A year after the Coalition of Concerned Students protested Yale Law School Dean Robert Post’s annual State of the School address in March of 2015, Post has shared a report on the state of diversity at the school.
After the protest, Post appointed a committee of faculty and students to produce the report and recommend initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion. Members also examined the coalition’s list of demands, including changing the school’s mission statement to include a commitment to diversity and the hiring of an inaugural diversity dean. The committee has met with Law School faculty, the student group Alliance for Diversity, student leaders and other allied student groups over the past year. Including feedback from meetings, surveys and a town hall meeting, the 13-page report identified student concerns surrounding student and faculty diversity, limited transparency in terms of mentoring and stereotyping comments made in classrooms. It also explained the school’s progress in tackling those issues and offered about 60 recommendations, which include setting aside space in the school for Muslim students to pray and developing a school-sponsored prize that honors faculty mentorship.
“Yale Law School has been no stranger to the conversations and controversies that have enveloped schools across the country around issues of diversity and inclusion … Many of the committee’s recommendations are so compelling that we have taken the unusual step of implementing them even before the report was issued today,” Post wrote in the March 23 email announcing the report. The report was composed over the past year, and many of its recommendations were implemented before its release, including the hiring of a diversity consultant and the building of a website dedicated to diversity at the Law School.
While the Law School is comparable to its peer institutions in terms of the racial and ethnic diversity of its students, the report raised concerns about the small number of black students in the class of 2018, as well as the limited enrollment of black and Latinx students over the past few years. According to statistics from the American Bar Association, 5 percent of first year students at the Law School in 2015 were black. That figure was 7.5 percent in 2014 and 8.5 percent in 2013.
To address student diversity, the committee recommended involving more faculty and affinity group alumni in recruiting minority students. In response, the admissions office hired five diversity representatives to help with outreach and recruiting over the year the report was compiled.
Law School Associate Dean for Admissions & Financial Aid Asha Rangappa LAW ’00 said the diversity representatives, in addition to serving as contacts for prospective and admitted students, have helped plan the upcoming Admitted Students Weekend, which will include an additional day dedicated to addressing the needs of underrepresented groups both at the law school and in the legal profession.
The report also noted the lack of progress in boosting faculty diversity. In 2003, there were three black nonclinical faculty. Currently, there are two black faculty members outside the clinics and one who works within them. The number of Latinx faculty increased from zero to one during the same time period. According to the report, students were also concerned about political and methodological diversity of the faculty. For example, there is a lack of conservatives on the public law faculty and zero critical race theorists, according to the report.
“In light of these facts, we are reluctant just to issue a statement of values one typically sees in committee reports. It is time for the dean and the faculty to rethink the fundamentals and approach these issues far more systematically than they have done in the past,” the report stated. It also called for a more inclusive hiring process, although it did not spell out specifics. The hiring committee for nonclinical faculty has made visiting and permanent offers to seven faculty of color for fall 2015 and spring 2016, two of whom teach critical race theory, according to the report.
The committee also proposed a minimum baseline for faculty mentoring in small groups in order to provide a level ground for new students without a professional network. When students enter the Law School, all enroll in a small class of 16 students. James Forman LAW ’92, law professor and one of the co-chairs for the committee, said because of the small size of these groups, small group professors are expected to take on extra responsibilities, such as establishing particular relationships with students and writing recommendation letters for them. The purpose of a minimum baseline is to clarify the “unstated assumptions” about mentoring responsibilities, which have not been explicitly identified to date, Forman added.
“These are our norms, but we have slipped from them,” the committee wrote with regard to faculty mentoring in small groups.
Forman said by “norms,” the committee meant that it was not coming up with a brand new idea, but rather was advocating a return to the school’s longstanding commitment to faculty mentoring.
Heather Gerken, law professor and another co-chair of the committee, said the Law School faculty has been receptive to its recommendations on increased faculty involvement in diversity and inclusion efforts. She added that “every single person” who spoke at a faculty meeting with the committee chairs before the report was released commended the report and brainstormed about future actions.
Forman said most of the faculty members he consulted were happy to take on additional duties and would be willing to mentor if the school provides training and assistance on how to do so.
Instead of accepting the Coalition of Concerned Students’ proposal for a diversity dean, the committee recommended that the school hire a consultant to examine its diversity issues. The school has recently hired Sharon Brooks LAW ’00, the Law School’s former associate dean in charge of student affairs and the Career Development Office, as the consultant of diversity and inclusion for one year. Forman said the position could become permanent.
Brooks said she will work primarily on projects relating to the admissions office and the Office of Alumni Affairs, helping the Law School move forward on some related initiatives outlined in the committee’s report and appendix. In addition, she will be researching what resources and support exist at other universities and the legal profession more broadly to address these issues, Brooks said.
All four Law School students interviewed said they are aware of the report and praised the committee for raising significant issues related to mentorship and classroom climate. Still, one student said what matters most is accountability. The report does not include a timeline on when the initiatives will be implemented, the student said. The section on faculty hiring is vague and lacks specific found elsewhere in the report, such as sections concerning student diversity, the student added.
Indeed, the report stressed the importance of implementation and accountability. Committee members said they were concerned to discover a 2003 faculty report that mirrored many of the findings and recommendations offered by the 2016 report.
“We felt strongly that more progress should have been made in the 13 years since the report was issued,” the March report said.
Forman said while there is of course a risk that “the 2003 problem” might happen again, he is optimistic about what the recently produced report can achieve. The major reason for his optimism, he said, is the enthusiasm with which his colleagues met the report, as well as a communitywide commitment to improving the situation at the Law School.
The report also recommended the dean to convene a committee similar to the one that produced this month’s report at least every three years. It also recommends creating a diversity website, hosting a yearly lecture on diversity and giving out awards for innovative ideas to boost diversity at the Law School.
Gerken said the committee was “obsessed with” ensuring that the report starts a long-term conversation at the Law School.
“This report is incredibly unusual,” Gerken added, “In 15 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a committee report discuss progress already made.” She said the dean and his staff have been proactive about the committee’s suggestions and implemented a large percentage of them even before the final report was issued.