Sunday, February 6, 2011

Law Professor Conference

Recently, I went to an annual conference of law professors. I always enjoy it and learn a lot. Professors give talks on a variety of legal topics from a wide array of disciplines. It is amazing and invigorating to listen to the different types of things about which legal scholars are thinking, studying and writing. Their ideas help inform my teaching and my scholarship—and it is just plain interesting.

Beyond the substantive content of the presentations, I admit I just also enjoy people watching at events like this conference. It is interesting to see certain patterns in the attendees depending on the topic.

For example, I attended a panel discussion about the dearth of conservative voices in the legal academy. I probably don’t fit the definition of a “conservative” in most respects, but the topic was interesting to me for a variety of reasons. I like to listen to perspectives different from my own. When compared to other sessions at the conference, there were relatively few attendees at the session on conservative voices in the academy. Apparently, there is not much interest in the topic within the legal academy, but that is probably not a shock to most people given the supposed “liberal” tilt of academics.

I must say, however, that the homogeneity in appearance of the attendees at that session struck me as rather funny. Initially, I was the only female in the room, but two or three other ladies eventually arrived. Nonetheless, it was an almost exclusively male audience and a completely all-male panel. While I was at that session, there was not one person of color in the whole room. Not one.

But what struck me as funny was the attire of the attendees at the dearth of conservative voices session. They were disproportionately dressed in tweed jackets. A large number were also wearing ties. As I didn’t see a lot of tweed or ties at the conference as a whole, this concentration really stood out and made me want to laugh. I could only stay for part of the panel discussion because I had committed to participating in a service project. And because I was going to be serving a meal at a homeless shelter, I was dressed very casually in jeans and tennis shoes. For a number of reasons, I rather stood out in the audience of the session on the dearth of conservative voices in the legal academy!

I saw similar patterns at sessions I attended on tax and business law topics. There were more women and some people of color in attendance at those sessions, but there were not huge numbers of non-males or non-whites. The dress of the attendees at tax and business law sessions was not quite as formal as the session on conservative voices in the academy. There weren’t as many suits and ties. But many of the women were in skirts and heels. The men often had dress shirts and jackets of some kinds. I guess the tax and business profs are used to a more formal dress code than some other parts of the academy.

During the conference, I attended a session on religion and the law, which was fascinating. There was a fair gender mix of the attendees, but almost everyone in the room was Caucasian. There was one person of color on the panel, but I didn’t see any other people of color in the audience, which was surprising to me. The folks at the religion and the law session were dressed somewhat conservatively. I didn’t see any tattoos or piercings, and no one was dressed in a particularly hip way. They dressed in a more traditional manner, but their attire wasn’t formal. Indeed, there were few people in suits. I would characterize the dress of most folks at the religion and law session as being dressy-casual. But there were also some folks in neat jeans and loafers.

I attended a session on minorities and the law. People in attendance were dressed similarly to those at the religion and the law session, but the racial composition was quite different. Most of the attendees and speakers were African American. I was one of only a few white folks in the room. I’m not sure why other academics were not interested in issues affecting minorities. Because the academy has a reputation for being very “liberal,” I would have thought more folks (and folks from more varied backgrounds) would have been interested in the concerns of the section on minorities and the law. Apparently not. That was pretty sad to me.

I attended several sessions on LGBT issues, and the audiences struck me as a pretty diverse group. Indeed, upon reflection, they were the most diverse-looking group of all the sessions I attended at the conference. There seemed to be a fair balance in terms of gender. A majority of the group was Caucasian, but there were many people of color representing different races and ethnicities. The attire of the attendees also really varied. There were folks very casually dressed in jeans and tennis shoes. There were people in knakis and button-down shirts. There were women in skirts and heels, or nice slacks and blouses. There were hip looking people and conservative looking fuddy-duddies.

Finally, towards the end of the conference, I attended a session on legal issues impacting women. Perhaps I was na├»ve, but I was sad to see that the attendees were almost all female. There were only three or four men in the room while I was there. I recognized several of those men because I had sat near them at one of the LGBT sessions I had attended. I’m not sure why more men were not interested in women’s issues. Again, the academy has a reputation for being very “liberal.” I am not sure why there aren’t more members concerned about issues impacting women.

Colossians 4:1

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness,

knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

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