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State of Latinos in legal education
Latinos in Higher Education Part I of 3
Consider this as a benchmark of the current state of Latinos in Minnesota’s law schools:
There is one law school among the four that does not have even one Latino professor on its payroll. Its administrative staff is equally Latino-free. And its Latino student body seems to have resigned itself to this and apparent indifference on the part of the institution to this lack of representation. If most people had to guess which school this describes, many would assume it would be one of the private institutions. That assumption would be incorrect.
In fact, the pattern that will emerge throughout this feature is that those whose duty and responsibility it is to represent the whole community it is charged to serve—public institutions funded with taxpayer dollars, such as the University of Minnesota—are the very institutions that have shown the least commitment to diversity. And the private institutions that might not be expected to be as forward-thinking and action-oriented on the matter of diversity are the very ones who have made a commitment to it and are endeavoring to honor it.
Hamline University President, Linda Hanson, host of a recent forum on Legal Education, opened the dialog with a provocative statement: “Diversity is not something that just happens on our Web site or as part of our mission statement’s phraseology. We view it as our mission to be open, welcoming and inclusive of all students who seek a legal education, for all students who seek a graduate or undergraduate education here… Diversity is one of our core values.” Her statement laid down a challenge to those institutions whose mission statements are not aligned with their actions.
Panel moderator, Tom Romero, a professor at Hamline University School of Law followed up Hanson’s observation, with an equally intriguing one of his own: “This discussion today is not merely academic. Large-scale raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) recently took place in Worthington, Minnesota. Latinos played key roles in a major labor negotiation for Twin Cities janitors. Many trans-national businesses—many of whom have connections to Spanish-speaking countries—operate in this state. The National Hispanic Bar Association held its mid-year meeting and moot court competition in the Twin Cities last March. In light of these and other events, it can be argued that Minnesota has become ground zero when it comes to issues impacting Latinos and legal education.”
Legal Education Panelists
Tom I. Romero, II J.D., Ph.D. – Professor, Hamline University School of Law
Frank Fernandez – Attorney, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of MN
Mariana Hernandez Crespo – Professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law
Armando Vilchez – Senior Court Clerk, Hennepin County
Nelson L. Peralta – Attorney, Peralta & Peralta, Ltd.
Roberto Koch – Registrar, Hamline University School of Law
By the Numbers
Opening Remarks by Tom Romero, Panel Moderator and Professor of Law at Hamline University since 2004
The 2005 American Bar Association report:
• In the last nine years, there has been a startling decline in the number of racially and ethnically diverse students applying to, being admitted to and graduating from the nation’s law schools. In fact, minority enrollment in law schools is at its lowest point since 1985.
• Latinos make up only 5.5 percent of the nation’s law school enrollees, while Latinos make up 14 percent of nation’s population. In Minnesota, that number is less than 3.5 percent.
Ten years ago, there were 60 Latino law professors in the United States’ nearly 200 law schools. While that number has risen to 160+, these professors are still regionally concentrated. For example, there are 11 Latino Professors of Law at the University of New Mexico, while there are two total, including Hamline’s Professor Romero, in the entire state of Minnesota.
How do Minnesota law schools compare to these national findings? During the 2005-2006 academic year:
• Latinos made up 2.4 percent of students at William Mitchell College of Law.
• Latinos made up 4.1 percent of students at the University of Minnesota School
of Law. (Of 808 enrollees, fewer than 40 were Latinos.)
• Latinos made up 3.9 percent of students at Hamline University School of Law.
• Latinos made up 3.3 percent of students at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
Latino Leaders in Legal Education
La Prensa de Minnesota brought together several distinguished Latinos in Minnesota’s legal community—educators, administrators, litigators and judiciary representatives—to open the Legal Education Forum. They all shared in a spirited dialog that illuminated their unique visions for a brighter future for Latino law students and legal professionals here in the state of Minnesota.
Three key questions from the Forum are explored in more depth here.
The first, lobbed by moderator, Tom Romero, Professor at Hamline University School of Law, got things started: Does law school prepare its students to be lawyers? The consensus? There is room for improvement, especially in terms of giving law students real-world experiences. Vice President at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Frank Fernandez advocates the need for law students to roll up their sleeves and, “…get their hands as dirty as possible as often as possible and as quickly as possible…” Fernandez knows from experience that law in the corporate world moves very quickly compared with many other types of practice, and that when it comes time to make crucial business decisions, it’s often the lawyers who pull the trigger. On the other hand, Armando Vilchez, a Hennepin County Senior Court Clerk who is familiar with the fierce competition for internships, pointed out that there aren’t enough opportunities for students in the courts. “…we need to find creative ways to get law school students into the judiciary,” said Vilchez, “especially if they think they might intend to be litigators.”
The second question singled out the Minnesota transplants in the group: What brought you here? More important, what keeps you here? Potential—personally, professionally and culturally—was the common ground among all the responses. Each forum participant sees the seeds of change being planted here and is eager to nurture them and see them bear fruit. Each sees greater opportunities for the next generation of Latinos in Minnesota. “There’s a great mural in L.A. that says, ‘I am not a minority,’” said Roberto Koch, Registrar of the Hamline University School of Law. “That’s how it is here (at Hamline). I bring something new to the group, but the same is expected of me as of anyone else. Everyone is valued for their unique qualities, which enforces everyone equality. It’s expected that everyone carry their weight.”
In her introduction to the University of St. Thomas School of Law, through the recruitment process, Professor Mariana Hernandez Crespo, Minnesota’s newest (and only second) Latina law professor describes an experience so unusual, she couldn’t resist its draw. “My passion is Alternative Dispute Mediation (ADR) and that was the only thing I was willing to teach. I was unwilling to compromise. But I felt strong pressure to conform when I interviewed to teach at other law schools, to become more ‘American’ and to teach what they wanted or needed me to teach instead of seeing what I wanted to do and figuring out what I could contribute,” Hernandez Crespo said. “I could have stayed home with my husband—he’s in Des Moines, Iowa; I commute Mondays and Fridays to work here in Minneapolis—and been happy. So I just kept presenting myself as I am. UST wanted me, wanted my strengths and wanted me to teach ADR. I never thought I’d live in Minnesota—but there is great warmth within the community at UST. There’s a spirit of collaboration I’ve never experienced before. The main thing that sets UST School of Law apart from other law schools—including, or more accurately, especially Harvard—is that they don’t employ the classic Socratic method of teaching, which is an inherently adversarial process. Harvard has only recently begun to deviate from Socratic system.”
Finally, the third question brought the panel head-to-head with the forum’s key issue: Is multicultural competency wanted? And needed? It was widely agreed that multicultural competency is more important than ever. Yet even more elusive, too. “It is a part of every practicing Minnesota lawyers’ continuing education requirement—no matter what their race or ethnicity—to take the Elimination of Bias course. Many who are not used to this type of education still resent this,” said Nelson Peralta, past President of the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association. “I speak on many diversity panels, where I sense a real disconnect on diversity issues and a discomfort to speak about them. The Bar at large does not really want to talk about issues affecting minority students. Multicultural competency needs to become the norm within education. The Minnesota State Bar does not really want to talk about issues affecting minority students. But there are too many challenges within the court system right now—lack of interpreters, access to justice issues for minority communities, etc.—that need to be met head on. It’s critical that the Bar get involved.”
In spite of the many compelling arguments than can be made in favor of multicultural competency, this reluctance to address the issue might be because there is confusion about how to define it. Even among those who advocate for it, there isn’t always clear-cut agreement. Roberto Koch provided a working definition that is clear-cut, simple and not open for debate: “As an adult immigrant who came here and needed legal services, it’s easy for me to define multicultural competency. A lawyer is multiculturally competent when his or her clients, no matter what their culture, get the very same quality of service ‘Joe Olson’ gets. Whatever it takes to achieve the end result—justice—is done. Anything less is unacceptable.”
A Snapshot of Law Schools in Minnesota
Hamline University School of Law
Dean: Jon M. Garon
In 2004, Hamline became the first law school in Minnesota to hire a Latino Law Professor. Professor Tom Romero quickly emerged as a leader at the institute and became the faculty advisor for the Latino Law School Association. “We are very proud of the Latino Law Student Association at HU,” said Linda Hanson, President of Hamline University. “They’ve raised nearly $40,000 in the last two years. One of the most impressive things this group does is roll up its sleeves and raise money so that other students may have pathways to education. They’re not only talking about it. They’re out there doing it.
In more measurable and meaningful ways than the other three law schools, Hamline University School of Law also has the distinction of having engaged alumni throughout Minnesota’s Latino community and state at large, on boards and in leadership roles.
From my perspective, Hamline University has always had a leadership role in the area of diversity. Within the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, many past leaders have ties to Hamline University.
Nelson Peralta, Past President, Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association
Hamline University is a very progressive school in terms of the risks its willing to take to best serve its students.
Hamline Alum and Vice President at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
University of St. Thomas School of Law
Dean: Thomas Mengler
Founded in 2002, the University of St. Thomas School of Law is the newest law school in Minnesota. It gained full accreditation by the American Bar Association in 2006. That same year, the fledgling law school was able to woo Mariana Hernandez Crespo away from Harvard University School of Law, making her only the second Latino law professor in the entire state.
Professor Hernandez Crespo’s credentials are impeccable. She earned her first law degree from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello (UCAB) in Caracas, Venezuela. She also holds J.D. and LL.M. degrees from Harvard, where she was co-president of the Latin American Law Society. While in private practice, Hernandez Crespo worked as an associate at Davis Polk and Wardwell in New York City. As an academic, her research focuses on alternative dispute resolution, mediation, international and comparative law and law and development.
At an undergraduate level, the University of St. Thomas has developed a reputation for being relatively unengaged in the Latino community. Its law school, however, is taking a different approach. In a very short period of time, the UST School of Law has put teeth into its mission statement with the hiring of Hernandez Crespo, as well as Vincent Thomas, an African-American, as the Assistant Dean for Student and Multicultural Affairs.
The University of St. Thomas Law School is the only law school in the State not currently searching for a new leader.
William Mitchell School of Law
Interim Dean and President: Eric S. Janus
The history of William Mitchell School of Law dates back to 1900, when it was organized by lawyers and judges who sought to teach. Many of its early students were immigrants or children of immigrants. As the only law school in the state without an undergraduate school to serve as a pipeline for its students, William Mitchell relies heavily on its alumni.
More than 100 years into its history, William Mitchell School of Law does not have a Latino/a faculty or staff member in its ranks. Yet though understated, William Mitchell alumni do have a presence in Minnesota’s Latino community. William Mitchell is also the only law school in Minnesota with the distinction of having a Latino alumnus on its Board of Directors. A graduate of the class of 1997, Peter Reyes has been a Trustee since 2005 and is an attorney on staff with Cargill Inc, of Wayzata.
Though there does not appear to be a real investment on the part of the administration, William Mitchell has a vibrant Latino Law Student Association with students looking for ways to become engaged in Minnesota’s Latino community.
University of Minnesota School of Law
Guy-Uriel Charles – Interim Co-Dean
Fred L. Morrison – Interim Co-Dean
It is widely acknowledged, that above anything else, the University of Minnesota values research. And with that in mind, everything else is left in its wake.
Established over a century ago, the University of Minnesota Law School has a sleeky designed diversity brochure which promotes its institution to prospective students by emphasizing the quality of life in Minneapolis. As the only public Law School in the State, the University of Minnesota enjoys nearly a $100M dollar endowment and the support of State money.
If you Google the “University of Minnesota School of Law and Diversity”, you will get over one million hits. And while it would be natural to assume that this public institution is a leader in diversity, that assumption would be misguided, as not a single faculty or staff member is Latino/a. That disengagement also carries over into the community, as the U is perceived as a school which places little regard or resembles the community it is responsible to serve.
Well over a year ago, Dean Alex Johnson resigned. Since that time, the School’s leadership has been bestowed upon two co-deans, Guy-Uriel Charles and Fred L. Morrison. We recently had a chance to speak with Co-Dean Charles. In addition, we also interviewed Peter Bell, a former Regent for the University of Minnesota.
MN Network of Latinos in Higher Education
Officially launched in December of 2006, the mission statement of the MN Network of Latinos in Higher Education reads, “…to support, promote and advocate for Latino success and advancement in higher education.”
The network, the first of its kind in Minnesota, is attempting to create a Latino organization that can speak with a single voice and wield significantly more influence and leadership than other separate, smaller and more disjointed organizations have been able to muster.
Comprised of staff, faculty and students from predominately state-funded institutions, the network organized a state-wide conference taking place on October 12th and 13th, with the goal of selecting a board of directors and perhaps more importantly, establishing a plan that will allow for measureable results going forward.
The feature speaker of the two-day conference will be Rosa Rosales, National Director for League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
“I think it is really important that we come together as Latinos in education. Given what I know, in terms of statistics, current figures on Latinos in higher education are dismal We are not represented—not as student, not as faculty and not as staff. But it is not just about students, not just about faculty and not just about staff. It is about all of us coming together. It’s about all of us working together so that we can affect the kinds of changes that we need to see in higher education—and ultimately in our society.”
Dr. Rusty Barcelo
Vice President and Provost for Equity and Diversity
University of Minnesota
From the December 1, 2006 launch at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institution of Public Affairs of the MN Network of Latinos in Higher Education
Dr. Barcelo is the highest-ranking Latina in education in the state of Minnesota; her leadership and vision is crucial to the success of the MN Network of Latinos in Higher Education.
©2007 La Prensa de Minnesota