Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Move Toward Greater Diversity In Deanships

Chronicle of Higher Education, A Move Toward Greater Diversity in Deanships:

In 2016, law schools were behind where education schools stood on gender equity in 1996, with only 30 percent of law deans being women.

At the University of Utah, Elizabeth Kronk Warner became the first woman and first Native American dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law this year. ... [S]he did not go into the job knowing that she was breaking new ground. When the news releases came out, she realized what her appointment meant. Knowing that she was the first did not change her approach to her new job, but it made her more aware.

"Anytime you’re the first of anything, there’s a little bit more responsibility because, in my experience, people will ascribe lack of success to gender or race if you don’t do well," says Warner.

"For years, there weren’t as many women being educated in the law, and so there just wasn’t the pipeline for women to become deans," she says. Warner recalls an alumnus telling her recently that he wanted to mentor more women but that some clients resist the notion of women taking the lead in cases.

Warner credits Stephen W. Mazza, dean of the law school at the University of Kansas, who is white, with mentoring her and other women. Two of her predecessors as associate dean for academic affairs at Kansas also went on to lead law schools: Melanie D. Wilson at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Stacy L. Leeds at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Warner saw as she grew up how "the law touches you in so many ways that I don’t think other Americans experience, because we have a really unique relationship with the federal government." She is excited to start building on the school’s existing Indian-law classes. With other members of the university community, Warner also plans to go on the road in the coming year for face-to-face meetings with members of tribes around Utah.

Warner is proud of the college’s inclusive senior administrative team. It is intentional, she says, and better decision making happens when people from a variety of backgrounds take part in the discussion. She praised Ruth V. Watkins, the university’s president, for her dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion at Utah. “There are many other women in leadership positions at the university that just make it a great place to work,” she says.

Outside the university, Warner has found a supportive community of other female law deans. She credits Kellye Y. Testy, former dean of the School of Law at the University of Washington and president and chief executive of the Law School Admission Council, with bringing those women together. Women, especially women of color, among law-school deans are a close cohort, she says.“It can be a lonely job,” she says, “so it’s very nice to know that you’ve got people in other similar positions who can provide some support.”

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