we should read the article.

Posted by: Biglaw Associate | Sep 29, 2010 8:28:05 AM

I always think back to my 1st year Con Law class experience. We had 4 black/African-American (take your pick) students in my section. They rarely participated, and when they did their answers were typically stock liberal viewpoints. I cannot recall a single time when one of them spoke about their unique black perspective on a topic.

On the other hand, I was an outspoken libertarian at a very liberal law school. I had several liberal classmates thank me for stimulating class discussion. I think I added a lot more diversity to the intellectual environment than my black classmates, despite my status as a white male - don't you?

You also bring up the old canard about unequal outcomes. Are those unequal outcomes among equally qualified candidates? I think not. Trying to fix problems that start at birth by discriminating in favor of minorities at the graduate school or employment level is not the solution.

Posted by: Todd | Sep 29, 2010 10:34:08 AM

"Are those unequal outcomes among equally qualified candidates? I think not."

And on what basis do you make this assumption, Todd?

Posted by: JGiven | Sep 29, 2010 5:51:42 PM

Oh I don't know what basis... How about the numerous studies showing that "disadvantaged minorities" have substantially lower test scores and GPAs as compared to whites or Asians admitted to the same colleges and graduate schools. Or all of the diversity hiring programs that recruit candidates with sub-par qualifications?

Are you really denying that happens? Affirmative action does not take 2 more or less equal candidates and give the edge to the one from a traditionally disadvantaged group. I would be ok with that. We all know that AA programs boost favored applicants into jobs or schools they would otherwise be unqualified for if they happened to be white or Asian.

Case in point. My law school - not a single black student graduated cum laude (roughly top 20%). They were probably 10-12% of the student body. I wonder why? Perhaps because those who had the qualifications and background to be in the top 20% at my school, instead through AA ended up at a higher ranked school.

Posted by: Todd | Sep 30, 2010 9:32:07 AM

Todd,

The argument you cite, that of upwardly cascading minorities, has been made repeatedly by Prof. Richard Sander of UCLA. Your observation is shared at my law school as well (i.e. blacks and latinos were not represented in the same proportion among those graduating with honors), I know of at least a few black/latino students who graduated at higher positions than non-minority students with both higher LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs in their classes. (Disclosure: I am assuming their scores were lower, because I know what theirs were, and I know what the class mean and median were, and statistically it has to have been the case that at least some non-minority students with higher scores were ranked lower).

It is my observation that there is a stereotype that people of African origin are intellecually inferior. Whether or not it is true, I could see that if I were one of them, I might be disinclined to speak in class if any intellectual misstep of mine could somehow be used to attribute intellectual inferiority to the entire group. (Assuming, of course, that I care what others think of the entire group - and maybe that's part of the problem).

As to the qualifications of the candidates, let's assume what you say is true: that the more qualified minorities went to higher ranked schools. If we were to control for that(i.e., compare a nonminority graduating from your law school against a minority, who was admitted on the basis of AA at a higher-ranked school, who came from a similarly-situated wealth background and went to a similarly-situated firm), what is the result at say, ten years out? Assuming then that we are looking apples to apples, what result? I would be interested to know if you have any anecdotes to share.

And in the background here, we should also take note that what people mean by "affirmative action" encompasses many things. If it is affirmative action any time any nonminority helps a minority advance his or her carreer, is that necessarily an objectionable thing? Is it objectionable only if it comes at the expense of a non-minority? Is it so if the same action were taken to advance one non-minority over another non-minority? Is something affirmative action any time the result is one person with a lower LSAT score/GPA matrix being admitted over a person with a higher one (after adjusting for perceived difficulty of major and undergrad institution)? These are all questions that see (to me at least) to be lost any time there is any sort of "affirmative action" discussion.

All of these comments and questions are not an effort to change your views about affirmative action, or anyone else's. Clearly, I cannot do that. My only hope in raising them is to share with you one thought, and one feeling. First, the idea behind this article is that there is some educational difference - benefit or otherwise - that occurs as a result of discussions about differences independent of ecnomic background (like the one we're having now), not really about affirmative action. Second, I observed that you characterized these two professors as being obsessed with pigmentation and genitalia. I also observed that your comment seemed to imply that those professors are necessarily not interested in content of character and intellectual diversity. As a person who is interested in both ethnic/sex inequality on the one hand, and content of character/intellectual diversity on the other, I found that statement quite hurtful. I suppose what I'm asking for is a little understanding of where other people are coming from on those issues, the same sort of understanding that (I hope) I have given you in this dialogue.

Sincerely,

BA

Posted by: Biglaw Associate | Sep 30, 2010 11:45:07 AM