From a trio of incredibly accomplished candidates, University of New Mexico Provost Chaouki Abdallah last week selected the School of Law’s first African American dean, professor Alfred Mathewson.
In a move that surprised some, and in consultation with Mathewson, Abdallah also chose professor Sergio Pareja to serve as co-dean – the second Hispanic leader in the school’s history.
The move is historic not only because two lawyers of color were appointed, but also because the school has never before been run by co-deans. Abdallah’s promotion of two lawyers of color as co-deans signifies UNM’s commitment to diversity and to improving the legal profession. Without question, Mathewson’s and Pareja’s skills and scholarship make them exceptionally qualified to lead the law school.
Mathewson, a Yale Law School graduate, has served on the law school faculty since 1983 and is the former associate dean of academics. He previously worked as a corporate, securities and banking lawyer. Mathewson helped rejuvenate UNM’s Africana studies program during his tenure as acting director and later as director.
Recently, he has been actively involved in the consent decree negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Albuquerque Police Department, advocating for increased community input and for inclusion of provisions that address racial tensions in APD’s policing.
Pareja graduated from Georgetown University Law Center. In private practice and in academia, Pareja’s focus has been on business, tax and estate planning. He has previously taught and directed the Guanajuato Summer Law Institute and is the co-founder of the Madrid Summer Law Institute. He has been honored as one of the top law teachers in the country by the National Jurist and as “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” by UNM.
Some of you reading this may wonder why a commitment to diversity at UNM is important. As New Mexico’s only law school, UNM serves as the gateway for the diversity of our state’s bar. The legal profession lags behind other professions when it comes to the numbers of people of color represented.
Even in New Mexico, where people of color represent nearly 60 percent of the population, lawyers of color represent about 20 percent of the bar. Changing the demographics of the New Mexico bar begins with admissions decisions.
Having a diverse student body is critical because of the well-documented benefits that diversity brings to a student’s learning environment. Today’s law students must also have exposure to diverse leadership and faculty so that they reap the benefits of the creative thinking that occurs when you bring together people of different backgrounds.
As lawyers, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are crucial to providing the best representation to clients.
Abdallah’s decision to promote two lawyers of color demonstrates the creative thinking that lawyers need to address clients’ complex problems. In his own words, the move to appoint co-deans was “unusual” and “bold,” but necessary to address the law school’s needs.
This innovative approach shows the school’s willingness to embrace different ideas, take risks and grow. It also underscores that the law school is a truly special place where diversity of all types, including diversity of thought, is valued.
The law school’s new co-deans will be facing unique challenges, but they have what it takes to lead the law school through this transition period. The New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association and the New Mexico Black Lawyers Association continue to offer their support to the UNM School of Law. We encourage the law school’s alumni and friends to also give their support.
The law school is training some of our finest leaders and problem solvers. We owe it to them to make sure our state’s only law school is stronger than ever under its new leadership.
We congratulate Mathewson and Pareja on their appointments. And, we celebrate that the UNM School of Law is leading the way when it comes to advancing diversity and legal education.