Monday, September 6, 2010

The Elephant in the Room: Diversity & Conservatism at George Mason Law

Edited version cross-posted on GMUSL student publication, The Docket.

While job interviewing last spring, I was asked how I liked George Mason. I answered that GMUSL is academically rigorous, but that I didn’t quite fit in with the campus culture at large. The hiring attorney replied, good—If you liked it, you wouldn’t fit in here, and I wouldn’t hire you.

I was stunned. Where does the stereotype of a GMUSL student come from? Regardless of the school’s political affiliation, GMUSL has a reputation for its strong academics; “Mason Law has moved steadily up the ranks since first cracking the top 50 in 2001” and “remains the youngest law school ranked in the U.S. News top 50.”[1]

Notwithstanding its quality curriculum, has GMUSL’s reputation as conservative impacted the school’s ability to foster a more diverse student population? It seems that the school’s entanglement with social issues, whether justified or not, has potentially impacted its image and ability to attract a wide range of students (not to mention its ranking, which takes into account peer assessment and assessment by lawyers/judges).[2]

In early 2000, the ABA, disturbed by 6.5% of entering minority students, issued a site evaluation describing “serious concerns” with GMUSL’s "unwilling[ness] to engage in any significant preferential affirmative action admissions program"—although it noted that GMUSL has a "very active effort to recruit minorities."[3]

To secure its reaccreditation, GMUSL amped up diversity efforts by creating both a minority coordinator and “Minority Recruitment Council,” and raising the proportion of minorities in its entering class to 10.98% in 2001, 16.16% in 2002, 17.3% in 2003, and 19% in 2004.[4] The ABA was still unhappy because, of the 99 minority students in 2003 and 111 in 2004, the number of African Americans remained a steady 23 in both years.[5]

But those numbers are an unfair reflection of Mason’s diversity initiative; in fact, Mason had granted admission to 63 African Americans[6]—those students simply didn’t choose to attend. The question is, why not?

Additionally, GMUSL’s reputation might suffer from the association of high-profile GMUSL figures with controversial issues relating to sexual orientation. As law schools across the country sought to ban military recruiters in light of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Congress reacted in 1996 with the Solomon Amendment—allowing the DOD to withdraw federal grant money from universities that prevent on-campus military recruitment. Essentially, an entire university could lose millions of research dollars from a ban particular to the law school.[7] An amicus brief, co-authored by Dean Polsby, countered allegations that the Solomon Amendment “violates the First Amendment by impeding the law schools' rights of expressive association and by compelling them to assist in the expressive act of recruiting."[8] Dean Polsby explained that the Solomon Amendment “merely conditions a university’s continuing receipt of federal funds on affording military recruiters the same access to the student body that the school grants to all other prospective employers. The Solomon Amendment thus is a perfectly ordinary contractual condition.”[9] A footnote read, “Amici do not take any position with regard to the policy’s merit”[10]

While loss of federal funding arguably impacts more students than those in the LGBTQ community (not to mention LGBTQ students would also be impacted by diminished school funding), one cannot deny the sting to a minority group and its allies. And just last spring, the same feelings were re-kindled when a GMUSL graduate, Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli,[11] advised, “"[L]aw and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification, as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."[12] However, shortly thereafter, the GMU Board of Visitors elected to keep GMU’s non-discrimination policy in place, and issued a resolution declaring that the Board “remains deeply committed to equal treatment of all persons...”[13]

Regardless of GMUSL’s association with touchy issues and its potential impact on public perception, the bigger question is “what is the on-campus experience for a ‘liberal’ student?” One classmate remarked that she felt a “general aggression towards anything liberal,” and noted a “nastiness that is not conducive to constructive dialogue.” Another student reflected on a professor who "was happy to throw out 'how is gay marriage different from bestiality or polygamy' and then not be terribly interested in the answer." In all fairness, another student observed that some liberal peers act “equally or even more judgmental” than conservative counterparts.

Personally, born and raised in Los Angeles, I had a difficult time adjusting to GMUSL campus culture. During my first year, I was most troubled by a lack of sensitivity in language choice on campus, and, as a Jew and advocate of female empowerment, bothered that several Internet sources attribute the genesis of “feminazi” to a GMUSL professor.

At the same time, despite a series of uncomfortable instances at school, I have cultivated very strong friendships with students both similar to and very different from me, as well as gained a new skill set in economics. While I have felt disrespected on campus at times, I have also been engaged in and benefited from discussions with students whose views greatly contrast mine. I wish that my experience at a “conservative school” could be less of the former and more of the latter. To the extent that my experience has been a mixture of both, learning how to succeed in a challenging environment is an invaluable skill that, retrospectively, I am happy to have acquired.

As we welcome a new class on campus, I know that some students who identify as liberal or as a member of a minority community are nervous about attending GMUSL. I know this because, while tabling at the perspective students fair, I was bombarded with questions from various potential 1Ls who saw the LGBTQ & Allies Law Association as the go-to for all liberal and diversity concerns. I hope that as we engage those around us, we can hold both polarized views, and respect for one another. That is the reputation I would like George Mason to have—and employers to hear about.



[1] GMUSL Current News, Mason Law Climbs to 34th in US Ranking (2008), http://www.law.gmu.edu/news/2007/721.

[2] U.S. News Best Graduate Schools, Law Methodology (2008), http://www.usnews.com/articles/education/best-graduate-schools/2008/03/26/law-methodology.html.

[3] Gail Heriot, The ABA’s Diversity Agenda, Minding the Campus, July 8, 2008, http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2008/07/by_gail_heriot_the_aba.html.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Jan Roh, Supreme Court Rules Against Schools in Military Recruiting Case, Fox News, March 6, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,186936,00.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Brief Amicus Curiae of Law Professors and Law Students in Support of Petitioners at 6, Rumsfeld v. FAIR, 547 U.S. 47 (2006).

[10] Id. at 7 n. 4.

[11] Ken Cuccinelli, Education, http://www.cuccinelli.com/index.php/meet-ken (last visited Aug. 9, 2010).

[12] Letter from Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General, VA, to Presidents, Rectors, and Visitors of Virginia’s Public Colleges and Universities (March 4, 2010) (available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/05/AR2010030501582.html).

[13] Mason Media Blog, Mason’s Board of Visitors Reaffirms Commitment to Nondiscrimination (2010), http://mediablog.gmu.edu/2010/03/masons-board-of-visitors-reaffirms-commitment-to-nondiscrimination/.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Dude, we dropped in the rankings and while learning econ was great the people here are lame!

Just my thoughts,

Tom