UVA’s First Woman Dean on Work/Life Balance in Education

This month, the University of Virginia School of Law’s first woman dean started in the position: Professor Risa Goluboff.

Goluboff, who began teaching at UVA in 2002, has amassed an impressive array of credentials: She earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a law degree from Yale, and a Ph.D. from Princeton, then she clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the Second Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. In addition, Goluboff has written two books, and received UVA’s All-University Teaching Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.

goluboff_2015part2She plans to take a year off from the classroom to settle into the deanship, and then in 2017 to return to teaching constitutional law. Her priorities as Dean include working to expand the law school’s clinical offerings, to increase financial aid, and to maintain the law school’s commitment to diversity and social responsibility.

We caught up with her on Wednesday to talk about her deanship, gender parity in the legal world, and the lessons she teaches her students about work/life balance. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Big Law Business: Congratulations on the new job! You are the first woman to serve as dean of UVA School of Law. How does that feel?

Goluboff: It feels great! It’s very exciting, and it feels like a privilege. It also feels odd. I grew up thinking feminism had done all its work, and when I entered the work world I learned that it hadn’t, that there were still lots of ways in which women had not become fully equal partners with men, even though there were lots of ways that they had. It’s a surprise to me that I would be the first woman anything. Obviously, we still haven’t had the first woman president, we’ll see if that happens soon enough, but it surprised me that even at this level I could be the first.

Big Law Business: How has the UVA community reacted to the announcement of your deanship?

Goluboff: The reception I’ve gotten from our alumni has been overwhelmingly positive, and not just from women, from everyone. People have been very excited, not just that I’m the dean, but that we have a woman as dean. One of the things that I’ve noticed as I’ve been talking to alumni is that there’s a real desire among our alumni, especially among our alumni in private practice, in BigLaw, to talk about the state of the profession, about retention, and about how to retain talent among their young lawyers and how to support them. It’s been really invigorating, number one, just to hear about the energy people are spending on questions of gender parity, but also to know that they want to talk about it, and they want to share what those efforts are.

Big Law Business: Does the issue of gender parity in the legal field ever come up with your students? How do you address it?

Goluboff: My husband [UVA law professor Richard Schragger] and I actually teach a course together, a seminar in ethical values. These courses are typically attended by second and third years and held in faculty homes. And I think almost every year that we’ve been here, ours has been on work/life balance. It’s always the case that we have a supermajority of women. Sometimes it’s all women. We wish more men would take the class.

I think many of [the students’] concerns are similar to the concerns that I have had. They’re concerned about being able to do the jobs that they’ve been educating themselves for for three years, and also have families, and what kind of support do employers provide, and what kind of support does the government provide, how do you organize your personal life?

The sense that I get from my students is that they think there is still some amount of gender inequality that they have either already experience or expect to experience, but that it’s much less than they perceive generations before them to have experienced. But I think they feel optimistic. The sense that I get is the challenge they expect to be the hardest is work/life balance, rather than sexual harassment or discrimination.

Big Law Business: Do you think that being a law professor has made it easier for you to have your own work-life balance? [Goluboff and Schragger have two children, aged 10 and “almost 13”]

Goluboff: Absolutely, and I do think it’s one of the reasons why you have seen increases in the numbers [of women] in academia more so than in private practice. We work really hard, but the nature of our work gives us a lot more flexibility, and that’s a privilege.

Big Law Business: It looks like a lot has actually changed along with your career. I took a look at some ABA data showing the percentage of tenured women law professors jumped from 6.4% in 2000 to 25.1% in 2003. That was right around the time you began teaching. Did it feel like you were part of a bigger wave of women entering and changing the profession?

Goluboff: So it didn’t feel that way at the time to me, but I will say that I have noticed the changes over the years, and it’s certainly the case at UVA now that among our junior, untenured faculty, women are 50%. That’s been the case for several years now. That’s an exciting number.

I don’t think I understood myself as being at the front of a wave or part of a wave, but certainly now there are many more women at the senior level, especially in my cohort. There are many more mid-level, mid-career kinds of female faculty members, and what’s exciting is you see more and more coming in in the junior ranks.

Big Law Business: As women continue to hold leadership positions, younger women see them as role models and follow suit, so there’s kind of a snowball effect.

Goluboff: Right, I think that’s true. And my understanding is that in the last several years there has been a huge number of new female deans in law schools across the country. My understanding is that last year there were a record number of new female deans, and that it is becoming more prevalent now.

Big Law Business: The numbers definitely confirm that trend. The number of women deans nearly doubled from 1998 to 2005, and last year, National Law Journal reported that women made up 40 percent of law school leadership. I just took a quick look at the top 10 law schools in the country, and, with you in your new job, exactly half of them have women as deans.

Goluboff: That’s amazing, and it’s a good sign. Unlike what you see in some other parts of the profession and other parts of the business world, where there’s attrition as you go towards the top, right here we’re actually more represented in leadership positions than we are on faculties overall. I don’t know how you explain that, but it certainly it might indicate that with women in leadership positions, there might be even more change going forward.

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