Addressing Structural Racism in Law School: CUNY Law Faculty Issues Statement and Demand for Action

At law schools across the country, we are grappling with how to respond to internal and external conversations about the role of the legal profession in addressing structural racism, white supremacy, and racist policing. At CUNY Law School, Black faculty and non-Black faculty of color recently drafted and published a Statement and Demand for Action that was endorsed by the full faculty. The impressive and comprehensive statement outlines action steps, policy demands, and faculty dynamics that must change, addresses CUNY’s problematic relationship with the NYPD, and pushes for specific action to create an anti-racist campus.

As we collectively consider the path forward, what steps in CUNY’s plan resonate? What similar discussions are taking place at other law schools, and what is changing? Let us know in the comments.

 

Full text of the statement appears below this line: 

Statement and Demand for Action to Create an Anti-Racist Campus

By Black Faculty and Faculty of Color at CUNY Law

June 30, 2020

Black Faculty and Faculty of Color of CUNY School of Law issue the following statement, endorsed by the full faculty. We believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter. We grieve with the families of Ahmaud Aubery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and every victim of anti-Black violence. We stand in solidarity with those who are demanding justice for their deaths, and who are fighting to dismantle white supremacy in all its forms, and specifically, systemic anti-Black racism. We join in solidarity with those in New York City and around the country who are challenging not only structural racism and racist policing, but anti-Blackness and racism in all of our institutions. The legal academy, including CUNY School of Law, are not exempt from these legacies of slavery and subjugation.

Statement and Demand for Action to Create an Anti-Racist Campus

As Black and non-Black faculty of color, we support the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platforms and stand in solidarity with the movement to defund and abolish police and redefine public safety and accountability through non-carceral investments in Black communities. Accordingly, we reject reforms that preserve the status quo.  As lawyers and educators, we acknowledge our profession’s history of upholding white supremacy and thwarting these demands. However, we are also uniquely situated to further them. Below are preliminary areas in which the law school must work in furtherance of these goals:

Our role in the legal profession: We heartily embrace the dual mission of our law school — to facilitate access to underrepresented communities historically excluded from the profession by white supremacy, and particularly anti-Blackness, and to act as an entrée into providing legal support to communities fighting against systems entrenched in white supremacy. Our view of social justice calls for a complete reimagining of the state and society. Accordingly, we seek to serve those students who will genuinely and fearlessly pursue transformative racial and economic justice.

We uplift and honor the legacy of W. Haywood Burns, the first Black law school dean in New York State, who was also the second dean of CUNY School of Law and tirelessly fought for Black liberation in and outside of the walls of CUNY Law. We are cognizant that among the central tools of oppression under white supremacy is the law, particularly as meted out by police, military and prosecutors of all stripes — be they police who criminalize or cage, police who alienize or deport, or purportedly protective agencies who demonize or separate families.

As Black and non-Black faculty of color, we are committed to dismantling these tools of oppression through a pedagogical approach that deploys critical and radical analyses to challenge our students and by offering a robust and humble praxis in service of movements that seek transformative and restorative justice.  We further reiterate the importance of affirming CUNY Law’s dual mission, from admission to graduation and beyond, through a commitment of  institutional self-reflection that is unflinching, inclusive, and continual.

Curriculum: Black students routinely call on the CUNY Law faculty to recognize and confront the negative impact that the traditional legal curriculum has had on Black students. We call on faculty to acknowledge the concerns of students of color and incorporate the feedback into their teaching.

To work towards becoming an anti-racist campus, we demand that, starting in Fall 2020, faculty mobilize pre-existing resources like the Race, Privilege, and Diversity and Professional Development committees toward educating ourselves across the administration and faculty — including adjuncts, visitors, tenure-track, and tenured faculty — on anti-Blackness, racial capitalism, state overreach into communities of color and abolition movements, particularly by engaging with work authored by Black people, incorporating critical frameworks like critical race feminism and queer theory, disability justice, abolition, and decoloniality, among others, throughout every course, and centering intersectional Black perspectives in the classroom.

To achieve these goals, we demand that CUNY Law provide the material resources so that all faculty may take the time necessary to engage in this learning and unlearning. To ensure accountability and transparency, we demand that these committees and others apprise the full faculty in writing each semester on their progress and any challenges encountered in this process.

Non-Curricular Policy Points

  • The various departments that constitute the law school make powerful choices that should be calibrated to center and uplift anti-racist objectives. We demand increased outreach to Black and non-Black students of color in admissions by the career planning office and heightened engagement with Black and non-Black alumni of color. Understanding that internships and initial jobs are key to a student’s ability to practice law over the long-term and practice in the frontlines of social justice movements, we also demand that the career planning office provide increased support to Black and non-Black students of color, particularly first-generation higher education students, whose resumes and cover letters can and should reflect the valuable perspectives and skills that each of our students has to offer the legal profession. We call on the relevant committees to report back on these developments to the full faculty in Fall 2020.
  • For too long we have participated in maintaining barriers to the legal profession even as we seek to break those down. Accordingly, we demand that, starting Fall 2020, the minimum LSAT requirement for all scholarships, including the Graduate Fellowship, be abolished and that the law school keep records of and make public the distribution of scholarship and summer fellowship funds by race. Similarly, we demand that admissions data collection be expanded beyond the required ABA categories to include more detailed, granular, and less reductive categories to better account for the multiple and diverse identities our students bring to the school. We call on the Admissions committee to report back on these developments to the full faculty on a bi-semesterly basis.
  • CUNY Law offers the services of a Nurse Practitioner and Mental Health Counselor on the premises, but otherwise, students are not offered health insurance and are instead invited to enroll in Medicaid programs during open enrollment each period. The limited resources made available are not sufficient for CUNY’s student body. Particularly given the dynamics described above, we call on the law school to consider allocation of funds to mental health services and other medical insurance.
  • Some of our academic standing policies — such as the threshold for academic probation — have a disparate impact on Black and non-Black students of color. We demand that those policies be immediately reconsidered and amended. We call on the Academic Standing committee to report back to the full faculty on these developments on a bi-semesterly basis.
  • We reiterate the importance of the role of Black and non-Black faculty of color on the faculty appointments committee. We call on the Committee on Committees to report back to the full faculty on developments to this end in Fall 2020.
  • Like many law schools, CUNY Law relies on faculty with non-secure positions for critical teaching positions. Our adjunct, visitor, instructor, and other non-tenure track faculty contribute immensely to our institution yet lack job security, opportunities for training and development, and other benefits that permanent faculty enjoy. We demand meaningful job security for our colleagues in these positions, especially Black and non-Black faculty of color. We call on all relevant committees to report back to the full faculty on progress to this end in Fall 2020.

Faculty Dynamics

  • Invisible institutional service and labor of Black and non-Black faculty of color: In 2019, 88% of lawyers were white and in 2018, 8 out of 10 law professors were white. CUNY School of Law boasts a more racially diverse faculty. We especially acknowledge the school’s laudable efforts to bring ten faculty of color, including 4 black faculty, onto the tenure track in the past 3 years alone. Nonetheless, we must do more to dismantle anti-Blackness in our governance. Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color, both at CUNY Law and throughout the U.S., routinely perform unrecognized labor beyond their job descriptions and in the service of their institutions, to confront anti-Blackness and other forms of racism. A wealth of research shows these contributions both sustain diversity and inclusion efforts in the academy and create additional demands that detract from the time required for fulfilling traditional expectations of all faculty.

Faculty of color devote significant time to mentoring and supporting Black and non-Black students of color, ensuring that our institution can retain the most marginalized students after they matriculate.  We advocate explicitly and in more personalized ways for Black and non-Black students of color, who suffer regular indignities, while we also abide microaggressions from colleagues, the profession, and indignities from broader society ourselves. We disproportionately bear the burden of ensuring equitable distribution of labor among faculty and scholarship and fellowship awards among students.

We highlight the lack of recognition (both in salary/pay and formal acknowledgement through evaluation, tenure, and promotion standards) of the amount of invisible institutional service and labor that Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color contribute to the law school.  We demand that similar to our institution’s commitment to recognizing advocacy work product as scholarship, CUNY Law change provisions in promotion, hiring, assignment to and distribution of labor on committees, and tenure policies to honestly and explicitly reflect the now hidden workload of Black and non-Black faculty and staff of color.  For example, we need more conscientious reappointment and annual review reporting policies and re-conceptualized categories of “teaching, scholarship, and service” across the faculty.  We call on all relevant committees to report back to the full faculty on progress to these ends in Fall 2020.

  • Recognition of privilege and power: We note the complex conditions inherent in participating in governance discussions. We demand that faculty be mindful of their privilege and hierarchies of power and reflect on the ways in which they participate in committees, faculty meetings, and other spaces — stepping back where appropriate.

Policing: Generations of faculty, students, and staff of color have repeatedly expressed concerns about the relationship between CUNY Law’s public safety and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). We demand that any memoranda of understanding governing the role or presence of CUNY Public Safety, of the NYPD, or of any other law enforcement agency on the CUNY School of Law campus be shared immediately with the full faculty, staff, and student body of the law school. In keeping with the demands and concerns of generations of students, faculty, and staff, we’re calling on CUNY Law School to discontinue any formal or informal relationship with NYPD and reimagine campus security by supporting the safety and well-being of the people on campus through divestment from punitive policing systems and investment in alternatives, including de-escalation, conflict resolution, and transformative and restorative justice training for all faculty, staff, and designated student representatives. The Public Safety committee was explicitly tasked with addressing these issues in the Fall of 2019. We call on that committee to report back to the full Faculty by October 2020 on progress to these ends.

Finally, we stand by Brooklyn College’s Black Faculty and Staff (BFS), Faculty of Color (FOC) Group, Latino Faculty and Staff (LFSO), and other caucus groups in the CUNY system, and we adopt our Brooklyn colleagues’ statement, slightly adapted to the law school’s context, as follows: This moment in our country is the culmination of systemic denial of dignity that typifies antiblackness. As lawyers fighting for racial and economic justice, we know that structural inequality cannot be addressed through empty statements of standing in solidarity and promoting “diversity.”

We advocate a transformational solidarity with an ethos of social justice that is action- oriented. Transformational solidarity means that the systemic racism, surveillance, and austerity that have become a normal feature of society is aggressively challenged on campus. Transformative solidarity understands that struggles against domination are shared and that anti-Blackness and austerity work in tandem and must be fought hand-in-hand. This is a fight that involves Albany and state politics but it begins with us on campus. We demand a shift in the current institutional logic of the administration that urges faculty and staff to do more for our students with less. By embracing this moment of profound possibility in response to this crisis, we hope to imagine and create a life-affirming campus we do not have, but require.

  • Chris Adams
  • Beena Ahmad
  • Naz Ahmad
  • Saba N. Ahmed
  • Bahar Ansari
  • Nermeen Arastu
  • Ann Cammett
  • Eduardo R.C. Capulong
  • Janet Calvo
  • Asima Chaudhary
  • Natalie M. Chin
  • Frank Deale
  • Farah Diaz-Tello
  • Pamela Edwards
  • Golnaz Fakhimi
  • Raquel Gabriel
  • Mary Godfrey-Rickards
  • Natalie Gomez-Velez
  • Victor Goode
  • Fareed Hayat
  • Julia Hernandez
  • Carmen Huertas-Noble
  • Chaumtoli Huq
  • Tarek Z. Ismail
  • Ramzi Kassem
  • Donna Lee
  • Degna Levister
  • Julie Lim
  • Gregory Louis
  • Lynn Lu
  • Shirley Lung
  • Princess Masilungan
  • Michelle Pinzon
  • Missy Risser-Lovings
  • Jeena Shah
  • Charisa Kiyô Smith
  • Nicole Smith
  • Yasmin Sokkar Harker
  • Cynthia Soohoo
  • Rafael Varela
  • Shomari Ward

 

We call on all of our faculty colleagues to endorse this statement, mindful that such an endorsement carries with it the responsibility of ensuring the statement’s implementation.

 

Endorsed by:

  • Mary Lu Bilek
  • Beryl Blaustone
  • Rebecca Bratspies
  • Sue Bryant
  • Janet Calvo
  • Nina Chernoff
  • Douglas Cox
  • Lisa Davis
  • Ryan Dooley
  • Dave Fields
  • Laura Gentile
  • Julie Goldscheid
  • Florence Kerner
  • JM Kirby
  • Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier
  • Sarah Lamdan
  • Stephen Loffredo
  • Matthew Main
  • Camille Massey
  • Andrea McArdale
  • Haley Meade
  • Laura Mott
  • David Nadvorney
  • Jason Parkin
  • Talia Peleg
  • Allie Robbins
  • Ruthann Robson
  • Joe Rosenberg
  • Merrick T. Rossein
  • Jonathan Saxon
  • Franklin Siegel
  • Richard Storrow
  • Erin Tomlinson
  • Sarah Valentine
  • Kara Wallis
  • Alan White
  • John Whitlow
  • Sofia Yakren
  • Deborah Zalesne
  • Steven Zeidman
  • Jean Zorn

One Response

  1. Thanks Melanie for posting. CUNY Dean Mary Lu Bilek is busy this week see excerpt from a press release below:

    Over 300 legal scholars, deans, faculty, administrators, and select students from NYC area law schools are convening to build a network committed to working together across roles and institutions to create an anti-racist climate in legal education.

    On July 9th and 10th, Dean Mary Lu Bilek of CUNY Law and Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky of the Freedman Institute of Hofstra Law are gathering preeminent legal scholars and administrators to exchange resources and develop specific programs, plans, curricula, and ideas to build and implement a shared anti-racist agenda across legal institutions. This network aims to break down silos, deter marginalization, and catalyze real change led by the communities most directly affected by the racism embedded in the law and in legal education.
    Dean Bilek remarked: “We think it is important to seize this moment of awareness and focus on the embedded racism in our country to ensure that law schools are admitting and preparing students to use the law in their careers to combat racism, not continue it.”

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