UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO COLLEGE OF LAW — OPEN LETTER TO DEAN DONALD L. BURNETT JR. — MANDATORY DIVERSITY PROGRAM
UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO COLLEGE OF LAW — DEAN DONALD L. BURNETT JR. — STATEMENT TO ABOVE THE LAW — ‘DIALOGUES ON PROFESSIONALISM AND DIVERSITY’
· The University of Idaho College of Law is the state’s only law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). ABA accreditation enables University of Idaho law graduates to take bar examinations in any state after graduation.
· Consistent with federal and state laws against discrimination, ABA Standards 211 and 212 address equality of opportunity and diversity. Standard 212, for example, requires law schools to “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to providing full opportunity for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups….” Interpretation 212-3 states that compliance with Standard 212 is evaluated upon factors that include “programs that … create a more favorable environment for students from underrepresented groups.” Similarly, AALS Bylaw 6-1(v) expresses the expectation that member schools will strive to “produce a diverse student body and a broadly representative legal profession.”
· The College of Law is a graduate-level professional school, charged with preparing students to assume responsibilities in the legal profession. Rule 8.4 (comment 3) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers, adopted in Idaho and other states, provides that a lawyer in representing a client shall not “knowingly [manifest], by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status … when such actions are prejudicial to the administration of justice.” (Legitimate advocacy respecting these factors does not constitute professional misconduct.) Rule 4.4 similarly provides that in representing a client, a lawyer shall refrain from using “means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, including conduct intended to appeal to or engender bias against a person on account of that person’s gender, race, religion, national origin, or sexual preference, whether that bias is directed to other counsel, court personnel, witnesses, parties, jurors, judges, judicial officers, or any other participants ….”
· Pursuant to ABA standards and AALS bylaws, the College of Law has a diversity plan, which was most recently updated during the summer and fall of 2011 and adopted unanimously by the law faculty in January 2012. The plan seeks to foster an inclusive and respectful learning environment, and to assure a climate of professionalism in which diverse students feel welcome.
· In October, 2011, a joint team from the ABA and AALS visited the UI College of Law as part of a review process that occurs every seven years. The team included lawyers as well as academics; three of its members were or had been law school deans. Several of them had conducted site review visits at up to ten or more law schools. During a four-day visit to Moscow and Boise, they had many scheduled and casual interactions with students, staff, and faculty. During their exit briefings with College and University administrators, the team referred to these interactions and stated emphatically that the College of Law should focus additional attention upon professionalism and diversity.
· In January, 2012, as part of the implementation of the College’s diversity plan, and in light of the ABA/AALS visitors’ observations, the College of Law arranged for Dean Blake Morant of Wake Forest University (see biographical summary below) to visit the College in February and to conduct a program entitled “Dialogues on Professionalism and Diversity.” The program will consist of one 75-minute session with each class of students (first-year, second-year, third-year in Moscow, and third-year in Boise), plus sessions with staff and faculty at Moscow and Boise. The sessions will complement the College’s required professionalism program on the first day of law school, conducted in collaboration with the Idaho State Bar, and the Professional Responsibility course taken by all students.
· The dialogue sessions, convened and facilitated by Dean Morant will be closed, “safe” conversations in which participants will be free to express candid views. Participants will be invited to raise questions, including criticisms regarding professionalism or diversity itself. Dean Morant has invited students to submit questions or comments in advance, anonymously if they wish.
· In order to assure that all voices and viewpoints are represented, the law faculty voted unanimously to make the professionalism and diversity dialogues mandatory for students, staff, and faculty alike. Student participants will receive a certificate that can be noted on their resumes. Students who have serious, irreconcilable scheduling conflicts – such as family issues or inflexible employment obligations — will be excused. (As of this past weekend, five students have sought an excused absence. Four have been approved; the other is awaiting further information and appears likely to be approved.) Unexcused students who fail to attend will have a simple “did not attend” notation entered in their file. That is the full extent of the “memorandum” mentioned in the Dean’s e-mail to students, informing them of the program. (The Dean has apologized in two open forums with students for the perceived tone of the e-mail, which was intended to communicate transparently that students in a professional school are accountable to attend mandatory programs.)
· Some students have questioned whether the College of Law can require, and document attendance, at these 75-minute dialogue sessions. The UI Law Student Handbook provides at Part I, Section E, that students may be required to attend mandatory informational meetings and that documentation on non-compliance may be put into student files. This section promotes individual responsibility and accountability, which are important values in a professional school. The section with its present wording has been in the Handbook throughout the current academic year. The privacy of student files is protected by University policies and by federal law (FERPA). The Dean has explained to students in the open forums that they have a right to review their files and to insert their own supplemental statements if they wish. He has stated that a notation of non-attendance at a mandatory event does not affect a student’s right to graduate, and in his opinion would not, by itself, raise a bar admission issue.
· The College is proud of our students. The College’s spring 2011 graduating class posted a 90% first-time pass rate on the Idaho Bar Examination (the overall rate for all takers from all law schools was 81.5%). The College’s clinical education program, in which students learn practical skills, was recently rated 13th out of nearly 200 law school programs nationwide, for availability of opportunities for students. The College’s 2011 graduates also performed more than 11,700 hours of pro bono service to people in need, and to institutions that advance the administration of justice.
· With such high-quality students in mind, the College hopes the forthcoming “Dialogues on Professionalism and Diversity “ will not only enhance a welcoming climate at the College of Law, but also will promote the future professional success of our students when they enter a world of diverse clients, fellow counsel, judges, jurors, and business colleagues. As noted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), “[D]iversity promotes learning outcomes and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce …. Major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.”
Dean, Wake Forest University School of Law
Blake Morant will bring to Idaho a distinctive set of credentials and experiences. He has served in numerous leadership positions in the American Association of Law Schools and the American Bar Association, and he regularly speaks across the country and abroad on legal education, diversity, as well as topics relating to his scholarly interests.
A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, Blake has taught at the law schools at American University, University of Toledo, University of Michigan, University of Alabama, and, most recently, Washington & Lee. He has also been a visiting fellow of University College, Oxford. Prior to becoming a legal academic, he served in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, as a senior associate with a Washington, D.C. law firm, and as an Assistant General Counsel for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.
In 2010, the organization Equal Justices Works, which promotes equal justice under law and pro bono service by lawyers, bestowed its John R. Kramer Outstanding Law School Dean Award upon Blake Morant, in light of his leadership at Wake Forest in building an institution that nurtures a spirit of public service.
Blake’s spouse Paulette (“P.J.”), has taught Spanish at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, and in high schools in North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan and Ohio. Blake and P.J. met as undergraduate students at the University of Virginia (where he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors), and they share many interests, including volunteer work with civic and church organizations, a love of tennis, and music. Blake regularly serves as cantor at a local church.
As law students, staff, and faculty in Idaho will discover, Blake is a remarkably open, friendly, and thoughtful person – well suited to facilitating our “Dialogues on Professionalism and Diversity.”