Thursday, May 12, 2011
The Importance of Student and Faculty Diversity at Law Schools: One Dean’s Perspective by Kevin R. Johnson University of California, Davis - School of Law Iowa Law Review, Forthcoming
My contribution to this symposium on “The Future of Legal Education” sketches one dean’s thoughts on the case for the importance of diversity at law schools. Let me begin with two questions. In these times, can a truly excellent law school have a homogenous student body and faculty? Can we truly – and do we want to – imagine a top twenty-five law school comprised of predominantly white men? Law school deans at virtually each and every turn receive direction and guidance on how to achieve a more diverse student body and faculty. To be selected for the job, most law deans, as well as most other campus leaders, experienced a career in which they were conditioned to express their deep and enduring commitment to diversity. Despite this oft-stated commitment, the racial diversity of law school student bodies and faculties leveled off in the early twenty-first century. Before becoming a dean, I firmly believed – and continue to believe – that racial, socioeconomic, and other diversity among students and faculty is critically important to ensure excellence at any law school. In my estimation, for reasons outlined in this Essay, diversity and excellence both are inextricably interrelated, mutually reinforcing, and well worth striving for by any law school worth its salt. In an increasingly diverse nation and integrating global political economy, who would want to be a dean assigned the unenviable task of defending homogeneity within a law school to the public, faculty, and students. To the contrary, I have advocated that both student and faculty diversity should be factored into the multi-variable formula employed by the much-watched U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools. Those rankings, for better or worse, have a profound influence on the decisions made by law schools as well as the existing incentives for law school administrators. This Essay builds on the premise that diversity is highly relevant to evaluating the quality of a law school and the education of its student body. It sketches the arguments for the importance of a multitude of diversities – racial, socioeconomic, gender, and more – for U.S. law schools in their student bodies and faculties to best achieve their educational mission. Borrowing liberally from the Supreme Court’s rejection of a constitutional challenge to the University of Michigan Law School’s race-conscious admissions program in Grutter v. Bollinger, Part I of this Essay considers the educational benefits offered by a diverse law student body. Part II outlines the similar, yet somewhat different, teaching and scholarship benefits that a diverse law faculty bring to a high quality legal education. Part III outlines the educational importance of diversity among law students and faculty based on a wide array of experiences, characteristics, and knowledge other than race. Part IV of this Essay summarizes some of the legal restrictions, as well as limited incentives, for deans and law schools engaged in the active pursuit of diversity among students and faculty.