Ellen Kan

In the wake of a report released last month that revealed the lack of ethnic and political diversity among Yale Law School professors, the law school community has begun a conversation about why that gap exists, and how to address it.

The report, which was written by a committee of faculty and students over the past year and disseminated in March, addresses diversity and inclusion within law school students and the faculty body. According to the report, although the law school’s faculty diversity levels are comparable to those of peer institutions, students still have concerns about racial, gender and political diversity among professors. After the release of the report, law students interviewed by the News voiced concerns about the lack of specificity in the section on faculty diversity, as compared to the section on student diversity. While the student section offered concrete suggestions for improvement, the section on faculty simply urged the administration to reconsider its approach to faculty diversity “more systematically” than it has in the past.

Law school administrators highlighted steps they have already taken steps to improve faculty diversity, such as extending offers to the most diverse slate of faculty in recent memory for next year, and soliciting funding from the University’s new $50 million faculty diversity initiative.

“[The lack of specificity in the faculty diversity section] is both intentional and inevitable,” said James Forman LAW ’92, a law professor and one of the co-chairs for the committee. “It is the faculty that makes the decision about who to hire. All [we] can do is to raise consciousness, put pressure and make sure the faculty understands that the issue is important. I don’t think you will ever be in a scenario where you find much more concrete information than what we got in the report.”

Still, four law school students interviewed agreed that they would have liked to see more details, such as a timeline for implementing faculty diversity initiatives.

The report highlighted issues of diversity both in identity as well as in scholarship and ideas. While the committee found that Yale’s diversity numbers are “roughly comparable” to those of peer institutions, members also said they were “especially concerned” about the number of black and Latinx faculty members, as statistics show almost no improvement over the last decade. In 2003, there were three black faculty members outside of the clinics, which provide more practical rather than academic training. Now, there are two black professors outside of the clinics and one within. In approximately the same time frame, the number of Latinx faculty members has increased from zero to one.

Forman, who has taught at the school for only four years, said he has not been at Yale long enough to comment on why little progress has been made in terms of hiring black and Latinx faculty. One potential difficulty could be that faculty of color are disproportionately interested in topics that might not overlap with the broader interest of the institution, Forman said. For example, he said, when he talked to colleagues about topics related to race, they asked him how the topic would relate to groups of other races beyond the one immediately concerned.

“It does not need to go beyond certain groups. The study on African Americans is important in and of itself,” Forman said. “You have to get people to believe that. If people don’t believe that, then there is trouble for faculty diversity.”

Jay Pottenger LAW ’75, a clinical law professor who serves on the hiring committee for clinical faculty, refuted the claim that clinical hiring at the law school has a bad track record. For example, Pottenger said, from 2003 to 2015, the school hired three minorities in the clinical ranks, two of whom are  tenured. The school’s last tenure-track hires for clinical faculty have been two men of color, and two women, one of whom is a Sikh, he added.

No faculty from the nonclinical hiring committee responded to requests for comment.

Law school professors and administrators also pointed out recent progress in faculty diversity. Yale’s new $50 million faculty diversity initiative, which was announced by the Provost’s Office in November, allows the deans of all schools, including the law school, to submit proposals to help fund hires of diversity candidates. Yale Law School spokeswoman Janet Conroy said the school applied for the initiative and has been awarded funding support for two of its visiting clinical faculty members for next academic year.

Law professor Heather Gerken, another co-chair for the committee, said the faculty has plainly embraced the report’s recommendations, just as it embraced other recommendations on student diversity and mentoring. Gerken added that professors have not only begun an ongoing conversation on faculty diversity — precisely what the committee’s recommendation hoped to spark — but has also voted for the most diverse slate in recent memory, with seven offers to faculty of color on the nonclinical side. Half of the clinical visitors next year will also be faculty of color. Pottenger said next year’s visiting scholars will include six women, of whom one is Latina, one is South Asian and one is African American.

“The faculty possesses deep expertise in hiring — more expertise than we possessed on the committee — and we had faith that the faculty would take up this recommendation. It obviously did,” Gerken said. “I’ve been stunned, in fact, by how much progress has been made — it’s exhilarating to see.”

But for all the discussion of ethnic diversity, less was said about ideological and academic diversity — another problem area pointed out by the report. For example, the report said there is a shortage of faculty who specialize in poverty law or teach courses on civil rights. The report also noted the dearth of conservatives in the public law faculty. The dearth of conservative opinions at Yale has rarely been addressed in reports concerning diversity in the FAS or the student body.

Georgetown Law School professor Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz ’92 LAW ’99, who identifies as a conservative, said Yale Law faculty is “almost entirely” left of center politically.

“The reason for this extreme imbalance is certainly not a lack of plausible candidates; there are several prominent right-of-center scholars who are eminently qualified to teach at Yale,” Rosenkranz said. “The most plausible explanation for the ideological imbalance is that this very liberal faculty prefers to hire colleagues who share their own views.”

Rosenkranz, who has written about the lack of conservative faculty in top American law schools, said the dearth of different viewpoints is harmful to both conservatives and liberals, as it leaves liberal students and faculty unable to test their ideas against advocates of other sides.

Yale Law School has more than 70 full-time faculty.