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Why Achieving Diversity Remains a Challenge

I recently had the opportunity to gather with colleagues from across Temple University for a popular discussion series called “Can We Talk?”  I chose as my topic the question of why diversity is so difficult to accomplish, and what might make it easier.  Of course, neither question can be answered to anyone’s satisfaction in an hour, no matter how robust and sincere the conversation.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important conversation to begin, and to continue whenever possible.

I think it’s important, though, to offer a few observations up front.  First, I think it is important to recognize that however much it is desired (in theory or in reality), diversity doesn’t come naturally.  While a lot of people  express support for it – and even a desire for it, we’re not  all clear on what “it” even is, let alone how to achieve it.  Second is the matter of vocabulary.  The word itself sometimes gives off the connotation of “forced mixing,” which sounds like work or something even less voluntary.  And third, the work of diversity is not only hard; it also involves personal risk and personal commitment.

Diversity doesn’t come naturally.  More and more scholarship confirms that we all harbor biases that affect our perception of those around us.  They’re part of our cognitive process – how we interpret information and make sense of our world.  Mahzarin Banaji, a researcher at Harvard, has designed the Implicit Association Test as a mechanism for illuminating these biases in each of us.   Take the test:  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

The list of such biases is long and readily available; among those I found most interesting were confirmation bias, which describes how we   selectively see and process information that supports our preconceived notions; anchoring, in which we give too much weight to unsupported knowledge because it is consistent with our assumptions; and actor-observer bias, in which we attribute our own actions to the situation in which they take place but attribute the actions of others to some internal characteristic or personality trait.  When it comes to how we approach diversity, I think that actor-observer bias is particularly worthy of exploration.

The word itself has some issues.  For some, the word “diversity” has acquired a negative connotation.  I think many well-meaning people perceive it as a forced mixing, something we know we “should” do but either don’t want to, or don’t do naturally.  Tackling differences takes us out of our comfort zone, the one filled with people who don’t need us to explain ourselves.  Perhaps a better word to express our desire would be “inclusion,” suggesting that we’re widening our circle rather than visiting an unfamiliar one.

There’s another issue, though, too; one that I think is harder to address.  It’s the question of what, exactly, we mean by diversity.  I think that for many of us, “diversity” really means “me, slightly different.”  We understand diversity to mean that people from historically marginalized groups – women and racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities – should have the same access to resources and opportunities that others do.  But we assume that those categorized differences are the only ways in which they’re different from us, and when that turns out not to be the case, we get uncomfortable.  So the thing that offends us about a coworker isn’t her race or her religion; it’s how loud her voice seems to us.  It’s the large stud in his ear or the way she’s so formal, even in relaxed settings.  When we realize that real diversity means these things as well, it seems a lot more complicated than we would like, and so the challenge increases.

It’s not just a matter of equality.  Diversity initiatives that focus on equality at the end of the pipeline without addressing the injustices at its beginning will never succeed.  We must ask ourselves why groups fall out – why, if our communities have roughly the same numbers of men and women, do men disproportionately occupy positions of power in government and industry? Why are racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities so dramatically absent from those roles?  Where – and why – do those who are “different” fall out along the way?  There are some obvious places to start looking for the leaks:  the state of public education and entrenched socioeconomic inequality (itself often a proxy for race) come immediately to mind.  How can we reach our potential without access to a quality education, or safe housing, or enough healthy food?  But this is just one place to look; clearly from the examples above it is not the only contributor to the challenge we face.

There are things we can do.  I think there are actions available to us individually and collectively, if we are willing to do some hard things.  On an individual level, I think the real game-changer is trust.  It’s still very risky to talk about hard issues – we don’t want to offend, or appear unknowledgeable, or come across as angry, or alienate someone.  But talking about these things is the only way that we’re ultimately going to change them.  And that requires trust, and a safe space within which we can let ourselves be uncomfortable.  Collectively, I think we need to have some hard conversations in our communities about what we’re willing to change in order to address the injustices that have created leaks in the pipeline.  We need to get clear on what we really mean by “diversity,” and do some soul-searching about how hard we are willing to work for it.  If we can come to some consensus on those things, then I think we will see a path forward.

Thoughts on Joining the Order of the Coif

The Coif

The Coif

Earlier this week, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Order of the Coif, confirming that Temple Law had been granted a charter and become a member school of the Order.  This is fantastic news for our students and well-deserved recognition of our faculty’s commitment to excellence, particularly in scholarship, and I could not be more proud.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Order of the Coif, it was established in the U.S. in 1902 as a national legal education honor society.  The history of the society, however, goes back much further.  It began with a tradition in the medieval era, when distinguished lawyers were entitled to the right to wear the coif.  For those unfamiliar with a coif, it is the wig or head-covering you might associate with an English barrister.  Members of the medieval order were the only ones appointed to certain legal positions, and in some cases, the only people admitted to practice in certain courts.

Today, the Order of the Coif exists to recognize those law students and lawyers who have distinguished themselves through hard work and a commitment to excellence.  Membership recognizes individuals who have set themselves apart in a very competitive field.

I’m also pleased about Temple’s membership in the Order because I think it is an affirmation of our core philosophy that academic scholarship and experiential learning share a deeply reciprocal relationship.  This philosophy has informed many of our most successful initiatives, from our theory-and-practice symposium series to our award-winning integrated trial advocacy and integrated transactional programs.  It’s not just that both are necessary for a legal education to be complete; it’s that they need each other to reach their full potential in the practice of law.

I’m hopeful that, as Temple Law’s best and brightest join the Order of the Coif, they will become beacons of excellence and inspiration, and will carry what they’ve learned at Temple to ever greater heights in our wonderful profession.

Remarks on Accepting the Philadelphia Bar Association’s 2014 Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award

There is no success that comes to us through our efforts alone.  In various ways, our friends, colleagues and loved ones contribute – by encouraging us, supporting us and, in many instances, making us look good as a result of their efforts.  I had the pleasure of introducing a program at which three of my colleagues spoke to audiences in Beijing and Tokyo.  Professor Greg Mandel spoke on evolutionary and revolutionary trends in Intellectual Property Law, Professor Duncan Hollis spoke on how well law is (or is not) promoting Cybersecurity, and Professor Salil Mehra spoke about the implications of the Apple e-book case (currently pending in the Second Circuit) on Antitrust Law.  In a few days, Professor Hollis will reprise his Cybersecurity presentation in Pusan, South Korea, and Dean Louie Thompson and I will speak there about US and International Legal Education.  I start this blog post with this information because my colleagues’ presentations have been spectacular, and have further enhanced the reputation of Temple Law School’s faculty.  Their work makes Temple Law School, and indirectly me as Dean, look good.  The same is true for my having been honored by the Philadelphia Bar Association with this year’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award.  The award was given to me, but I share it with my many colleagues who are also devoted to a more diverse legal profession and a more diverse and inclusive world.

What follows is a transcript of my remarks on diversity, offered in acceptance of the award.  To watch the video, please click here.

Friends, colleagues, members of the judiciary, and members of the Bar:  Thank you for selecting me as this year’s recipient of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award.   Justice Sotomayor is a great, and smart and accomplished – and very cool – lady, and to have my name associated with her is deeply humbling.    I thank the Bar Association for giving me the chance to say a few words here – by video.  You’ll be pleased to know that I’m going take less time than they offered.  I’ve sat through these sorts of videos.  A lot gets lost across the airwaves.   But please bear with me.  There are a couple things I do want to say.  First, and most importantly, I deeply regret that I cannot be there in person to share this moment with you.  On the serious side, I worry that you’ll think me ungracious for not managing to be present.  But please forgive me.   I am with colleagues presenting on cybersecurity and intellectual property to audiences in China and Tokyo.  It just was not possible to undo these appearances.  On the less serious side, we debated an appearance by Skype.  But it’s after midnight in China.  You really don’t want to see me after midnight.  So instead, thank you for letting me offer a few – daytime – thoughts.

First, thanks to Mary Platt, Lynn Marks, and Phyllis Beck, who nominated me, and the many others of you who supported my nomination.  It’s humbling to be in the company of such prior recipients as Nolan Atkins, Andre Dennis, PDLG, the Liacouras Committee, and of course Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Her achievements and her contributions, not just to our profession but to our nation, are proof that we are limited in what we can accomplish only by what we dare to dream.

Speaking of dreams, I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities that I have been given to do more than I or my parents  ever dreamt was possible.  We have worked hard as a nation to remove the barriers that once shut people out on the basis of their race, gender, or orientation, and both I and the Justice have been able to dream bigger dreams as a result of that work.  But I’d like to suggest to you now, and I believe that Justice Sotomayor would agree, that diversity is more than access.  It’s more than tearing down fences, opening doors and removing barriers that might exclude. Real diversity lies in an embrace – a celebration – of difference.

Let me  make the point this way.  The children of Barack Obama, or Eric Holder, or Mayor Nutter will all be able to have diversity categories checked.  But their experiences will likely have given them exposure and sophistication that will, except for their skin color, render much of their “difference” invisible.  As an aside, don’t even get me started on the fact that as I was crafting examples to make this point, there were far more “male” examples than female.  We’ll dive into that topic some other day.  For today, let me implore you to understand that true diversity means difference.  Often, it means difference in ways that are unexpected, unusual, or uncomfortable, but at the same time incredibly delightful.  When we embrace difference in others, we often gain a new appreciation for our own unique contributions as well.  When we understand diversity not as an accommodation of difference but as a celebration of it, we open our eyes to horizons and possibilities far beyond anything we had dreamt was possible.  The opportunity to see the world, and ourselves, from another’s perspective is one that will always challenge us, dare us, to dream more.

Many in our profession believe that we can achieve diversity only if we personally lose something; power, status, opportunity.  Those who hold this view think that our profession is, at bottom, a zero sum game. Please allow me to suggest that this way of thinking is wrong, and in following it we place limits on our imaginations.  The most enriching, exciting, illuminating, stimulating, and thought- provoking ideas typically come in combination with people who are different from us.  Even if you think you are terrific, and many of you are, I guarantee you’ll be better if you are joined by someone who brings an entirely new and unexpected perspective.  I believe that if our profession is to continue in its pursuit of our highest ideals, if we are to continue to both thrive and serve our communities well, we must embrace difference as the valuable gift that it is.

I feel a solidarity with Justice Sotomayor. We have both lived a dream.  So it is easy for me to pass a commitment along to others – a commitment to diversity.  It is who I am, and it is my life.

It is an honor and a privilege to receive this year’s Justice Sotomayor Diversity Award.  I promise to work every day to pass my commitment on to others and to dare them – you – to dream as well.

Thank you for this most extraordinary honor.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Temple Law

It is always inspiring to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. I was particularly excited to celebrate his birthday at this morning’s Barristers Association of Philadelphia Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Memorial Breakfast, where two members of the Temple Law School family were honored. Albert S Dandridge III, a partner at Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis, LLP, received the Honorable William F. Hall Award. Bennett Lomax and The Lomax Companies received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Outstanding Service to the Community. I was then honored to present the Keynote Address at the Barristers’ service project at the Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School. I was particularly excited to discover that I was speaking to a group of students who otherwise had the day off. They were present to participate in a program sponsored by the Barristers to give them instructions and an opportunity to participate in the art of public speaking. Yet another highlight came in meeting two of the volunteer Instructors, Temple Law students Danielle Newsome, a second-year, and Ashley Myers, a first-year, as they were leading the students in an oral presentation exercise.

Day classes were cancelled at the law school so that members of our community could participate in service projects.  In addition to the many individually chosen activities in which members of our community participated, we had two organized events this year. About 60 people attended our annual training for the IRS’ VITA program, through which Temple Law students, faculty, and staff volunteer to help low income taxpayers prepare their annual income tax returns, often enabling them to obtain substantial (and much needed) refunds without being exposed to predatory or unlawful tax preparation services.  Another 25 or so participated in a cleanup project at the John F. Street Community Center, part of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Richard Allen Homes development, that was organized by the Office of Public Interest Programs, Black Law Students Association (BLSA), and Student Public Interest Network (SPIN).  I am both proud of and grateful for the service of everyone who marked Dr. King’s birthday in these and other meaningful ways.

Click here for coverage of the Temple Law School sponsored events.

Welcome

In our part of the world, January is almost universally perceived as a time for starting anew. For most people, this means starting a new diet; for me, this year, it means flirting with the idea of starting a diet, but committing to starting a blog.

Chances are that two questions flow from that statement for most of you: “why would a law school dean start a blog?” and “why should I read it?.” The first answer is easy: I’m asked a lot about what is going on at the law school, and sometimes, more generally, what is going on in legal education.  I want to create a place for community dialogue on issues impacting Temple Law,our parent University, legal education, and the legal profession, and to share with you some of the more interesting experiences that I get to have as Dean.  (I promise to spare you the less interesting ones). The second answer is largely up to you, but I hope it will involve a mutual love for at least one of these overlapping communities and an excitement for the potential that each of them has to do some very real good in the world.