Florida Law School Works on Diversifying Its Faculty

Article excerpt

GAINESVILLE -- When Kenneth B. Nunn looks over the University of Florida law school faculty this fall, he sees a sea of white faces.

Although the law school has three tenured blacks on its faculty of 50, Nunn is the only black professor teaching this fall at the state's top law school. And despite more than a decade on the faculty, the 42-year-old educator also said he doesn't feel welcome.

So Nunn, who had held the post of associate dean for law school affairs, resigned his administrative post on Sept. 18. Nunn said he tried to work from within to increase diversity but was blocked by a faction in the faculty. He said the group, which he estimated was about 20 percent of the faculty, would disparage a minority candidate's qualifications or call friends and colleagues in search of information that could be used against the candidate.

Nunn said he did not want to be "window dressing," making it appear there was concern for diversity when he did not see it. He remains a professor.

Nunn's action brought the issues of diversity and race to the forefront in legal education in Florida and prompted action from the school's interim dean, Jon Mills, a former Florida House speaker.

"He advanced the dialogue by about a year," Mills said.

FEELING UNWELCOME

Over the past decade, the Frederic G. Levin College of Law has hired black faculty members, but most have left for other opportunities and other universities.

"While there is good evidence that the college has a good record in recruiting minority students and a good record in recruiting a diverse faculty, we have had a problem with retainment," Mills said.

On Oct. 11, 17 professors sent a letter to Mills and Florida President Charles Young about the Nunn resignation.

"We believe, based in part upon our own firsthand experiences and in part upon the comments of African-American professors who have chosen to leave the Levin College of Law, that African-American professors have experienced an often unpleasant and sometimes hostile environment at our college because of race," the letter said.

The university needs to create a climate that "convinces them to stay as opposed to convincing them to leave," Mills said.

Mills has hired John E. Sands, an arbitrator and mediator, to look into the diversity issue and make recommendations on how to hire and keep more minority professors.

Sands, from West Orange, N.J., has arbitrated and mediated about 3,000 labor-management and employment-related disputes.

This fall, three blacks and three Hispanics make up 12 percent of the 50 tenure track faculty members. A decade ago, minorities represented only 6 percent of the faculty. The national average for 1999-2000 was 13 percent minority faculty. Minority students represent 27 percent of the student body.

The situation is much the same at the Florida State University College of Law, where only two of the 33 tenure or tenure-track professors are black.

While the law school has been criticized for its lack of diversity, it was chosen as the fourth best law school in the country for Hispanic students by Hispanic Business magazine.

Mills said the law school will be working to increase staff diversity when it interviews some 25 to 30 applicants at a job fair this weekend in Washington. …

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