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Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Meera Deo Showcases Race and Gender in the Legal Academy

Professor Anil Kalhan interviews Professor Meera Deo of Thomas Jefferson School of Law

April 09, 2019

Professor Meera Deo presented highlights from her research on the interactions between race and diversity in legal education during a discussion hosted by the law school’s Diversity and Inclusion and Committee and Professor Anil Kalhan on April 9.

Tenure and tenure-track faculty positions are held overwhelmingly by white men, said Deo, the author of a new book published by Stanford University Press, “Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia.”

A sociologist, a law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, Deo completed a qualitative study of the diverse experiences tallied by law professors, based on their gender, race and ethnicity.

Of some 11,000 law professors employed in the legal academy, 62 percent are male and 71 percent are white, Deo said, noting that the divide is far wider within the ranks of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

At many law schools, she said, female faculty are relegated to less-prestigious and less-secure contractual posts that involve teaching legal writing and supervising clinics.

Deo’s study also found that female professors tend to face tougher challenges than their male peers, because they engage more deeply interpersonally with students, find their credentials questioned in the classroom more readily and bear more domestic duties at home.

The biggest surprises Deo found through her in-depth interviews with more than 90 professors was the degree to which gender plays a greater role in marginalizing faculty than race and the number of individuals who have sued law schools where they taught.

During a colloquy with Kalhan, Deo said that professors commonly reported that collegiality exists on the surface, “but if you dig a little deeper,” a different picture emerges.

While law schools universally claim they want to diversify the faculty, Deo said, many focus their hires on graduates of elite law schools like Harvard and Yale who have served as federal clerks – experiences that may not prepare them either to produce scholarship or teach.