Dean Janet Levit shares her remarks on receiving the Mona Salyer Lambird Spotlight Award from the Oklahoma Bar Association Women in Law Committee.
On Friday, September 28, the Oklahoma Bar Association Women in Law Committee honored five women with the Mona Salyer Lambird Spotlight award. I was honored, and quite humbled, to be among these five women. I prepared a few remarks for the occasion, but time constraints prevented delivery. I offer a written version of my remarks in this blog with deep thanks and gratitude to so many who have supported me along my journey.
While I focus on women in my remarks today, it would be remiss for me not to recognize the two men – here to support me today – who have supported me at every juncture. To my father, Edward Koven, who taught his daughters to shoot for the stars and sacrificed so much to allow me to do just that. To my husband, Ken Levit, who is my biggest fan and advocate, and, despite all my whining, thank you for creating balance in our family life, for being a true partner in parenting. To all the law students here today, and there are many, as you choose spouses and life partners, make sure that you choose someone who honors you by respecting the many, sometimes difficult, choices that we make as professional women.
As a forty-something woman, I am only here today because of the hard-won battles of so many women, many of whom are here today. I am deeply aware that I walk in your footsteps. And, to hear the list of the previous Mona Lambird award winners is so humbling, for this group of women truly blazed the trails that made it possible for someone like me to be dean of The University of Tulsa College of Law.
In particular, I would like to single out three women in whose footsteps I walk day-in and day-out. First, my mother, Bonnie Koven, who is here today. My mother was denied admission to a PhD program at Northwestern in the 60s because it would be “inappropriate” for her to take a spot from a man. Yet, with my father, she taught me to dream and reach for places that were inaccessible for her. Second, my mentor, Judge Stephanie Seymour, a first in so many ways, taught me, and continues to teach me, about living a life dedicated to equality and justice. Third, my assistant, Wendy Buss, with a lot less formal education than me, offers daily wisdom that allows me to succeed in my current position. You are the trailblazers that most closely and dearly impact me, and I really accept this award on your behalf.
We, as women in the law, have certainly made much progress, and our path is not nearly as daunting today as it was when so many of you paved our way. In fact, a recent New York Times piece celebrated that from 1980 to 2010, the percentage of women in our profession increased from 14% to 36%. This is certainly great progress.
Yet, I remain very concerned about the status of women in our profession. If you measure the number of women equity partners in AmLaw 200 law firms (or really any law firm), judges, general counsel, tenured law professors, or law school deans, women are represented at levels dramatically below 36%. And, of particular concern for me, is the fact that women appear to be applying to law school in fewer numbers, and at The University of Tulsa College of Law, our incoming classes are approximately 40% women, where that number used to be much closer to 50%.
So, as I accept this honor today, I recognize that this is no time to be complacent, and and pledge to redouble my efforts to empower women in the law. So what am I doing right now to be true to this pledge? First, I have built a leadership team at the law school comprised primarily of women. I am proud that all of my deans are women, and amazing women – Kristine Bridges, Associate Dean of Professional Development, who joins us today; Lyn Entzeroth, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Law; Tamara Piety, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Professor of Law; Martha Cordell, Associate Dean of Student Affairs; and April Fox, Assistant Dean of Admissions. In addition, many of my high-level administrative positions are women, including two who join us today – Heather Rahhal, Director of External Relations and Christy Caves, Assistant Director of Professional Development. I am not sure, but we might be the only law school in the country where every dean is a woman.
Second, I am working with the Women’s Law Caucus, many of the members who join us here today, to help women who are less fortunate than ourselves. With the help and supervision of Family & Children’s Services and Legal Aid of Oklahoma, we are working with the “Women in Recovery” program to address a variety of family law issues, from divorce to custody to guardianship. We volunteer at Domestic Violence Intervention Services, and we hope to have a more formal clinical relationship in the near future.
Third, I try to model for my kids, Rebecca (10) and Nathan (14), what it means to be a professional woman. It is really not clear to me whether it is possible to “have it all,” but I strive to forge a healthy balance, being a present mother while engaging in meaningful work.
So, to the women who are here today, I walk in so many of your footsteps – I am just deeply, deeply grateful. Yet, I accept this award as a poignant reminder that there are many, many more paths to be forged one step at a time. –Janet Levit