Faculty Insights on Educational Diversity

By Meera E. Deo
May 1, 2015

Twice in the past two years, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved educational diversity as a compelling state interest that justifies the use of race in higher education admissions decisions. Nevertheless, it remains on somewhat shaky ground. Over the past decade, the Court has emphasized that its acceptance of diversity stems from the expectation that a diverse student body will enhance the classroom environment, with students drawing on their diverse backgrounds during classroom conversations that ultimately bring the law to life. Yet, the Court provides no support for its assumption that admitting and enrolling diverse students actually result in these educational benefits. In fact, empirical research on law students indicates that structural diversity (i.e., diversity in numbers) does not lead automatically to interactional diversity (i.e., meaningful interaction among diverse students) or classroom diversity (i.e., meaningful diverse interaction in the classroom specifically); instead, these enhanced classroom experiences depend on adept facilitation by faculty and mutual respect among diverse students.

The Court could draw from a wide body of empirical scholarship with students to better understand the ways in which educational diversity could provide true scholastic and professional benefits. Yet, another group of classroom participants and observers offers even more astute perspectives. Law faculty members have never been asked about their perspectives on educational diversity as part of a formal empirical study, though as the ones facilitating discussion, leading classroom conversations, and instilling a model of respect, they have unique experiences and insights into the possible benefits of educational diversity.

This Article presents findings from the Diversity in Legal Academia (DLA) project, a landmark empirical study of the law faculty experience. DLA findings suggest that law faculty members from all racial/ethnic backgrounds not only appreciate the many benefits of diversity, but they also recognize the educational and professional challenges associated with the lack of diversity currently plaguing many law schools. Courts, administrators, and others should rely on these findings to provide additional support for affirmative action through educational diversity, especially to bolster it while it is under attack.