GAINESVILLE, Fla. – New research by two University of Florida Levin College of Law faculty confirms race, ethnicity and gender significantly affect students’ law school experiences but that there still exists “an inegalitarian culture in legal education.”
A survey of the student body, performed in November of 2001, led the UF researchers to examine how law schools can deliver equal education to students with different assets and experiences through an educational structure that is “admittedly significantly unequal.” The survey results were recently published in the University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy in a law review article by Professors of Law Nancy E. Dowd and Kenneth B. Nunn, along with statistician Dr. Jane E. Pendergast, director of the University of Iowa Center for Public Health Statistics.
The survey is unique among research in legal education since it addresses differences in race, gender and ethnicity. Most significantly, the survey results show that law students value student and faculty diversity in legal education and that a student’s race, ethnicity and gender effect the way students experience law school. Findings of the survey include:
- Almost 70% of students agreed or strongly agreed that racial/ethnic and gender diversity “enhances how students think about problems and solutions in class.”
- Almost 70% of students agreed or strongly agreed that racial and ethnic diversity “enhances my ability to get along better with members of other races.”
- Over 70% of students disagreed or disagreed strongly that diversity adversely affects the range of class discussion, the level of intellectual challenge, or the consideration of alternate views.
- Increasing faculty diversity, especially on the basis of race and ethnicity, and to a lesser degree, on the basis of gender, is important to students. When asked if the present composition of the faculty provides sufficient role models of ethnic/racial minorities and women, over 40% of students felt there were insufficient minority professors, and just over 35% of students felt that there were insufficient female faculty.
More than 300 UF male and female law school students participated, including Hispanics, African Americans, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
“There is no question the experience and quality of a legal education are
significantly different on the basis of race, ethnicity and to a lesser extent, gender,” said Dowd, holder of one of UF law’s three Chesterfield Smith professorships. “We know diversity of a faculty and student body can enhance the legal education experience.”
“Enough evidence exists, however, of the presence of inequality in legal education that we need to move on from spending time asking if such inequality exists,” said Nunn, who worked as a civil rights attorney and criminal defense lawyer before joining the UF law faculty in 1990. “It’s time to focus on solutions for the inequalities that are consistently documented.”
Dowd, who practiced law in Boston and Chicago before also joining the UF law school faculty in 1990, noted that “historically, legal education was limited to white males, and the profession and legal services were limited to white male lawyers and predominantly white male clients.”
It was not until the 1980s, she said that significant numbers of students of color or women enrolled in law schools, and “though the proportion of female students and women in the profession has risen dramatically, the proportion of students and lawyers of color lags.”
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