Where Are My Lawtino Professors At?

by ursavoice

Ricardo Lopez
Class of 2016

Cesar Chavez once said, “The end of all education should surely be service to others.”

Although my mother only completed the third grade, she nevertheless taught me the values of hard work and sacrifice. More importantly, she showed me the importance of giving back a mi comunidad. In the effort to give back, I decided to go to law school to learn the skill sets that would allow me to provide a voice for the voiceless.

In 2013, I enrolled at UCI Law because of its commitment to diversity and public service. For the most part, the school has surpassed my expectations in many areas. After nearly three years, however, there is one striking shortcoming: The lack of full-time Latina/o professors at UCI Law.

As of October 2015, Latina/os make up 15.3 percent of the student body—a number that reflects the national Latina/o population. This figure, however, is in stark contrast to the number of Latina/os who make up the current full-time faculty. According to the UCI Law website, there are 48 full-time faculty members and only two who identify as Latino: Professor Alejandro Camacho and Professor Jennifer Chacon. To put this in perspective, Latina/os make up an abysmal 4.17 percent of the full-time faculty at UCI Law. To make matters worse, Professor Chacon, who many revere and respect among the Latina/o community and the broader legal profession, has been on sabbatical for the past two years.

It is well documented that the legal profession is suffering from a lack of racial and ethnic diversity. This reality, however, is neither fixed nor permanent. UCI Law has the opportunity to reinvent what defines an ideal legal education, and it should start with hiring a full-time faculty that reflects the legal community it serves. According to the Pew Research Center, the Latina/o population is expected to double to 106 million by the year 2050. Perhaps more striking, by 2020, Latina/os will make up 40.8 percent of the California population. This dynamic shift in demographics will change the course of legal education and should push law schools to embrace a more diverse faculty.

Indeed, faculty diversity is an institutional and nationwide dilemma. In recent years, however, this crisis has become even more apparent. In 2013, after increased pressures and student advocacy, Yale Law School appointed Cristina Rodriguez as its first tenured Latino law professor. At first glance, this seems like a great achievement. In perspective, however, this is a troubling reality. It took 189 years for Yale to appoint its first tenured Latina/o law professor. This is simply unacceptable.

It is imperative that UCI Law not follow in the footsteps of other law schools when it comes to faculty diversity, however prestigious these other schools may be. This school, unlike many of the neighboring law schools in Southern California, is not bound by decades of custom, bureaucracy, and alumni expectations. On the contrary, UCI Law is in a unique position to establish new “norms” of legal education based on the values the school chooses to implement and embrace.

Unquestionably, increasing faculty diversity has myriad societal and educational benefits. In Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice O’Connor explained that student diversity could improve learning outcomes, increase professional preparation for the global marketplace, stimulate effective civic engagement by members of all social groups, and diminish invidious stereotypes. This is equally applicable to faculty diversity. An increase in full-time Latina/o faculty members will increase student morale, engagement, and sense of pride among the Latina/o community at UCI Law, and expose the student body as a whole to a set of experiences and academic research that may not yet have been explored. Additionally, for students interested in pursuing legal academia, the presence of more Latina/o professors would facilitate mentorship opportunities that otherwise would not be there. Year after year, LLSA members have expressed disappointment in their ability to forge professional relationships with Latina/o professors for the simple reason that they are not part of the faculty.

As a public institution, UCI Law has an obligation to create an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion. Although UCI Law has been proactive and successful in their pursuit of qualified Latina/o students, the same cannot be said in regards to Latina/o professors. As law students and future attorneys, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that the legal profession accurately reflects the diverse communities that seek our services. Collectively and individually, LLSA has strived to represent the Latina/o community within Orange County, and has done so with great pride and success. However, in order to develop a more collegial, inclusive, and progressive legal institution among the Latina/o community at UCI Law, the administration should aggressively pursue full-time Latina/o professors. I understand that the school may face limitations under the state constitution and quota restrictions. However, it is still possible that UCI Law employ an aggressive strategic plan within the legal bounds of Proposition 209 to hire a more diverse faculty that accurately reflects the community. While certain students may scoff at the relevancy of this issue, rest assured, it is a glaring concern shared by many of your peers.

Mira, I am a proud anteater and forever will be indebted to UCI Law for the opportunities it has afforded me over the years. Pero, I am also a proud Mexican-American who wants to see the legal community(profession?)– which includes not only lawyers but also the professors who train them – reflect the communities it serves. As graduation approaches, I am confident now, more than ever, that the current and future students of UCI Law will continue to advocate for diversity and for institutional and social change. As my mother always says, “Deja de quejarte, y haz algo al respecto.” (Stop complaining, and do something about it).