Most diverse faculty

Diversity in the classroom sends a message. A major goal of some law schools is to develop a community where diversity is understood and evident in everything they do, and a diverse faculty is a key component to this process.   

By Karen Dybis

It was a nightmare of epic proportions — at the time of the national anthrax scare, an envelope with a piece of hate mail and an unknown white powder arrived for the University of California-Davis’ La Raza Law Student Association.

The panic was immediate. The powder proved harmless, but damage was done to the students’ feeling of security. The law school was shaken, especially because the hate mail arrived at the same time as the group’s scheduled César Chávez Celebration.

The administration and faculty acted quickly, organizing community forums and open discussions with students, recalled then-Associate Dean Kevin Johnson.

At one gathering, more than 100 law school students, faculty and staff members came together to show support for La Raza, which sponsored the Chávez Celebration. The moment proved healing and life-affirming.

“The students trusted the administration and faculty. They worked with us to calm things down,” said Johnson, who now serves as the law school’s first Latino dean. “And it worked. Without a diverse and caring faculty and administration, this could have been a very bad episode in the school’s history. In the end, it made us all stronger and more committed to each other.”

While much of the outside world’s attention tends to fall on student enrollment, law schools of every size, stature and situation say one of the most important things they do on a daily basis is create a diverse faculty to support their mission as an educational institution.

The issue is so important that the Princeton Review asks students to rank law schools annually on faculty diversity. Its rankings are based on the percentage of the law school faculty that is from a minority group as well as student assessment of whether the faculty makes up “a broadly diverse group of individuals.”

For 2009, the top five law schools are Howard University, Florida International University, Temple University, the University of Hawaii — Manoa and Southern University. Johnson’s UC Davis ranked No. 10.

However, finding a wide-ranging mix of law faculty is something most law schools struggle with, according to the 2007-2008 Association of American Law Schools Statistical Report on Law School Faculty And Candidates for Law Faculty Positions.

The National Jurist explores how a diverse faculty affects current and future law students, how the stats have increased over the years and what it all means.

Diversity and its impact

The 2007-2008 Association of American Law Schools Statistical Report on Law School Faculty And Candidates for Law Faculty Positions shows that nearly 63 percent of law school faculty is male. Of those men noting their racial background, 77 percent said they are white or Caucasian. The next largest minority group is African American followed by Latino or Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander.

Among women, some 70 percent also reported they are white or Caucasian. Minority patterns followed the same trend as their male counterparts with African American, Latino and Asian being the three largest groups represented among female faculty members.

Generally, law schools on the Princeton Review’s list and those hoping to be agree that a diverse faculty creates better classroom discussion, provides greater representation of the so-called real world of law and creates a culture of understanding that has an intrinsic value for everyone involved.

But diversity also provides other subtle yet important impacts on a law school, its students and the greater legal community, some legal educators say. For example, having a diverse faculty means a law school will make more well-rounded decisions when it comes to future planning. It also presents the public and potential students with a more realistic face of those who now teach and attend law school.

“The days of Prof. Kingsfields dominating the law schools are long gone,” said Johnson, referring to the cruel Caucasian character from the infamous book and movie about law school, The Paper Chase.

“Having role models on the law faculty from all different backgrounds as their teacher better prepares the students for the practice of law in an increasingly diverse society,” Johnson said. “By seeing a diverse faculty on a regular basis throughout the curriculum, students of color learn that it is possible for them to be lawyers and possibly law professors. Role models who ‘look like them’ make all the difference.”

Students interested in how many minority professors teach at a particular law school have multiple resources available to them. One of the most complete may be Judging the Law School, an annual report produced by Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

According to the report, Judging the Law Schools compares all accredited law schools based on a wide variety of objective criteria. These criteria are from the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the organization that handles law school accrediting.

Now in its 10th year, the report ranks law schools by the number of minorities on the teaching staff. The number is significant — and should be considered by prospective law school students — because it “reflects access to the highest levels of the legal profession,” the report stated.

The latest edition, released in January 2009, ranks the University of Puerto Rico as having the most minority faculty: 102 people. International American University is second with 70 and the Pontifical Catholic University of P.R. as third with 51. (By comparison, UC Davis is listed as having 21 minorities on its faculty.)

Howard University ranks high on this list (No. 6) and many others for a simple reason — its commitment to diversity permeates every part of the law school, said Okianer Christian Dark, a professor and the associate dean for academic affairs.

“We always had a non-discrimination policy since our founding in 1869. That is only a few years after the Civil War ended,” Dark noted. “It’s built into our institutional fabric.”

Role models

While most of Howard’s faculty is African American, Dark said they also have professors who are Asian and Caucasian. In fact, the law school is now looking for additional legal writing professors, and they are working hard to find male candidates to balance how many females are already in place.

“Sometimes you have to look for the missing voices,” Dark said. “We have to push a little more to see those ethnic or racial or gender differences are represented.”

Dark knows of which she speaks — Dark was the first African-American female to teach at the University of Richmond law school in 1984. She said every minority hire knew where the others were and sought each other out for advice.

“If you really want to attract people, you need to let them know they’re welcome,” Dark said. “It took a real sincerity (on Richmond’s part) for me to take the job. I was interviewing them as much as they were me. Were they for real? Would I be supported? Would I be a true member of the faculty? I wanted to know that they understood what I would bring to the table.”

She recommends that law schools reach out to minority bar associations and the like to recruit future faculty members.

Dean Linda Ammons has been head of Widener University School of Law for three years now. She proudly reports that minority recruitment at the two-campus law school has increased by 55 percent thanks to the addition of five new hires during her tenure. Widener has locations in Wilmington, Del., and Harrisburg, Penn.

Granted, it helps that Ammons is the first woman and the first African American to lead the Widener University School of Law, and one of only three African American females in the nation serving as dean of a law school.

“The mere fact that I am a person of color is not taken for granted. It sends a pretty powerful message,” Ammons admits.

Indeed, her own life has been positively affected because she saw diverse role models within the law school environment. Ammons said she still remembers as a law school student how she met Marilyn V. Yarbrough, the first African American dean at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville.

“At the time, I didn’t know that was possible, that it was something to reach for,” Ammons said. “I never forgot that experience.”

At Widener, she says diversity “is an initiative that is central to our strategic initiatives at the law school as well as at the university. It is a major goal of this administration to develop a community where diversity is understood and where it is so seamless you don’t have to talk about it. It’s just evident in everything we do.”

She agrees with other law school deans and faculty members who say law — or any other part of the humanities — can be taught without consideration of diversity. She says law is contextual, and what you see in the classroom sends a message.

“When you look at the world, it is not one gender, one race, one anything,” Ammons said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer. It is part of the 21st Century, the way the world is flattening. It is essential to the way we reach across borders.

“When we send legal professionals out into the world, we don’t know what kind of cases they’re going to have or where they’re going to work,” Ammons said. “That is why law students need to be culturally astute. The world is a big place, and we’re all a part of it.”

Julie Spanbauer recalls that not too long ago, female faculty members were a rarity instead of a norm. Spanbauer, chair of the Faculty Selection and Appointments Committee at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Ill., has taught at the law school for 19 years.

“I’ve seen a great deal of change in a positive way in terms of getting more women and minorities to join the faculty,” she said.

For a law school to thrive, students need to see that diversity at work, Spanbauer added. When she first became a professor, she said students would comment about how she was a role model to other females.

“There are instances in which students may be the first in their family to attend law school. They may look around in their first semester and see that they have only Caucasion professors,” Spanbauer said. “I’ve advised students to reach out to campus student organizations and get in touch with the faculty advisors. Suddenly, they feel like they have someone to go to, someone who identifies with them. It gives them a sense of being included.”

Spanbauer said one of the greatest challenges for any law school is to attract diverse job candidates for its faculty. Among the most important things a law school can do is to simply set the bar high for diversity.

“We search for a diverse pool of candidates to interview both locally and on national hiring levels. And we have a wonderful faculty who steps up all the time to help us in that department,” Spanbauer said.

“Our faculty benefits too. It provides a richer discussion about our goals and projects we should be involved in as an institution. That is great for us and the law school as a whole,” Spanbauer said.

Positive change goes a long way

Jim Rosenblatt, dean of the Mississippi College School of Law, believes that the very essence of legal education is served when there are a variety of legal viewpoints included. That is essential to students and to the professors alike, he noted.

To that end, Mississippi has created a diverse faculty based on geography, ethnicity and background. The law school has three minority faculty members — Professor Patricia Bennett and Angela Kupenda, who are African American, and Assistant Professor Alina Ng, who is Asian American.

Rosenblatt said these professors — along with Mississippi’s administration and staff — invest heavily in mentoring students, advising them and serving as inspirational role models.

“Our personal viewpoints are shaped by our environment, upbringing, education and experiences. To be able to consider a variety of viewpoints in the analysis of a law, a case or a factual situation is essential,” Rosenblatt said.

“Whether picking a jury, interviewing a client or witness, or working with counsel on a multi-district case, it is essential that an attorney be able to appreciate how others see and understand an issue or interpret a factual situation,” Rosenblatt added. “This ability must be taught and employed during one’s legal education and is certainly advanced by having diverse opinions and backgrounds from which to draw.”

Rosenblatt insists that a diverse faculty is a key component to this process not only in drawing from their own backgrounds, but also in ensuring that different student views are brought to the discussion and given value and relevance.

Johnson is the first Latino dean ever at a University of California professional school. He said there also are Latinos in the leadership at Denver and St. Mary University’s law schools.

When Johnson arrived in 1992, there were no minority members on the law school’s faculty (there had been some in the past, but they had left, Johnson noted). Since then, he proudly said, the UC Davis faculty has become increasingly diverse.

For instance, the law school has approximately 11 Asian-American faculty — more than any law school in the United States, including Hawaii. This number is essential in particular because his law school has a student body that is about 25 to 30 percent Asian American every year. So having the appropriate student to faculty radio helps draw students and well-respected professors to the campus.

Another reason Johnson cares about minority representation in UC-Davis’s faculty is it helps the law school’s students earn jobs. He said the law community wants a more diverse cadre of lawyers.

“A more diverse student body is necessary to satisfy this goal,” Johnson said. “A diverse faculty is necessary to attract and retain a diverse student body. Thus, this system is all interrelated.”  


Most Diverse Faculty




Howard University




Florida International University




Temple University




University of Hawaii-Manoa




Southern University




University of the District of Columbia




North Carolina Central University




Northern Illinois University




Chapman University




University of California-Davis


Source: Best 174 Law Schools 2009 Edition of The Princeton Review