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Sick of Hearing There Are No Qualified Minorities : Education: Rather than complain that they can't find qualified people, the law school at Stanford and other places are working to expand the pool.

December 23, 1990|Rhona Mahony | Rhona Mahony, a writer based in Stanford, California, is a former legal services lawyer

STANFORD, CALIF. — Not long ago, Harvard Law School students did what law-school students learn to do--they filed a suit charging race and sex discrimination against their school in its hiring of law professors.

Earlier in the fall, 35 Berkeley law students had demonstrated at their dean's office to protest a dearth of minority law professors. Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell is still boycotting his teaching duties to protest the school's failure to hire and tenure a black woman.

The protests point in one direction: From coast to coast, law schools are under pressure to diversify their faculty. It is not unlike the movement to make colleges diversify their student enrollments, which has now been confused by the Bush Administration's muddled stand on minority scholarships.

Law deans still insist that they face a bottleneck: the small supply of minority law graduates who seek teaching jobs and meet traditional criteria to be hired as professors. A few schools have decided to address the problem head-on, by starting programs to train minority law graduates in the fine arts of legal scholarship and writing for law journals.

"Our aim is to take people who might have difficulty going from where they are now into law teaching," said Paul Brest, dean of Stanford Law School. "We're interested in people who have potential, but don't necessarily have the writing experience or the credentials."

Stanford's Program for Aspiring Law Teachers just began its third year. It admits two students per year and lasts two years. It provides a tuition waiver, a $24,000 stipend and the opportunity to do research under the guidance of faculty members, publish and teach. Of the program's graduates, one teaches at the University of Santa Clara Law School in California; one teaches law and history at the University of Puerto Rico; and the third is now interviewing for a teaching job.

The oldest of these programs is the Hastie Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin Law School, started in 1973. "Professor James E. Jones Jr. started the ball rolling," said Stephen Rocha, assistant dean at Wisconsin Law School.

"He said he was sick of hearing that there were no qualified minorities. He hoped the fellowship could be a model, by training people to increase the pool. If every school started a program, it would take only a few years to get a critical mass of people out there." Seventeen lawyers have gone through the one-year Hastie Fellowship; eight are now teaching at well-known law schools, including Cornell, UCLA, Notre Dame and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Georgetown University Law School has just started its own Future Law Teachers Program. It accepts one student per year, lasts 18 months, and pays a yearly stipend of $20,000. Regina Jefferson, the first participant, is a George Washington University Law School graduate who formerly worked for the Internal Revenue Service. "She is just terrific. We are confident that she will be launched into an outstanding teaching career," said Associate Dean Peter Edelman. The University of Iowa began a pilot program this fall, structured a little differently. Its participant is treated like an assistant professor and is paid an attractive salary.

The programs are not cheap. Brest estimates that the annual cost of Stanford's program is $40,000 per fellow, including stipend and foregone tuition but not overhead. The program receives some funding from the Irvine and Borshcard foundations and several alumni. The University of Iowa's proposals to private foundations have estimated its program's annual cost at $100,000 per participant. So far, it has not received outside funding. Wisconsin's Hastie Fellowship has permanent university funding; Georgetown's program is funded by the law school.

Can such programs make a difference? Law students and professors have been arguing for years about the number of minorities qualified to be law professors. The Association of American Law Schools' registry currently lists 859 persons seeking law teaching jobs in the United States. Richard A. Matasar, assistant dean at the University of Iowa Law School, has found that 93 are members of minorities: 53 (or 6.2%) are black, 27 (3.1%) are Hispanic, 9 (1%) are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 4 (0.5%) are Native American or Alaskan Native.

The registry is not a complete list; nonetheless, this supply must be compared with the demand for minority faculty, given that there are 174 accredited law schools in the United States. Law-teacher programs could, it seems, significantly affect the size of the minority pool.

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