What Does a Law School DEI Dean Do?

It costs money to have deans. They need offices. Staff, Curtains, And they get paid. One would assume, then, that the juice was worth the squeeze and when they come to work Monday morning, they have a job to do. The janitor sweeps the floors. The bursar signs the checks. But what does the DEI dean do when her driver drops her off at the law school?

[H]ow could it be that well-trained DEI Deans at elite institutions can have such a fundamentally flawed vision of the purpose of an academic institution? And what are these DEI staff teaching law students? Indeed, Steinbach doubled-down on her position in the WSJ:

Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.

Compare what Martinez said with what Steinbach said. Martinez wrote from a classical liberal perspective:  DEI “actually means that we must protect free expression of all views.” Free expression is the ends, and DEI is one of many means of getting there. Steinbach wrote from a utilitarian perspective: free speech and DEI are both “means to an end” to achieve “liberty and justice.”

Josh Blackman questions why Stanford DEI Dean Tirian Steinbach presumed it her duty to speak on behalf of the law school at the Duncan debacle. In the process, he noted that a DEI dean doesn’t appear constrained by the ordinary limits of an administrator, but rather acts as a roving superior with “jurisdiction” over anything and everything.

At many institutions, DEI has some oversight over the curriculum, student organizations, and even the faculty themselves. Of course, this design inverts the usual hierarchy of academia. DEI should be an administrative department with no more power than finance or IT. But armed with the cause of moral justice, and backed by aggrieved students, DEI can steamroll over pliant faculty who are afraid to push back and be called racists.

Is the job to spread “liberty and justice” like sprinkling fairy dust into classrooms? Sounds wonderful, but for the fact that it means nothing and such vagaries tend to be used to push one’s subjective notions of goodness, to which others might disagree.

It seems impossible that a job of such magnitude could have no actual job duties, so I took a look at what the job description for DEI dean had to say. First, there was Stanford’s, which provided some information about qualifications but if there was a job duties section, it’s no longer available. So I turned to some others that sought DEI deans. There was the University of Richmond.

Reporting directly to the Dean of the Law School and working as a member of the Dean’s senior leadership team, the Assistant Dean develops, implements, and evaluates a comprehensive plan to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) within the University of Richmond Law School. The Assistant Dean will provide academic, social and cultural support for students from groups historically underrepresented in legal education and the legal profession as well as creating programs for all students, faculty and staff that highlight topics of DEIB in the Law School and in the legal profession. The Assistant Dean will serve as the Law School’s representative in relevant University and community activities and groups and will serve as a thought partner to other DEIB professionals across campus.

Who doesn’t want to be a “thought partner”? Then there’s St. John’s University.

Position Description: The Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has primary  responsibility for the Law School’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism initiatives throughout the Law School. They will partner with the Vice Dean to set the strategic vision for the Law School’s efforts in this area, and will actively engage with the Law School’s students, faculty, staff, and administration. The Director will serve on the Law School’s senior leadership team, known as the Executive Staff, and in that capacity will attend meetings of the Law School’s Faculty Council.

I am familiar with all the words used, though not necessarily in the order or without any substantive words as well. But given the gist of the job as expressed in these descriptions, it becomes increasingly clear why Dean Steinbach behaved as she did. Her job is not to apply law school or university policy,or to contribute to the educational mission of a law school to educate students to enter the legal profession, but to run interference on behalf of students and groups “historically underrepresented in legal education” when education conflicts with their perception of “liberty and justice” for them?

Perhaps the problem wasn’t that DEI Assistant Dean Tirian Steinbach was wrong to have thrust herself into the battle between marginalized students and their allies and the Stanford Federalist Society and Judge Kyle Duncan, but that she was doing exactly what she understood her job duties to be, to “support” her marginalized students and to use her good offices to condemn the “liberty and justice” of the group and individual harshing the “liberty and justice” of her charges?

Perhaps the problem is that when a law school creates the position of DEI dean, and affords that dean the amorphous authority to do whatever is necessary to make a law school “welcoming” and “inclusive” for some, it comes at the expense of others and the educational mission? Maybe the answer is that if you create a position of authority whose purpose is in conflict with the mission of education, you get the juice you squeezed.

8 thoughts on “What Does a Law School DEI Dean Do?

  1. B. McLeod

    I have used the analogy of the commissars who acted as “political officers” in the Red Army. DEI Officers are understood to be an implicit mandate of the ABA accreditation standards. Law school administrators can’t control them, but also can’t get rid of them.

    As for what DEI officers do, the answer in the law school environment is likely to be “whatever they want.” There are no real qualifications for these positions, and they could be filled equally well by any file clerk who knows how to download the current DEI dogma from the magic Internet.

    In the corporate world, the emperor’s clothes are already threadbare when it come to DEI officers. They are reportedly being jettisoned in large numbers, leading to complaints that the corporate “commitment” to DEI was “not genuine.” I think it is likely rather the case that corporate management needed only a few years to realize these are useless, bullshit, make-work positions that bring only red entries to the business books. So, in a world driven by business. They are gone, but in the cloud castle and unicorn world of ABA accreditation, they are protected forever.

  2. F. Lee Billy

    ..Use her good offices to “condemn” the liberty and justice of the group and indvidual harshing…
    Sorry, am not reading you Could you rephrase that please?

  3. Miles

    What did Dean Martinez expect her DEI dean to do? There were other deans in the room, and they stood silent, leave it to Steinbach to say her prepared remarks. She did the job she was hired to do.

  4. Rxc

    They deal with the heresy and blasphemy that pops up in their community. Every religion has its enforcers, and they are the Progressive equivalent.

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