Reducing the “Becoming Gentlemen” Affect by Increasing Female Law Faculty

by Angela N. Johnson

Carlson’s review of Lanie Guinier’s  “Becoming Gentlemen” argues that the alienation of women and minors continues in law school and that institutions must focus on institutional acceptance and absorption of diversity in place of the imposition of a “one-size-fits-all” mentality (Carlson 1998, 317).  Additionally, Guinnier’s “latest work provides a timely contribution to the defense of affirmative action policies in law school faculty hiring decisions” (Carlson 1998, 318). However, Carlson’s review of “Becoming Gentlemen” “concludes that while Guinier’s findings are valauble, law schools need to first focus on providing women with equal access to desirable faculty positions before her recommendations can become a meaningful reality” (Carlson 1998, 318).

Hypothesis: In order for women law students to achieve equal experiences in law school, law schools must increases the proportion of women faculty because they will serve as mentors to women law students. To do this, affirmative action programs which have recently come under attack, must be defended.

Guinier’s study of University of Pennsylvania Law School joins Bashi and Iskander (Yale), Schwab (Columbia), Neufield (Harvard), and the Law School Student Engagement Survey for 2010 in declaring that women experience very different learning environments in law school than their male counterparts.  Guinier’s study was comprised of seventy multiple choice questions and one open-ended question at the end – all designed to illicit the attitudes and expectations of law students regarding their education.  722 surveys were sent and of the 366 respondents, 47.5% were women.

Guinier’s study is in contrast to Clydesdale’s “A Forked River Runs Through Law School” which finds that 1L female law students tend to gain self-confidence in the 2L and 3L years and though women earn lower GPAs than male law students in their 1L year, their final GPAs are higher than their male classmates.  Guinier “discovered that throughout the course of law school, women become closer in attitude to their male peers as an academic gap between them widens.  Guinier attributes this problem of women losing their unique voice to the “one-size-fits-all” teaching approach standard at most law schools.  Generally, those women who feel alienated by the highly individualistic classroom atmosphere develop lower self-confidence, which translates into poor test performances and lower grades” (Carlson 1998, 321). In other words, as women lose their unique voice, they become more like the “gentlemen” thanks to alienation and desire to fit-in.  However, fitting-in doesn’t translate to equal performance, “men were three times more likely to be in the top ten percent of the first-year class than were women.  This trend continued until graduation, at which time men held higher class ranks, enjoyed higher GPA’s, received more honors from faculty, and won recognition or their participation on Law Review or in Moot Court competitions more frequently than women” (Carlson 1998, 321).  Again, Clydesdale’s study indicates that at graduation, it is women who earn the top grades.  And Love’s “Twenty Questions” mentions her study of the University of Iowa which revealed that women earn equal grades, participate as frequently in the Order of the Coif, Law Review, extracurricular activities, and receive equal faculty-chosen honors.

One area in which researchers tend to agree is the levels of discomfort in participating in traditionally large first-year classes, where professors predominantly teach using the Socratic Method.  “Guinier’s study concludes that women are less likely to speak in class, and do so for a shorter amount of time, than do their male counterparts” (Carlson 1998, 322).  Clydesdale, Love, Bashi, Iskander, Schwab, and the Law School Student Engagement Survey all agree.  And like other researchers have found, “Guinier argues that women need more “friendliness cues” from professors in a classroom’s formal context before approaching them after class” (Carlson 1998, 323). Guinier did find, however, that women tend to participate more frequently in the 3L year.  If participation is tied to performance and GPA, this agrees with Clydesdale’s finding that women earn higher final GPAs (contributed to a sharp increase in performance during the 2L and 3L years). However, Guinier reports that women earn lower final GPAs (contrary to Clydesdale’s findings).  Further, Guinier’s surveys responses revealed that “female students reported that women who participated frequently in class were sometimes labeled as “feminazi dykes” or “lesbians” by their male classmates under their breath” (Carlson 1998, 324).  (See Flanigan’s “Lucifer Goes to Law School” regarding student bullying in law school, wherein Flanigan points to the law school environment (large classes, isolated to one building, long hours with peers) and faculty cues as culminating causes of bullying in law school).  In previous studies, researchers hypothesized that women participate less frequently due to a concern that they are taking class time away from other students.  This is the first study I have encountered that indicates women are ostracized for speaking in class.

Guinier offers several suggestions for institution reform that would make law school more accessible to women and some minorities who are similarly alienated:

  1. Schools should do away with the assumption that Socratic teaching method should be the norm in first-year classes.  (See Williams’ “Legal Education, Feminist Epistemology, and the Socratic Method” which argues there is merit in Socratic-style teaching methods but that the approach must be reformed). Guinier believes that small group classes foster a more comfortable environment for sharing of ideas. 
  2. Schools should widen the focus of the curriculum from the argumentative, adversarial system to negotiations as an effective method of problem-solving. 
  3. Law schools should structure the informal learning networks to encourage the formation and inclusion of more women and minorities in mentor relationships. 

In her review of “Becoming Gentlemen,” Carlson acknowledges the criticism that Guinier’s work has drawn.  For one, critics who believe in the “status quo feel that women are now entering law school at the same rate as men, and that equal opportunity of access to institutions ensures equality.  If women cannot compete academically, that is a problem with the individuals, not the institutions” (Carlson 1998, 326). Carlson’s response is that sameness does not equate with fairness.  The problem isn’t that women don’t have equal access to the institution (women are entering in almost equal numbers (53/47% as of 2007-2008 entering class (ABA stats, not the authors)); it is that once admitted, women’s experiences are very different. Guinier believes that hiring more women faculty will help ensure equality for women students while in law school.  The bonus for all students is that having a diverse faculty provides a “multiple consciousness” in which students, as future lawyers, will be able to draw upon many different perspectives and resources when solving problems for clients (Carlson 1998, 326).  But other than the “multiple consciousness” effect, there are few provable arguments made as to why female faculty are required in order to achieve equal experiences of women law students’.  I agree with Guinier that students benefit greatly from mentoring relationships – after all, I am a beneficiary of such a relationship.  However, Guinier’s underlying argument for the increase of women faculty is that women are more likely to mentor female students.  I agree that this is logical but I believe this argument could be made stronger by providing proof that women faculty are more likely to mentor women students than men. Although Guinier argues that professors tend to mentor “those who know or who remind us of who we once were” (Carlson 1998, 333).  This overlooks the possibility that a professor and student may have more in common than just gender.   Further, I would like to think that women are more complex as law students and faculty than just simply being classified as women.  Similar interests in certain areas of the law, geographical backgrounds, ethnicity, undergraduate schools attended, etc. are all things that should be considered when examining similarities between a faculty and student.  Prior tongue-in-check arguments like “just add women (students) and stir” reflect the idea that achieving equality isn’t simply a matter of admitting women students.  I would argue that we cannot simply “just add women (faculty) and stir.”  This argument is hinged on proving that women faculty really do mentor women students more frequently (or perhaps more effectively) than male faculty. Seemingly at a contradiction, Guinier acknowledges that because of course loads, scholarship development, committee assignments, and other tasks women faculty are committed to (and according to Guinier, at a disproportionate rate than male counterparts) that women faculty actually have less time available to devote to mentoring of students (Carlson 1998, 332).  Moreover, the one study that Guinier offers as proof that the gender of the faculty prevents alienation of female students is potentially faulty.  That study is of Chapman University in California which opened just before Guinier’s study (According to the website, the law school opened in 1995).  Chapman opened its first school year with just nine full-time faculty.  Of the nine faculty members, four were women.  Chapman also had five administrators, three of whom were women and they also held faculty status.  Because the women law students held higher average GPAs and class ranks at the end of their 1L years than their counterparts at other law schools, Guinier concludes that it is the closer-to-equal gender makeup at Chapman that impacted the women students’ GPAs (Carlson 1998, 334). However, if the school only required nine full-time faculty, isn’t it possible that the school was exceptionally small?  In which case, it could be the smaller class size, and not the gender of the faculty that created a positive impact on the women students.  Clydesdale’s study which finds women law students excel in the 2L and 3L years, where smaller class size are the norm, points to class size as a contributing factor to women’s success.  The argument that women’s equality as law students is hinged on the need for more women faculty is weak and open to criticism.  But for the sake of analyzing this article, I will assume that women’s equality in law school would be impacted if there were more women faculty.  In which case, the trouble with increasing the number of women faculty members is that the “underrepresentation of women on law school faculties continues despite studies which have shown that the academic records of women applicants are at least as good as those of their male competitors, and despite the existence of affirmative action policies at law schools and target women and minorities” (Carlson 1998, 330).  Moreover, a “woman is more likely to have begun her academic career at a lower initial rank, to have taught a less prestigious course, and to have been appointed to a tenured position at a slower rate” (Carlson 1998, 330). According to Guinier, since tenured faculty have greater weight in hiring decisions, and men comprise the majority of tenured faculty and do so at a higher rate than women, it is especially difficult for women to be hired on for tenure-track position when the majority of decision makers are men.  While I can appreciate this argument, I am unsure whether men are more likely to hire men than they are to hire women.  I question this only based on my own ignorance and hope that future research will help me strengthen my understanding of Guinier’s argument.

In sum, “achieving equal access in legal academia for women cannot be limited to securing seats in the classroom.  They need to be behind the lecterns, voting at the tenure meetings, and teaching the prominent courses in order to show that equal access for all women in the law schools has truly been accomplished” (Carlson 1998, 338). It is Guinier’s belief that only after women faculty equal the number of female students, will women students have equal access to opportunities and experiences in law school.  I appreciate the need for more women faculty and can assume that this would lead to more mentoring of female students, but I believe this claim would be stronger if data suggested that male faculty mentor a disproportionate majority of male students and that women students not receiving mentoring are not otherwise seeking mentors in the first place.  This underlying argument would first need to be solved to make the conclusion stronger.  Additionally, Guinier’s belief that faculty tend to mentor students who they find commonalities with seems to put more weight on gender than other common factors.  Determining the emphasis on gender over other common factors would strengthen this argument (provided gender is indeed the first and foremost factor in mentorships). 

Source Citation: Carlson, Heather A. “Book Review: Faculty Mentoring as a Way to End the Alienation of Women in Legal Academia: Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School and Institutional Change.” Boston College Third World Law Journal, 1998: 317-338.


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