Racial Diversity at LSU Law: Where’s the Beef?
Author’s Note: In mid-October 2014 the Louisiana State University Law Center announced it had selected seventeen legal practitioners from across the country to teach one-week intersession courses (called Apprenticeship Week) on a variety of practical subjects. The Law Center’s criteria for selecting the intersession faculty has not been made public; however, many students noted the practitioners chosen were primarily white men. Those students began to question the LSU Law Center’s valuation of diversity in decision-making processes. After collectively considering racial diversity among faculty, gender diversity in the classroom, and the decision-making process that led to an almost all white intersession faculty, many of us ultimately concluded there is little to no valuation of diversity at the LSU Law Center.
Update (Oct. 23, 2014): On October 23, Chancellor Jack M. Weiss sent a school-wide memorandum appointing a diversity task force. Unfortunately, the Chancellor did not reach out to the students he appointed to the task force, many of whom support the faculty meeting I called for in the October 20 letter. The Chancellor did not address (or cc) his memorandum to me; and he still has not addressed my letter’s request for a faculty meeting, despite many faculty members writing to support the call for diversity. At least one faculty member, who was not aware of the task force until mid-day on October 23, when s/he was asked to serve, is unaware of the task force’s power, scope, or budget, if any.
Update (Oct. 27, 2014): LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack M. Weiss, in an interview with LSU’s Daily Reveille, finally acknowledged the proposals I made in the October 20 letter. “Everything the law center does is due to financial constraints and priority basis,” Weiss said. “I can’t commit to hiring a new administrator, but I will give it serious consideration if the task force proposes it.” The Chancellor has yet to respond to my October 20 letter. His Reveille interview suggests the Chancellor is likely to prevent faculty from meaningfully considering my proposals unless the diversity task force adopts them. Although the diversity task force is a clear step forward for the Law Center, the Chancellor has yet to release details on its budget, powers, schedule, or scope, which raises questions as to the Law Center’s commitment to reform.
Update (May 19, 2015): In December 2014, the LSU Law Center asked Professor Emeritus Kenneth Murchison to investigate the use of demeaning speech at the Law Center. Murchison’s report is available here. Murchison found “disturbing” incidents and use of what he describes as “hate speech.” The Murchison Report includes a number of recommendations to curb offensive behavior in the academy.
Below are excerpts from an October 20 letter I sent to Jack M. Weiss, Chancellor of the LSU Law Center and former Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher partner, discussing my observations of racial diversity at the school. On the evening of October 20, the Chancellor acknowledged the letter, but he never committed to meeting with concerned students, as I requested. Meanwhile, a coalition of students, with faculty support, began mobilizing to pursue meaningful diversity reforms at the LSU Law Center.
In full: October 20 letter. Excerpts below.
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October 20, 2014
Chancellor Jack M. Weiss
LSU Law Center
1 East Campus Drive
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803
Dear Chancellor Weiss:
As a third-year student, I am deeply concerned with the LSU Law Center’s outward displays of decision-makers’ values, particularly regarding racial diversity. Over the past decade, the school has shown its commitment to diversity among the student body, but I fear the Law Center is not actively providing much-needed structural resources to foster diversity and encourage success once students enter law school.
Why Diversity Matters and Proposed Reforms
The LSU Law Center’s overwhelmingly white faculty makeup and lack of other visible commitments to diversity in discretionary decision-making has devalued students’ degrees and harmed students’ competitiveness on the national market. Because the LSU Law Center was, in fact, the all-white state law school and has, until recently, had an almost homogeneous student body, the school is perceived as still being the all-white school it was in 1950. This institution has a moral duty to actively and overtly commit to diversity and combat the school’s segregated image. Faculty and administration must take a public, active stand for racial diversity, so I never again hear a Black classmate lament that in polite conversation, the inevitable follow-up question to “I am a law student” is “Are you at Southern?”
To meaningfully achieve diversity, the Law Center must ensure minority students are welcome and have tools needed to succeed. In addition to recruiting diverse students, I ask that you commit the Law Center to (1) pursuing full racial diversity among faculty, (2) establishing structural resources (including, among other things, a Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Diversity) that cultivate student diversity, (3) instituting policies and procedures that guarantee racial diversity as a valuation factor in discretionary decision-making at all levels of administration, and (4) mandating cultural competency education for students.
. . .
Harms Flowing From Racial Homogeneity Among Faculty Members
Ultimately, I fear Apprenticeship-Week-faculty homogeneity is a symptom of a greater illness—the Law Center’s systemic lack of commitment to diversity. As a result of the Law Center’s having a disproportionately low number of minority faculty members, racial minorities enrolled here have few positive role models with similar life experiences to help guide them through school and into the legal profession. The hundred-plus minority law students at LSU have three full-time faculty members to look to as role models whose life experiences and perspectives on the legal profession may be similar to the students’ own. And because full-time faculty are the face of the Law Center, I worry the message the school sends to minority students is “You are not welcome here.”
Furthermore, all students suffer, because they are rarely, if ever, exposed to minority legal experts in the classroom, whose perspectives on law would enlighten students’ thinking and prepare them to approach legal problems from multiple angles.
Collectively, increasing minority faculty will indubitably bring students into contact with legal analyses different from those of white professors, thereby steering LSU Law students toward legal innovation, not regurgitation.
Just as having more women faculty to teach criminal law would undoubtedly provide a different perspective on issues such as rape, minority faculty are likely to have different life experiences and perspectives on law that may challenge students to think beyond themselves on issues such as criminal justice, community-police interactions, or even contract negotiation.
. . .
Why the LSU Law Center Needs a Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Diversity
The LSU Law Center’s commitment to all students, not just minority students, falls behind peer institutions. Having no vice chancellor clearly dedicated to student affairs and a high-level administrator dedicated to diversity leaves students with no one to serve as an advocate or ombudsman, institute and oversee diversity policies, or direct students to campus resources for academic and personal success. This structural void injures students—particularly minority students—and illustrates the school’s failure to meaningfully foster diversity once students enroll at the Law Center. Furthermore, without a person dedicated to students and to whom students are comfortable directing their concerns, there is no real repository for data relating to student grievances. Without data on student affairs and grievances, there can be no effective evaluation of student complaint patterns, successes in developing cultural competency among students and faculty, or any other issues that directly bear on student development, satisfaction, and progress. This dangerous situation can easily be remedied if the Law Center creates a new administrative office, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Diversity, to oversee these matters.
Although the Executive Provost and Vice Provost for Diversity at LSU’s main campus will undoubtedly provide oversight at the Law Center, law students rarely cross to the main campus and should not have to rely on main-campus administrators to protect law students’ interests in diversity and student development. Not having a Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Diversity is a major structural defect that leaves LSU lagging behind other public law schools, including the “similarly situated law schools at flagship universities” the LSU System aims to emulate by merging the Law Center with main campus. Other law schools in the region have already committed to diversity at the highest levels of administration. The University of Mississippi School of Law, for example, has an Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and an Associate Dean for Administration and Diversity Initiatives. Subsequently, the University of Mississippi has won national commendation for its commitment to and active pursuit of diversity. Students at the LSU Law Center, on the other hand, have no administrator dedicated to their needs and interests.
Cultural Incompetency at the LSU Law Center
The Law Center’s focus on tradition and preserving Louisiana’s bijural legal system centers on the state’s legal heritage but ignores the law school’s heritage as a segregated institution that turned away Roscoe Turner, a veteran, in 1948 for being Black. In 1951, the Law Center’s minority students numbered three, which is, coincidentally, the number of racial minorities currently on the school’s full-time faculty. Although the LSU Law Center has greatly diversified its student body, especially over the past decade, an increase in minority students does not mean the school has overcome its segregated history. Take, for example, the many portraits hanging in the school’s classrooms to celebrate esteemed professors and alumni. Virtually every subject is a white male. What message does this send to students and faculty? Of course, the fact is that professors and alumni are overwhelmingly white, and the portraits reflect the school’s history of excluding non-whites. But these memorials dovetail with the lack of diversity among faculty and send two messages to students: (1) If you are white, you may someday reach the highest echelons of the legal profession. (2) If you are not white, you will not succeed.
. . .
R. Kyle Alagood, M.Sc.
J.D. Candidate, 2015
LSU Law Center
F. King Alexander, President, LSU System
LSU Law Center Faculty
Stuart R. Bell, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, LSU
Dereck Rovaris, Sr., Vice Provost for Diversity, LSU
Kenneth Barnes, Jr., Executive President, LSU Law Center Student Bar Association
Andrew Hairston, President, LSU Law Center Black Law Students Association