Diversity in Legal Education

[Editor’s Note: This month, we asked a few veteran faculty members to share their reflections on what has changed the most in legal education since they became law professors. The first two posts in the series are here (Kossow) and here (Bradford).]

In the early 1970’s, the American Bar Association and the American Association of Law Schools were prodding law schools to diversify their faculties and their student bodies. Indeed, many schools did not provide equal opportunities to diverse groups in either admissions or in employment. The consequences of such discrimination were harmful to legal education and to the profession. The demands of the ABA and AALS created a sense of urgency and law schools quickly responded. Initially, the response focused on the need to provide access to women and to racial minorities. This focus was not surprising given the strength of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the momentum of the women’s movement in the early 1970’s.

Prior to 1970, Marquette University Law School adhered to the traditional pattern of the academic community. Diversity, in any meaningful sense, simply did not exist in the student body or on the faculty. But the administration and the faculty were not indifferent to the urgent need for change. I was offered a teaching position at the Law School in the fall of 1974 and was the first woman appointed to a full-time tenure-track faculty position.  

By 1980, Janine Geske and Christine Wiseman had also joined the faculty, followed within a few years by Patricia Bradford and Phoebe Williams. Significant efforts were also made to increase the number of women and minority students. A new and very different picture of the Law School population began to emerge. In the early 1980’s, the administration and faculty recognized that diversity should not be limited to gender and minority groups. Indeed, the concept of diversity incorporates many different groups in society. The faculty concluded that the School’s obligation required the adoption and implementation of a broad and comprehensive vision that included groups that were only marginally represented, if at all, a few years earlier.

By 1985, the Law School had created the foundation for significant changes in admissions and employment that continue to enrich the educational experience and to provide hope that justice will prevail in the broader community. Voices that were once silent are now heard, prompting the development of new course offerings, expanding the areas of faculty research, and providing new directions in public policy. I am thankful for the Law School’s commitment to diversity. I can testify that the commitment is stronger today than it was three decades ago and that, without any question, we are all beneficiaries of this meaningful progress in legal education.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. David Papke

    The Yale Law School was also unreceptive to women when I was a student there in the early 1970s. I don’t recall a single woman among my professors. Can that be right? Also, while the school never admitted to having any quotas, for three years in a row the percentage of women in the entering class was just about 10%. Almost unbelievably, one of my professors delighted in having what he called “ladies’ days.” On those days, only women would be called on and grilled, and the rest of us were invited to delight in the gendered spectacle.

    Things changed at Marquette, Yale, and most other law schools in the late 1970s, and before long women reached the percentages on the faculties and in the student bodies that they have today. I think the success of women in obtaining a fair and respected place in legal education should be seen as a major step forward in the overall march toward equality for women.

  2. Nick Zales

    Some of the best professors I had at MULS (Class of 1989) were women. Excluding women from teaching at law schools is simply a bad practice. It harms any law school and its students. Law school education needs to be as broadly based as possible and be inclusive of as many points of view as possible. If students don’t hear and learn different points of view in law school, they will surely be unprepared to deal with them in the “real world.”

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