View to Add to the Many
Mary's University School of Law
at any scene with first one eye and then the other gives a relatively accurate
yet incomplete view of the subject. Viewing the same scene with both eyes open
adds depth and perspective. Having several different people from varying
backgrounds and experiences view the same subject from different vantage points
and even during varying periods of time, renders an even more complete account.
this brief space I would like to add my observations of some aspects of legal
education to the group. So that you can understand my vantage point, I offer the
following. I am in my 52nd year of life, my 33rd year of
marriage, my 27th year as a father and as an attorney, and my 5th
year as dean of St. Mary's University School of Law. From the time of my birth I
have been a citizen of the United States of America, because I was born in this
country. Soon after my birth, I became a Catholic. I am Hispanic.
far as we all know, we have no voice in determining the location of our birth.
However, I thank God daily that my birth occurred in this country. The matters
which I now hold dear, including the success of my family and career, and the
right to practice and espouse my religion would be less secure but for this
fact. I have become even more grateful recently for the liberties and
opportunities available to us in this country, and am reminded that they were
not acquired and preserved by great thoughts alone. Many men, women, and
children struggled, fought, and even gave their lives in this process. The
Constitution and our laws are sacred indeed. As legal educators, we owe a great
deal to those who have preserved the legal system we now introduce to our
didn’t come to these conclusions about our country and its system of justice
exclusively through my own education and observations. Ultimately, and perhaps
somewhat ironically, it has been my involvement with immigration law that has
helped me see our country, its system of justice, and our obligations as legal
educators from a broader perspective.
more people enter this country legally and illegally than any other country in
the world. This has been true for many years. It is not because the
newly-arrived like our weather (although the winters in South Texas are
magnificent). Rather, it is because they recognize that the economic and
political system of this country offers them opportunities lacking elsewhere.
the years I have had the experience of teaching and supervising students who
were involved in assisting immigrants and their families. One of the most
rewarding aspects has been to witness the appreciation new citizens demonstrate
for their new homeland. You cannot attend a naturalization ceremony without
seeing the pride and hope demonstrated by these folks for our (their) country. I
have heard the same expressions from people who ultimately don’t qualify to
remain. In one immigration hearing in West Texas, a hopeful immigrant described
his commitment to the United States: "I love this country. I’ll do
whatever I can to help it. Tell me what I can do. Give me a gun—I’ll fight
commitment of this young man and others like him, coupled with the horrible
events of September 11, 2001, where our immigration control system broke down,
led me to re-examine my role as an attorney and as an educator. I re-read the
oaths I took upon admission to practice law in each of the three states where I
hold a license. There it is, in black and white. I have sworn to uphold the
Constitution and laws of the United States and of the states in which I am
licensed. My New Mexico Attorney’s Oath concludes, "So help me God."
Serious words and commitment indeed.
law professors and deans, we are attorneys. Our role as attorneys is to educate
the next generation of attorneys. Our compliance with our attorneys’ oaths
requires that we teach our students an appreciation for our laws and our system
of justice, so that they too will be able intelligently and effectively to
uphold the oaths they will take.
is another important component to our obligation as legal educators. That
component is the obligation of service. It is alluded to in the New Mexico
Attorney’s Oath: "I will never reject from any consideration personal to
myself the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any man’s cause for
lucre or malice." It is embodied in the commitment to pro-bono service
which is at least encouraged in each state. It is inherent in the privilege of
receiving the education and acquiring the professional roles that we have
obtained. And, from the perspective of my religious background, it is included
in the observation, "What you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto
Teaching these obligations of justice and service is
certainly complex, and developing effective methods challenges all of us in the
academy. Lively debates should and must occur regarding the appropriate
interpretation or enactment of laws. Healthy disagreements will take place
regarding which courses to require or even teach. Not all will or must share the
same view regarding what individual or institutional commitments to justice and
service mean. There isn’t even absolute agreement as to the criteria for
admission to our law schools or to the practice of law. I certainly wouldn’t
presume, in this very short space, to adequately address how these obligations
can be met. Instead, I offer some admittedly overbroad conclusions I have
reached thus far in my career.
· This nation, and its legal and political
system, offers the world’s best hope for justice, freedom, and economic
· As legal educators, we must train new attorneys
to protect and improve our legal system, and to help provide the benefits of
that system to those who otherwise could not afford them
As we select potential new attorneys, we must keep in mind that the
ability to study, practice, or teach law effectively does not inherently
reside in any one group to the exclusion of others.
last point seems self-evident. Nonetheless, perhaps a few more words on this
topic might be appropriate. Again, this is only one view, and it is certainly
not the last word on race relations in legal education.
have made dramatic improvements in diversifying our law schools in the last
decades, but obviously, there is still much room for improvement. When I was a
law student in the early 1970’s, Hispanic enrollment in American law schools
was minimal. That is improving. When I began teaching law in the mid-1970’s,
there were perhaps only two-dozen Latino law professors nationwide. Soon we will
be at ten times that number. Currently, I am one of only three Hispanic deans of
A.B.A.-accredited law schools in the United States, excluding Puerto Rico.
Hopefully, that too will improve. Until I arrived at St. Mary’s, I was always
the first or only Hispanic faculty member, and I was sometimes the first
minority faculty member ever hired or tenured at the schools in which I taught.
The rising number of highly-qualified Latino law students will continue to
increase the pool of Latino law faculty and eventually, deans.
the meantime, as we pursue a goal of inclusion, how do we treat the new
arrivals? First generation college students and law students (I was both)
sometimes face a longer adjustment period. Lack of earlier opportunities and
role models make their tasks somewhat more difficult but not unachievable. Their
adjustment is due to their life experiences, not their race or national origin.
They and their first-generation White counterparts must be encouraged and
supported. Feelings of self-esteem and self-worth, however, are much better
enhanced by successful achievement of difficult goals than by receiving
condescending gestures which leave the recipient with the suspicion that the
grantor does not really believe the minority student is capable of achievement
in his or her own right.
this regard, I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago in the
Mid-West. A very well-meaning person, upon learning that I was from Santa Fe,
asked me if I had ever known any Native Americans in New Mexico. When I
responded affirmatively, she asked, "What were they like?" I thought
of all the Native Americans I had grown up with. I thought of kids I had played
with, kids I had fought with, girls I had dated, and some kids I just really
hadn’t gotten to know very well because they were busy with activities in
which I wasn’t involved. Some of these kids did well in school, others goofed
around. Some were athletic, some weren’t. Some spoke Spanish and others
didn’t. I did recall that the feasts at the pueblos were great. But, what were
my friends "like?" I was left with telling her, "They’re like
you and me." She seemed disappointed with my answer.
I hope this doesn’t disappoint you as well, but what are Hispanic law
students, professors, and deans like? They’re like you and me. How should they
be treated? In general, as we should treat everyone--fairly and compassionately,
holding them and ourselves to the same high standards that should apply to
is only a rough outline of one perspective on legal education. Next year,
God-willing, I’ll be in my 53rd year of life, my 34th
year of marriage, my 28th year as a father and as an attorney, and my
6th year as a dean. I can hardly wait.