Dean Garry Jenkins Responds to the Open Letter from Students

August 19, 2020

On August 19, Dean Jenkins responded to an open letter from law students about Minnesota Law’s committment to racial justice.

Dear Samia and other members of the law student community:

Thank you for your open letter and for your advocacy and engagement. I was heartened to read about your commitment to racial justice and interest in seeing your new community also join you in this important work. I agree that anti-racism work, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, are the responsibility of all faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Minnesota Law and that we all have a responsibility to step up and change perspectives, practices, and institutions (in all kinds of ways) to help contribute to the change we need. Much like our current pandemic crisis, anti-racist work is both urgent and long-term, and I continue to communicate to our faculty, staff, and students that we must take action now while also laying groundwork for multi-year, multi-decade change.

I am deeply aware that many in our community hold long-standing commitments to this work, while others are newly engaged. As a Black man I have been directly involved in these issues for more than four decades. In this moment I feel that much of our work and effort in this area is appreciated and affirmed. Of course, no community is perfect, and we surely still have more hills to climb and work to do together. I am optimistic this academic year will bring a renewed energy and enthusiasm for us all to educate ourselves, listen to underrepresented persons in our community, and find ways to contribute to racial justice in our communities. Personally, I am filled by the sense of hopefulness of the awakening of many in this country and that so many are galvanized to make the long-term commitments needed to address racism.

At Minnesota Law, where our mission is focused on education, outreach, and research—I am happy to share the following on our efforts and future plans, including opportunities for student feedback and involvement.

Admissions: Recruiting students of color (including, specifically, students from historically underrepresented groups) is and remains a top priority for the Law School. Since 2016, our percentage of students of color (American Indian, Asian, Black, and Latino combined) has risen from 13% in 2016 to 24% of this fall’s incoming class (as of today, final numbers may change). Moving Minnesota Law from the back of our peer group to the upper quarter. (As you may already know, this percentage does not include our international students.)

While we are making progress, we all know that we still have much work to do. The Law School has worked hard over the last few years to recruit and increase the number of Black students (with results) and to support pipeline efforts to encourage Black students to pursue law (one example is our MPLS program). We constantly strive to make Minnesota Law a place where Black students can thrive and welcome all suggestions for improvement in this regard.

In this area, we continue to direct significant scholarship support to these efforts. While we are thrilled about the attention the new George Floyd Scholarship has received, we continue to need substantially more resources to make a legal education accessible to all and to recruit in-demand students of color to the Law School. Our Advancement team is focused on continuing to increase our scholarship support. I hope our alumni (even our newest graduates) will regularly support us—but this will be long-term project that will take decades for us to match the giving levels of even some other public law school peers, let alone our strongest private peers. Simply put, financial resources make a difference. Our Admission team is also working with BLSA and other diverse student groups to ensure that we have student ambassadors focused on diversity outreach

I hope you and the entire community are as excited as I am about our incoming class that will be significantly more diverse in a variety of ways than previous classes. We have accomplished this in an unusual year. There is always room for improvement, and we will continue to lean into these challenges and make Mondale Hall an even more welcoming and inclusive community

Curriculum: For Fall 2020, we have added the following new courses related to racial justice. We are continuing to work with community members and faculty on new courses for spring, and review our curriculum to increase our course offerings

  • George Floyd’s Minneapolis: Past, Present, and Moving Forward with Dean Jenkins & Prof Moriearty;
  • International Human Rights with Prof Ní Aoláin;
  • Race and the Law: Systems, Structures, and Solutions with Judge Starr

In addition, many of our faculty have taken time this summer to engage in discussion, participate in Teaching Group workshops, and revise syllabi all with an eye toward better integrating discussions of racial equity and justice into our classrooms. This, too, is iterative, on-going work that all of legal education will continue to undertake and learn from one another

Also, our orientation for incoming students and student leaders will include mandatory anti-bias training. We are exploring additional opportunities for training and other learning opportunities to be added to the law school curriculum. We welcome student engagement in this area as student buy-in is necessary for these types of trainings to succeed

Faculty Hiring: As the financial outlook of the Law School improved the last few years, the faculty has expressed a desire to attract additional full-time faculty of color and to increase our adjunct faculty of color. We are grateful that so many students were actively involved in our hiring processes. Recruiting a race and the law scholar to join our community remains one of our top priorities and we continue to seek these in-demand teacher-scholars when we are in a position to resume our hiring again, after the University hiring freeze is lifted and our fiscal position allows. We are also aligning with University support that includes strategic recruiting, support for diverse research and scholars, and membership in several national initiatives

I am happy to share that, since my arrival at the Law School, we have doubled our adjunct faculty of color. While we are currently under a mandatory hiring freeze due to the pandemic, we plan to continue working on our efforts in this area

Clinical Program: Under the direction of our new clinical directors, Professor Perry Moriearty and Professor Prentiss Cox, the clinic is making plans for fall. As you may know, our 25 clinics, which require significant resources to run and staff, all provide free legal services, education, and outreach to those in our community in a wide variety of areas, addressing both individual legal needs and systemic issues, all while training students for practice. Internally, the clinic is meeting regularly to prepare and conduct a racial justice scan to better prioritize and expand their work

Student interest truly drives the success of our clinical programs. During this unusual time, I am excited to see how the students and clinical faculty will partner to increase access to justice and address the necessary legal needs of our community. The continued work of our James H. Binger Center for New Americans is a model for law schools across the nation on how rapid response, education, litigation, community partnerships, and clinical legal education can produce impactful results and support community needs

Support for Public Interest: This summer, we funded two additional positions for the Minnesota Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus and fifteen additional positions for students to support faculty scholarship and research. These joined our 50+ other funded-positions supporting unpaid public interest work by students over the summer. As you surely know, much of what the Law School does and the ways the Law School contributes to our communities is driven exclusively by our students and their interests

Our Assistant Director of Public Interest promoted additional opportunities for pro bono, training, and advocacy for a “Summer of EngageMNt,” hosted on our Commitment to Racial Justice website here

As student interest in racial justice work continues to increase, we are collaborating with our partners in Mondale Hall, the Minnesota Justice Foundation and the Innocence Project of Minnesota, along with local and national partners, to increase awareness of and opportunities for students, including our many field placement and externship programs

Community Convenings & Communication: To support community discussion and learning, the Law School has hosted virtual programs this summer, focused on issues of racial justice. These programs (Policing, Racism, and the Law; The Minnesota Paradox: A Discussion About Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System; and the 2020 Summit for Civil Rights; among others) featured national and local leaders discussing complex issues and potential reforms. We plan to extend this work and host an additional programming series this fall, with five programs on topics of racial justice and co-hosted by the student affinity groups

In addition, I pleased to announce that I have been co-organizing a Big 10 Law School Speaker Series on race, law, policing, equality, and related topics. The remote series will begin Tuesday, September 1 and conclude Tuesday, November 17 and be open to all of our students, faculty, and staff. We plan to use our Commitment to Racial Justice site to promote student resources and updates on our work

Ongoing Commitment to Racial Equity & Justice: As you may know, the Law School has a long-standing Diversity & Belonging Committee. This summer, as we engage in the important work of supporting racial justice and addressing structural inequalities, I have appointed a new Racial Equity & Justice Committee, co-chaired by Deepinder Mayell, Executive Director of Binger Center for New Americans, and Amanda Furst, Chief of Staff. This committee, which includes faculty, leadership, and students, is tasked with working towards structural change by developing and tracking actions, and providing accountability and transparency on our efforts

Additionally, Dean Keyes will chair the Diversity & Belonging Affinity Council (formerly the Diversity & Belonging Committee), along with Nubia Esparza (Senior Coordinator of Diversity & Student Programs), and Simona Suen (Senior Recruiting and Diversity Coordinator), and student leaders from each affinity student organization. The goal of the Council is to create pathways for involvement and input from the student community, collaborate on programming and our ongoing discussion series, and provide feedback to the Racial Equity & Justice Committee

Finally, I don’t want to end this letter without acknowledging the long-standing and necessary work of our students and student organizations in leading change, especially in response to legal needs that arise due to federal and state action. From Keith Ellison ’90 (now State AG) leading protests downtown as a law student against police violence, to the students who developed our (still-ongoing) Second Chance Saturday Expungement clinics and those who led a rapid response to the Muslim ban at the MSP Airport, and to our current students who partnered with the Legal Rights Center to provide legal support for protesters this summer, I have witnessed the tremendous impact of our students on communities in need. As with these examples, the Law School is excited to provide guidance and resources for the change making initiatives of our students

Ultimately, much of the Law School’s contributions will be guided by our students and the choices they make, the interests they pursue, the projects they undertake, the clinic work they perform, the volunteer work they do. I am looking forward to seeing the interests and passions of you, our other incoming students, and our returning students turned into legal action, to sharing more about our ongoing work in both anti-racism and in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to partnering with all at Minnesota Law to support and make change. Thank you all for being active and proactive—we will need to stay that way to bring about sustained change.

Very truly yours,

Garry

Garry W. Jenkins
Dean & William S. Pattee Professor of Law

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