Symposium on Systemic Racism and Sexism in Legal Academia: Racial Hierarchies and the Internationalization of Southern Law Schools

Symposium on Systemic Racism and Sexism in Legal Academia: Racial Hierarchies and the Internationalization of Southern Law Schools

[Roy is a faculty member at Jindal Global Law School in India. Roy has published under a pseudonym so that they may remain anonymous.]

International law school rankings are dominated by institutions in Europe, North America and Australia. As an indication, the previous editions of the Times Higher Education and QS rankings included just one and two law schools from outside these regions in their top 20 worldwide. Law schools in the Global South have become increasingly conscious of their relegation in rankings and the implications this has for their reputations. To rise the ranks, many play the metrics used to evaluate a university’s performance, including ‘international outlook’ and national to international faculty and student ratios. This has resulted in several Southern law schools actively recruiting international faculty. 

Drawing from my experience at Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) in India, which entered QS’ list of top 100 law schools in 2021, a rarity for a Southern law school, I argue the unchecked recruitment of international faculty entrenches a racial hierarchy among international white, international non-white, and national faculty. Disparities between white and non-white faculty are well documented in Northern law schools. In this blogpost, I contend that because of  the social capital associated with whiteness, similar asymmetries in Southern law schools are unsurprising, even if nationals continue to form the majority of faculty. In the quest to elevate their rankings, Southern law schools risk reinforcing the very structures they may seek to subvert within legal academia.  

Facially-neutral Metrics and International Rankings 

While discussing the international publication requirements facing junior faculty in Asian law schools, Antony Anghie termed rankings the ‘new standard of civilization.’ He argues that rankings can be just as ‘alienating and damaging as their predecessor.’ Metrics which inform rankings, including publication requirements and ratios of international to national faculty and students may appear neutral. However, it is necessary to recognize that they are designed in the Global North, guided by the context of Northern universities. Southern law schools are at an intrinsic disadvantage, with a range of structural barriers rooted in history working against them. These include the ability of Northern universities to capitalize on the Southern academic brain drain; attract international students, with the prestige of a Northern education established through the colonial project; and the lack of Southern representation which plagues editorial boards of leading law journals.   

Given the reputational stakes associated with rankings, disengagement from the system is not an option for most Southern law schools. JGLS has pursued a vision centered on internationalizing legal education. This vision plays out through collaborations with leading law schools worldwide; a curriculum which emphasizes international law; and a significant proportion of international faculty. The administration at JGLS makes no attempt to hide the links between this vision and their ambition toward rankings. An official press release following its entrance in the top 100 of QS’ 2021 law school rankings declares that JGLS overcame ‘longstanding stereotypes and prejudices about the ability of private universities to become world-class to place India on the world map.’ Given that the press release referred to (only) Northern law schools which JGLS has either been ranked above or in the same bracket as, the administration was also alluding to the barriers facing non-Western law schools in international rankings.   

International Recruitment Drives: The Experience at JGLS 

We learn from academic recruitment websites such as THEunijobs that non-Western law schools, including those based in India and China, seek to attract international faculty. While international recruitment may be justified on the basis of broadening students’ exposure to distinct legal systems, it is also rooted in the logic of rankings. The connection between international faculty and placement is most evident in metrics such as faculty ratios and ‘international outlook.’ Also implicit in such drives is the belief that international faculty can contribute to improved performance in other metrics, including publication requirements. While actively recruiting international faculty may contribute to Southern law schools ‘breaking through’ the ranking ceiling, there are risks associated with this project. These include the devaluation of both non-white international and national faculty, as well the reinforcement of Eurocentrism in curricula and pedagogical approaches. Rather than being conscious of these risks, the recruitment process at JGLS provides a foundation for them to fester. 

JGLS is the largest school at O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU). It takes immense pride in its ability to recruit international faculty, as reflected through full-page advertisements featured in the Indian Express newspaper which marketed the university based on the presence of ‘over 100 international full time-faculty members.’ In 2019, JGU published a report on diversity and inclusion which suggested that 16% of faculty at the university were international, from countries ranging from Afghanistan to the United States. That international faculty and specifically white faculty constitute a minority at the law school may indicate that the same concerns regarding the lack of representation in Northern law schools are not present at JGLS. However, from my experience and that of national faculty I spoke with in preparation of this blogpost, disparities in recruitment standards have important implications.  

A list of faculty published on the law school’s website indicates that although Indian professionals dominate senior management positions, international faculty are hired at (or rapidly promoted to) mid-level to senior posts. Notably, international faculty holding the roles of lecturers and assistant lecturers are exclusively non-white. As a national colleague expressed: ‘JGLS is interested in hiring faculty from Africa and Asia, but they do not want to give them important [administrative] positions.’ I believe the distinction between white and non-white international faculty is rooted in two factors: the neo-colonial belief that white faculty make better administrators and the recognition that goals relating to international collaborations, particularly with Northern law schools, which form a key part of several administrative roles, are better served by white faces.  

The majority of the 75 faculty members holding the Lecturer or Assistant Lecturer posts are Indian. Entry-level roles of Academic Tutors are occupied exclusively by Indians holding Indian postgraduate qualifications, including research doctorates which a considerable proportion of international faculty do not possess. Given that most Indian faculty holding mid-level and senior positions hold foreign postgraduate qualifications, often from ‘reputed’ law schools, it is evident that those with foreign qualifications have an advantage in the recruitment process. Even if there was merit to the argument that foreign qualifications trump domestic qualifications and experience, there is a lack of uniformity in standards. As a national faculty member expressed: ‘The administration does place importance on rankings [in recruitment]. But say if I have a degree from Oxbridge, it will not be as valued as a white candidate from a mid-tier US law school…they are great for PR.’ 

Relative to their numbers, white faculty members play a dominant role in JGLS’ public facing activities, including student recruitment. The underlying premise of their participation is the association certain sections of students and parents make between a quality legal education and whiteness.     

National and International Faculty: Disparity in Aptitude and Expectations     

The inconsistent recruitment standards for international and particularly white faculty have resulted in glaring disparities in the aptitude of faculty in the classroom. This was most apparent through co-teaching arrangements, which were common at JGLS until recently. Two faculty members, often one international and one national, were paired to deliver a core course. Faculty members I spoke to suggested this arrangement often involved pairing a senior international faculty member who received poor student feedback with a junior Indian faculty member. Having taught a compulsory course with an international faculty member who had no prior work or academic experience related to the subject, I can attest that I had to step up to deliver what my co-teacher was unable or unwilling to: from re-teaching lessons allocated to them, setting examination questions, and completing the majority of grading and administrative tasks. 

Other Indian faculty members I spoke to had more concerning experiences in the co-teaching system. Despite being in junior positions, they conducted up to 80% of the lectures, and received negative student feedback when international faculty failed to submit final grades on time. Such experiences might be telling of the quality of international faculty recruited, or of a level of complacency which these faculty members demonstrate when teaching in an Indian law school. In many cases, similar conduct would not be tolerated in their home countries, and we can’t help but wonder why they think it is acceptable in an Indian context. However, rather than facing repercussions, the retention of international faculty is prioritized. For example, when they receive poor student feedback, international faculty are often provided assistant instructors to conceal their inadequacies in the classroom.   

In addition to the devaluation of national faculty, non-white international faculty face specific challenges in a system which privileges whiteness. Students I spoke to noted that faculty from the Global South often received complaints in relation to their English language delivery and specifically their accents. As one student noted, these complaints are not grounded in the instructor’s abilities: ‘Faculty with English or Australian accents would never receive such complaints.’   

Entrenching White Privilege and Eurocentrism in the Curriculum  

From my experience, international white faculty in particular often demonstrate an unwillingness to adapt to the context of teaching at an Indian law school. This resistance is most pronounced while designing curricula, and determining which sources of knowledge to prioritize. I taught a course which drew heavily from current affairs in India, Indian case law, as well as critical scholarship by Indian academics. The course was previously taught by a white faculty member whose syllabus drew almost exclusively from texts authored by white academics as well as European and North American case law. As Anghie argued, without keeping the local context in mind, students are likely to question why it is of relevance to them. Contextualizing such a course for Indian students would involve minimal effort, particularly given that several leading scholars in the field are Indian. I struggle to find reasons for a Eurocentric retelling of the law in India, beyond a sense of entitlement rooted in white privilege. The resistance to Southern perspectives and critical approaches to the law has not been limited to this course. For other subjects, white faculty have often prioritized scholarship and cases from the West while actively resisting the inclusion of critical scholarship which challenges the norm. 

As things stand, there are parallels between the structures reproduced by JGLS and those embedded in the international development sector. Foreign ‘experts’ from the Global North fly into the Global South on short deployments; disregard local contexts and knowledge; and impose practices which are not always in the best interests of constituents. After gaining sufficient ‘field’ experience, they return to their home countries, and are able to position themselves as experts on the country they just visited. Indeed, at JGLS, white faculty who demonstrate a basic understanding of law in an Indian context often position themselves as ‘experts’ on India, demonstrated through their publications and participation in conference panels. 

The unchecked recruitment of international faculty and the privilege white faculty are able to accrue at JGLS has repercussions for national faculty, students and the institution as a whole. For national faculty, particularly early career academics, whose qualifications and experience are rarely valued on equal terms as their Northern counterparts, the administration communicates they will also be devalued in a domestic context. For students, there are risks that their exposure to national legal histories and scholarship will be relegated in favor of a Eurocentric narrative about the law, stifling critical thinking and denying them aspects of their legal education which could set them apart from their peers in the Global North. At an institutional level, rather than disturbing asymmetries of power and knowledge in legal academia, JGLS’ approach to internationalization plays a role in reinforcing these structures.

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