Ursula Furi-Perry Esq.

Ms. Prof: “Diversifying” at Work, but Is It Working? Snippets from the Dialogue Regarding the Recruitment of Women Law Profs

It’s no secret that there are fewer women law profs than male counterparts: according to the American Association of Law School’s 2007-2008 data, women make up 36.9% of law teachers.  For the same year, the ABA reported that female first-years make up 47.4% of the 1L population; in fact, that number has been hovering in the upper-40s since the late 1990s.  

Over the past couple of years, various people in the profession have weighed in about the potential problems with the recruitment of women law profs, along with potential reasons why potential problems exist. Snippets from their discussions make for an interesting dialogue. Often, issues in the recruitment of women law profs get lumped together with issues in recruitment of minority law profs, all under the heading of “diversifying.”

According to one article, institutions in general are attempting to “diversify,” but may not understand how best to structure their recruiting efforts in order to understand and attract diverse candidates. “In particular, recruitment has taken place without an understanding of the social forces that shape the professional socialization and workplace satisfaction of women and minority faculty. The use of affirmative action in academia to increase the representation of women and minority faculty, for example, has often resulted in workers' perception that they are tokens or outcomes of reverse discrimination practiced on White men.”

The AALS (through which much formal recruiting of faculty takes place) has a formal statement in place regarding increasing diversity in legal academia. It reads:

 “AALS' commitment to equality of opportunity and diversity reflects the judgment of the member schools that these are core values in legal education and in the legal profession. The objective reaches beyond simply ensuring access to all who are qualified. It seeks to increase the number of persons from underrepresented groups in law schools, in the legal profession and in the judiciary in order to enhance the perception of fairness in the legal system, to secure legal services to all sectors of society, and to provide role models for young people.” 

But having a statement and putting it to practice are two different things. Interestingly, some writers suggest that for some women and minority prof candidates, the recruiting process itself is daunting. Could it be the discomfort in attending large faculty recruitment conferences and undergoing a strenuous selection process? (See what one writer suggests regarding making the process more like the medical residency “match-up” process here.  See also what one prof has to say regarding “meat-marketing” lateral candidates here.)

An anonymous dean search committee member, writing for the Feminist Law Profs Blog, fingers another reason for recruiting difficulties, this time in the context of administrative positions: women candidates just don’t apply. “Men will typically apply for positions without concern that they do not have the traditional or even requested experience. Women, on the other hand, will talk themselves out of applying because they can see all the ways in which they are not qualified for the job. This includes lack of intermediate administrative positions (such as Academic Dean). Women are also often outside of the referral network so are not as often nominated or asked to apply.”

Another culprit? Writer Marina Angel suggests that once women are hired, they are more likely to be channeled to non-tenure track positions. “The AALS data show that only 25% or the tenured Full Professors are women. Women predominate in insecure, low status, low paying positions. Women are only 46% of tenured Associate Professors but 62% contract Associate Professors. Women are 46% of tenured Assistant Professors but 65% of contract Assistant Professors. Women are 68% of contract Lecturers and Instructors.”

And when women law profs do get the job – and then tenure – some writers say they end up, after a while and for various reasons, just not speaking up. Writing again for the Feminist Law Prof Blog, an anonymous law prof notes: “After tenure, feminist law profs throw their hearts and souls into being good citizens of their institution, hoping to do their part to  help shape an environment that promotes excellence and diversity and humanity and other good values – and hoping to break the glass ceiling in law school leadership that has generally not included many women. But their institutional good citizenship backfires: they take policy positions, however diplomatic, accommodating and respectful, that threaten others with power, with the result that the feminist good citizen law profs get penalized and harassed in various subtle or not so subtle ways. Or their time may simply get wasted, as they are rewarded for the leadership with ever-more committee chairs and endless meetings that give the appearance of faculty governance but simply cover over decisions made elsewhere by those who really have the power – and who tend to undo or undermine the hard work and bridge-building of the feminist law prof — either out of retaliation or incompetence and dysfunctional management. Then the feminist law profs also get blamed for not doing as much teaching or scholarship as they might have without all the institutional administrative work.”

There may not be any quick fixes, hard-and-fast solutions, or even solid suggestions as to what institutions, profs and candidates might do to help with the successful recruitment of women law profs. (In fact, some suggest that because the numbers are clearly going up, there is no real issue. One writer suggests that women and minorities enjoy advantages over non-minority men in the "meat market.") The most interesting -- and encouraging -- part, to me at least, is the dialogue on this important issue. As always, I look to my Ms. JD readers to keep that going. What's your take?

In next month’s Ms. Prof column:

One article in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism certainly has plenty of concerning news for women law profs. The article first explains that women profs, generally, are viewed as less competent than their male counterparts, according to several studies cited in the article. “Legal academia, however, seems to be particularly resistant to viewing women as equally competent,” the article went on. “Research shows that student evaluations of women faculty tend to be more hostile than those of male faculty. Comments on their appearance, pieces of "advice," and vicious personal attacks are not uncommon. When women law professors do receive positive comments, they are much different in nature from the comments received by male professors. Whereas men are most often praised for their "mastery of the subject matter," women are usually praised for being enthusiastic and approachable. Furthermore, the same negative attributes in men and women may be interpreted differently by students. For example, what may pass as theoretical musings from men often is interpreted as confusion from women. Because women lack the presumption of competence, they are continuously being challenged, resulting in a hostile "prove it" atmosphere.” See Confronting Expectations: Women in the Legal Academy, Christine Haight Farley, 8 Yale J.L. & Feminism 333.

In next month's Ms. Prof. column, I look at an important issue in the classroom of any woman law prof: To what extent and how do gender-based perceptions held by students (and colleagues and administrators) play a part in women law professors' professional lives?

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