Meet UW Law’s new Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Dean Covington, a dedicated educator and director of the Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic, has been with the law school since 2003. His appointment comes at a time of national reckoning around race and racial justice, and as the law school is working to foster a more diverse, inclusive environment.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion work remains our collective responsibility,” says Mario L. Barnes, UW Law Toni Rembe Dean and Professor of Law. “However, this leadership role is an important first step toward ensuring we provide dedicated resources and accountability for this crucial work. I am confident that Bill is absolutely the right person to hold this role.”
In implementing the strategic plan, Covington will develop and coordinate a long-term DEI training program for faculty, staff and students; facilitate a working group on the 1L Introduction to Perspectives on the Law course; coordinate conversations on race among the law school community; and evaluate and provide recommendations to Dean Barnes on the potential institutional impacts of ongoing diversity, equity and social justice issues.
“Even though we as an institution may not think of ourselves as part and parcel of a system that has been imposing racism on a number of people, the fact that we as lawyers make and guard the rules means that we have a special responsibility to look at what's really going on out in this society and to take corrective measures.”William Covington
“Even though we as an institution may not think of ourselves as part and parcel of a system that has been imposing racism on a number of people, the fact that we as lawyers make and guard the rules means that we have a special responsibility to look at what's really going on out in this society and to take corrective measures,” Covington says.
Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement, Covington realized he wanted to practice law early in his life.
During the mid-sixties, he had a job delivering the morning newspaper. He remembers leafing through the pages to images of lawyers with bulging briefcases walking up grand courthouse stairs to fight for social change.
As a young Black man, he would be directly impacted by the decisions made in those halls, and he knew it was what he was wanted to do too.
“I wanted to be part of that effort to use the law to undo things that are wrong and to assist people not only in obtaining their rights, but in being able to maximize their own self-determination,” Covington says. “Using the law, I hoped to create more equity in society and to assist those who have been forgotten, overlooked and ignored.”
Covington spent three years as a legal services lawyer, moved to government work as a regulatory attorney, and transitioned to the cable television and cellular telephony industries.
“This leadership role is an important first step toward ensuring we provide dedicated resources and accountability for this crucial work. I am confident that Bill is absolutely the right person to hold in this role.”Mario Barnes, Toni Rembe Dean
After working for over 25 years in telecommunications, Covington thought it was time to “give back” by sharing his knowledge with the next generation of compassionate, practice-ready lawyers. Education was a natural fit considering his mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and father, after retiring from being an industrial chemist, were all teachers.
As director of UW Law’s Technology Law and Public Policy Clinic, Covington brings his long-time interest in technology and policy to his work with students.
“Technology intrigues me because it's new, and when you are working in a newer technology, no particular day is ever the same,” he says. “Education, on the other hand, offers different rewards especially when as an instructor I can successfully share a challenging, complex, idea with my students.
“There’s nothing like talking about a difficult concept and seeing the lightbulbs go off everybody over everyone's heads. It's just one of the most rewarding things in the world.”
Covington, who holds a J.D. from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s from New York University, received an outstanding legal education while experiencing many of the same issues law schools are still dealing with today.
He was part of a third wave of affirmative action efforts, and the law school had a strong Black student presence. But in its 80-year history, it had only one Black professor, and he heard classmates tell him and other students of color on more than one occasion they were occupying places that ought to be filled by more-deserving white persons.
While recognizing the immense amount of work to be done, Covington is encouraged by strides made by law schools since his time as a student.
“Using the law, I hoped to create more equity in society and to assist those who have been forgotten, overlooked and ignored.”William Covington
“One of the things that has evolved are the in-roads professors of color have made,” he says. “Obviously we’re dissatisfied with the numbers. But the fact that the curriculum is changing to address issues of diversity and those in-roads have been made are not things to be dismissed.”
Ultimately when it comes to real progress, Covington says students today will be the ones making the most impactful change tomorrow — teaching in institutions, steering the future of government agencies and law firms, and working in the streets and neighborhoods as activists and organizers.
“We as faculty are learning, and we will make mistakes — mistakes we hope are pointed out to us,” Covington says. “Any ideas that students have on how we can move forward are welcome.
“I would also encourage students to spend these 36 months in this really strange and unusual institution called law school, and for the next 600 months of their lives, they will be able to do wonderful, fascinating and helpful things. The lemon is worth the squeeze.”