Paul L. Caron

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Deo: Investigating Pandemic Effects On Legal Academia

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law hosts a free online program on Pandemic Effects on Legal Academia: A Discussion With Law School Faculty on Wednesday. June 23 at noon - 3:00 P.M. MDT: 

The session will begin with a presentation by Meera E. Deo on her new national empirical study of law faculty, Pandemic Effects on Legal Academia (PELA) followed by a panel of deans responding with their own personal and institutional experiences. Participants will then have the opportunity to break out into working groups organized around specific topics to brainstorm challenges and potential solutions to the obstacles presented by the earlier presentations.

Preliminary analyses of the PELA study reveal troubling patterns of how the effects of COVID-19 exacerbate previously existing raceXgender barriers documented in Southwestern Law School Professor Meera Deo’s book, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia. Challenges—which are felt most acutely by mothers and other caregivers, junior scholars, untenured faculty, and women of color—include a lack of time and bandwidth to produce scholarship, the blending of home life with work life, an inability to prioritize one’s own well-being, and significant negative mental health effects. This session provides an opportunity for faculty to learn from the data and brainstorm solutions.

Meera E. Deo (Southwestern), Investigating Pandemic Effects on Legal Academia, 89 Fordham L. Rev. 2467 (2021):

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of the American workplace, challenges based on race, gender, and “raceXgender” (the combination of race and gender) were the norm in legal academia. The “Pandemic Effects on Legal Academia” (PELA) project, considers the ways in which the pandemic affects the retention and mental health of law faculty, and especially the most vulnerable professors--including junior faculty, caregivers, faculty of color, women faculty, and women of color.

Existing research has documented the extra service burdens many women of color carry both professionally and personally, from meeting with students and organizing committees on campus, to being the default parent and household manager at home. COVID-19 has intensified these pressures in forceful ways. Women faculty have been expected to augment what were already substantial contributions to academic caretaking by crafting new policies, arranging online meetings with vulnerable students, and serving on an increasing number of committees. At the same time, schools and summer camps have been closed in many cities for much of the year—stymying opportunities for women, who are more likely to be caretakers of these now homebound children, to engage in focused research or scholarly writing. The professional and mental health effects of these challenges are especially significant for untenured faculty (including pre-tenured and contract-based professors) as well as faculty of color.

Through both quantitative (survey) and qualitative (in-depth interview) data, the PELA study examines whether and how the pandemic has exacerbated challenges for already-vulnerable law faculty. This Article provides an outline of the PELA study, including instructive literature, research questions, and hypotheses that guide this nascent empirical project.

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