Claiming that “racism is deeply embedded in our institutions, including in the legal profession,” the deans of 150 American law schools—including all three in Oklahoma—have signed a letter urging the American Bar Association to require their schools to “provide training and education around bias, cultural competence, and antiracism.”
What do those terms mean and how would such training be conducted?
At at least one Oklahoma law school, such training is already an integral part of the curriculum.
At Oklahoma City University, Dean Jim Roth said incoming first-year law students already undergo “diversity and inclusion programming as part of their orientation through the office of Law Student Services.”
Additionally, the OCU Law School recognizes at least one diversity-oriented event each month, including Hispanic History Month in September, Black History Month in February, the annual Martin Luther King holiday in January, and periodic Roth Roundtable discussions on diversity topics. Students are also exposed to digital message-board slides on that month’s diversity theme within the law school building. For the past school year, there was even a panel discussion on “Trans 101” featuring a local transgender lawyer.
According to many advocates of such training, racism is endemic and everywhere. One online essay quotes author Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, as saying that “one can only be ‘antiracist’ by noticing racism all the time, in every person and situation…”
According to Kendi, one is either racist or antiracist; there is no room in his worldview for anyone who says, acts, and believes he or she is not racist. He wants to amend the Constitution to declare that any different outcomes in wealth, health, or other measurements among racial groups are the de facto result of racism, and to create a federal Department of Antiracism that would have the power to reverse and prescribe all policies of federal, state, and local governments as they pertain to matters of race.
Even aside from such viewpoints, the whole field of antiracism training has drawn critics.
Professor Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law in Houston expressed concerns about the deans’ letter in an online blog post. He noted that many schools might turn to the Harvard University Implicit Association Test (known as the IAT) which has been widely criticized as flawed.
“These tests do not accurately predict racism,” he said. “And there is a very weak correlation between test results and actual behavior.”
An article from the American Psychological Association as long ago as 2008 referred to the IAT as “fad or fabulous” and came down as undecided. In 2018, the Association for Psychological Science reviewed the IAT and noted that it was “an online test to probe attitudes (people) didn’t even know they had.”
The article cited two meta-analysis studies that also found a disconnect between what the IAT predicted and how people behaved.
Roth said the IAT has been part of OCU’s diversity programming for incoming students for two years, though, he said, “students were not required to share their results.”
Lyn Entzeroth, dean of the University of Tulsa law school, did not respond to requests for comment. Kathleen Guzman, OU College of Law dean, promised a response but did not provide one. Both were among the law school deans who signed the ABA letter.
Ironically, the OU College of Law was the scene in 2018 of an apparent official act of discrimination against a Catholic faculty member whose diverse opinions brought him scorn and a reduction in status.
Associate Dean Brian McCall was criticized in the campus newspaper for his conservative Catholic opinions expressed in a book he wrote in 2014 that discussed his views as a Catholic and in his editorship of a Catholic publication. Then-Dean Joseph Harroz later said McCall had “voluntarily resigned” from his associate dean position to return to teaching faculty status.
Facing discrimination claims, OU paid McCall a $125,000 settlement.
Harroz, who is now OU’s president, claimed that McCall had submitted a voluntary resignation. An independent review by the OU Equal Opportunity Office “uncovered no evidence of workplace harassment or discrimination,” Harroz said in a message to students and staff. “Despite this conclusion, Brian McCall has voluntarily resigned his position as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, effective immediately, because of the controversy about his personal statements.”
A source with knowledge of the case indicates McCall did not resign but was forced out of his administrative post by Harroz.
OCPA made an open-records request for McCall’s letter of resignation. An OU spokesman told OCPA on May 20, 2020, that the OU Open Records Office closed out this request and that “there was no responsive document.”