A Conversation With Cynthia E. Nance
Cynthia E. Nance was appointed last year as dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law, joining a small but elite club of Black law school deans.
An internationally recognized expert in international labor law, Nance is the first woman and the first African-American to lead the law school. She earned her bachelor’s from Chicago State University and her master’s and law degrees from the University of Iowa. Nance speaks with Diverse about Bar passage rates and the benefits of diversity.
DI: Can the dean really impact the direction of a law school, or is it the faculty and other entities that are the primary stakeholders?
CN: I think it’s a combination, but I do think the dean can have an impact. I think the faculty wants leadership. They want someone to help them get the institution to a new level. And so I really do think that you can, particularly if you are willing to say, ‘I don’t know everything, and I’m willing to listen to you, and let’s do this together.’
DI: One of the issues that continues to vex Black law students is the Bar passage rate. Are you planning to address this issue?
CN: Yes, we actually were very involved in looking at the Arkansas Bar pass rates, and we took the Bar apart and found out that it wasn’t psycho-metrically sound. And so the Supreme Court actually revised the way that the students are evaluated, so our last Bar passage rate, this past February, was actually 83 or 86 percent. So we’re actually doing very well, and seven students of color (out of eight) passed the Bar in February, so that’s pretty good.
DI: Is there a presumption that having an African-American dean means that the law school will be heavily emphasizing civil rights and equity and diversity issues?
CN: Let me give you a tangible example of that. When we had our site inspection, the first question from the student session was from a student who asked the accrediting folks why it is that we have to have this big initiative for diversity. Why is the law school always emphasizing diversity when there are so many other things that are important? So, it’s there. How do you balance that? The key, to me, is telling people that that is the future of our society, that law firms and government agencies and employers are looking for diverse people who are excellent; that their education is enriched by having those viewpoints in the classroom, and that that really makes a difference to their under-standing of legal issues and their ability to serve a diverse society. And so I’m trying to talk about the pedagogical and societal reasons why diversity is important. And frankly, if you haven’t interacted with people who are not like you, you are at a disadvantage when you get out into your professional life.
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