Paul L. Caron

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Horwitz: Diversifying Academic Panels And Conferences

Paul Horwitz (Alabama), On Diversifying Academic Panels and Conferences:

This is an evergreen issue, but in response to a tweet by the twitter feed of the Feminist Law Professors blog, Mike Dorf has put up some thoughts on the question of diversity on academic panels and conferences, including but not limited to gender and racial diversity. ... I'd like to offer some thoughts of my own here.

As a preface, I should add a note by way of confession, since the tweet that sparked Mike's post suggested that men should refuse to appear on a panel if there is not at least one woman on the panel. I'm not sure that plea, if one agrees with it, should stop at gender, and a person interested in gender, race, class, and intersectionality might ask why the suggestion stopped there. Still, I must confess that I just appeared on a conference panel on which there were five men and one woman, who was "only" the moderator. (She happened to be the most impressive person on the panel, for what it's worth.) I found it striking and surprising.

I will note, though, that panelists often don't know what the composition of a panel will be until rather late in the process, when they've already made a commitment to appear. I'm not rejecting the suggestion of the tweet, and in such situations one should at least write to the planners and urge them to see whether something can be done about it; better yet, one could ask or insist in the first place, upon accepting, that there be at least one woman (or what have you, including insisting that the panel is not all like-minded on the issue) on one's panel. But the timing and logistics are a complicating factor. I will note, in fairness to the planners of that conference, that the mix of men and women on the overall list of conference speakers was quite strong. I will also note that in past years, I've put up one or two posts (which I couldn't find, alas, but commenters who do are welcome to put up the links) examining the gender composition of panels at the AALS annual conference. Many were reasonably balanced. A number, often associated with particular sections, were composed of only one man or only one woman. A few, to my great surprise, were all men or all women. The AALS usually advises program planners to seek various balances, including gender balances, but the advice apparently doesn't always take, and I don't know whether it does any follow-up or not when it looks at the proposed speaker list and finds serious imbalances. 

Here are my thoughts, for whatever they're worth.

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