Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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 Tshaka Randall, How to Meet that “Commitment to Diversity” (February 18, 2021).

 

TshakaRandallEvery law school professes a “commitment to diversity.” Most of those schools make some level of investment in making their schools more diverse. Few schools are getting results that suggest their “commitment to diversity” is more than a motto for their website. If you ask them why, they will offer a variety of reasons or shrug their shoulders, unable to articulate why, if they are so “committed to diversity,” their results don’t match their “commitment.” One frequently offered explanation is the lack of “quality” students.

When a law school talks about students' “quality,” they talk about how a student performs on two measures: undergraduate GPA and LSAT. This makes sense, those two measures, taken together, correlate highly with bar passage, and a student needs to pass the bar to become an attorney. If you ever look at the US News and World Reports rankings (and you all have), you can see this reflected in the “quality.” Whenever a school wants to move up in the rankings, one of the first things faculty talk about is improving their students' “quality.”

Every law school in the country approaches the legal curriculum in the same way: a student from the University of Florida can switch to the University of Hawaii with little disruption to their education, and the curriculum at Yale would be familiar to a student at The People’s Law School of California. A student from the 1920s might be astonished by the changes in technology in a law school classroom but comforted by the familiarity with what and how it is taught. Law schools have adopted a single approach to legal education more than a century old and have done little to change.

Why not? All the best schools do it, they all get the best results on the bar exam, they all have the “best” students. It is an uroboros (a snake eating its own tail). It is a circle that leaves many minority students on the outside looking in. If schools are serious about their “commitment to diversity,” they will have to change two things: how they think about the “quality” of their students and how they educate those students once they arrive on their campus.

Early on in my adult life, I was offered a job that I was barely qualified for (and only if one squinted and looked at my resume sideways). At some point during conversations about the job, I asked explicitly about this. The person in charge of the hiring for the department told me that he wanted his department to be as diverse as possible and was, therefore, less interested in the “qualifications” of an applicant and more interested in what he called “transferable skills.” He figured that if a person had those, he could create an environment that would give them the opportunity to be successful, and he was right. His department was the most diverse at the institution.

To become more diverse, law schools need to change the way they think about “quality” in their students. However, more is required. It is not enough to change the nature of the students they are educating; law schools must also change how they educate them. When faced with the prospect of fundamentally changing the way law school is taught, many object; relying on the correlation between the “quality” of law students with bar passage. In the face of those objections, I offer this, correlation is not causation. If law schools are as “committed to diversity” as they claim to be, they must change.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

- Not Albert Einstein


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Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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