Johnson leads others to the law,
promotes minority faculty hires
By Charlotte Crystal
been many years and many tests since Alex M. Johnson Jr. first
visited UCLA with his earliest mentor and favorite teacher, Tom
teacher took Johnson to his alma mater for a special tour and
told the youngster, then a third-grader at West Vernon Avenue
Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles, that he, too,
could someday go to college if he worked hard and believed it
seal the deal, Nakayama bought his student a T-shirt in the bookstore.
Nearly 40 years later, Alex Johnson is the Mary and Daniel Loughran
Professor of Law
at U.Va. and vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention.
He also serves as chair of the board of trustees of the Law School
Admission Council, a consortium of nearly 200 law schools in the
United States and Canada that administers the Law School Admissions
in college, on the job and in his professional volunteer efforts,
Johnson has dedicated his life to seeing that the doors of opportunity
are open to all.
like an older brother to me, said S. Bernard Goodwyn, Circuit
Court Judge for the First Circuit in Chesapeake, Va., and a former
law student of Johnsons. He gave me the scoop on things,
told me what to expect, how things work. Hes my mentor.
grew up in the 1950s and 60s, during the heyday of the civil
rights movement, and decided early on he wanted to become a lawyer.
With the impact of Brown v. Board of Education, I saw that
to be a leader in the country, law was the avenue.
Johnson, that avenue started at home, where his hard-working parents,
neither of whom finished high school, extolled the value of education
and encouraged their four children to study hard and look for
later, when college admission letters arrived from Princeton,
UCLA, USC and Claremont McKenna College (then Claremont Mens
College), he chose Princeton and quickly realized he had
made a mistake.
was miserable, Johnson said. It was a good education,
but it was too far from home and I wasnt into the eating
clubs. Also, it was a very small school, smaller than my high
school, now the George Washington Academy in Los Angeles. It was
just an all-white, male, Eastern establishment school. Not my
transferred to Claremont in his junior year the fall of 1973.
He knew that, among its other strengths, the college had one of
the best records in the state for its graduates entering their
first choice of law school.
instilled in me a sense of honor and integrity, a strong work
ethic and intellectual curiosity, Johnson said.
graduated magna cum laude as a Phi Beta Kappa in 1975, going on
to law school at UCLA and finally making his third-grade
receiving his law degree, he signed on as a legal associate with
Latham & Watkins in L.A. After two years there, he took a
leave of absence to teach at the University of Minnesota School
of Law. Having tasted the intellectual challenge and relative
freedom of the classroom, Johnson realized he preferred teaching
and writing to practicing law.
a call came from U.Va., seeking to fill an assistant professorship
in 1984, Johnson headed to the East Coast. Initial fears about
the racial climate in Virginia were put to rest after a visit.
and his wife, Karen J. Anderson, have been at U.Va. for 17 years.
His wife earned a law degree in 1995 and now works as a special
assistant to the dean of admissions at the Law School.
contributions to the University through his behind-the-scenes
administrative role have been major and promise to leave a lasting
impression on the institution. Alex has been a significant
player in developing and maintaining faculty quality at the University
during his service as vice provost for faculty recruitment and
retention, said former provost Peter W. Low, who recently
returned to teaching in the Law School. In particular, he
has facilitated the employment of faculty spouses, which has become
an increasingly important issue in recent years, and provided
support from the provost level to the Universitys efforts
to increase the diversity of its faculty.
describes his duties as enticing, threatening and cajoling
the deans to make extraordinary efforts to hire qualified individuals
in underrepresented groups.
addition to his day job, Johnson travels 20 weeks out of the year
for the Law School Admission Council, the consortium of law schools
that last year administered 107,000 LSAT exams to students hoping
to enter law school. This volunteer activity has put Johnson front
and center in the national debate over affirmative action and
the use of LSAT scores in the admissions process.
the Scholastic Assessment Test, which tests the mastery of information
and skills, the LSAT is purely a skills test, according to Johnson.
While it can predict 20 percent of a students likelihood
of success in the first year of law school, it doesnt measure
the remaining 80 percent, which can depend on hard work and other
intangibles. It should play only a partial role in the admissions
process, along with other considerations, such as character, leadership
abilities, community service, undergraduate curriculum, life experience
and career interests, he believes.
his two-year term as LSAC chair, which started in June, Johnson
has three goals in mind: to see that the LSAT scores are used
properly; to boost minority students matriculating in law schools;
and to help interested foreign countries establish their own LSAT
African-American students score lower on the LSATs on average
than white students doesnt mean the test is discriminatory.
It illustrates the problem of inadequate investment in African-American
education in this country. But getting rid of the LSAT wont
magically open the admissions door to minority students.
In general, Johnson believes that law schools do a good job of
attracting and graduating African-American students and producing
black lawyers who pass the bar.
of his overwhelming schedule, Johnson has taken a break from teaching
property law this year, but hopes to return.
love teaching first-year law students above all, Johnson
said. Theyre so eager and unmolded, theyre inquisitive,
they have high energy, theyre thirsty for answers. Its
like teaching a new language. You can really see the progress
as they start to get it.
has had a big impact at the Law School, especially where African-American
students are concerned, according to Goodwyn.
helped them in school and in their careers, offering job leads,
encouragement and advice, Goodwyn said. There is a
large cadre of students who see Alex as the ultimate role model.
shaped my outlook on law as much as anyone has, Goodwyn
said. I hope I can make him proud.