The Yale Visitor Center, located at 149 Elm Street in New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)

Opinion: Really, Yale appoints first tenured Latina faculty member?

There are times when you hear what at first sounds like good news, and then you think about it and wonder if, in fact, it is. Since March, the news began to circulate that the Yale Law School had offered a tenured faculty position to NYU Law professor Cristina Rodríguez and last week it confirmed that she was appointed as their first Hispanic tenured faculty member, as professor of constitutional, administrative and immigration law. This is the case in a law school that has been ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report since the publication began evaluating law schools in 1987.

Cristina Rodriguez is the first Latina to get tenure at Yale Law School. (Photo courtesy Yale Law School)

Cristina Rodriguez is the first Latina to get tenure at Yale Law School. (Photo courtesy Yale Law School)

Currently, over 80 percent of tenured professors at the nation’s law schools are white and Latino law student enrollments are not only low but have been slipping lately. Of the 65 faculty positions at Yale Law, there are currently only two Latinos. Yale Law clearly has a long way to go before achieving anywhere close to a critical mass in its faculty diversity overall. In terms of Cristina Rodríguez, they need to be sure that she not become, in Rachel Moran’s phrase, a “Society of One.”

I have had the pleasure of interacting with Cristina a few times over the years and she is terrific, so Yale Law is lucky to have her and this appointment is a well-deserved recognition of her fine work and mind. She will be leaving her post in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, but has spent most of her legal career at New York University. She is a former clerk for Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. And she is most definitely a Yalie: got her B.A. from Yale College in 1995 and her J.D. from the Yale Law School in 2000. In addition, she received a Masters in Modern History from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, in 1998. She is co-editor of the book, Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy” (Foundation Press 5th ed., 2009), and has published extensively on immigration legal and policy issues.

To their credit, Yale Law has produced some stellar Latino attorneys such as: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’79, Supreme Court of the United States; Thomas A. Saenz ’91, MALDEF President and General Counsel; Fordham Law School Professor Tanya K. Hernandez ‘90; Honorable José A. Cabranes ’65, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Honorable Cecilia M. Altonaga ’86, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida; Professor Gerald Torres ’77, Bryant Smith Chair in Law, The University of Texas School of Law; Justice Monica M. Márquez ’97, Colorado Supreme Court; and Rachel Moran, ’81, Dean of UCLA Law School and Michael J. Connell Distinguished Professor of Law. And, as I already pointed out, Cristina herself.

However, after thinking about it, I had to remind myself that this is 2013 and that it literally took Yale Law, what, 189 years to appoint a Latino/a to their tenured faculty? At this rate, well, you do the math!

In a broader sense, her appointment, and the lack of diversity that surrounds it, raises this troubling question for me: Is this what they mean by a “post-racial” society? Perhaps, as President Obama recently pleaded with critics of his current Cabinet appointments, we will need to give an answer to this question more time, but, quite frankly, I ain’t holding my breath.

Angelo Falcón, President and Founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

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