Knock, Knock (on Pittsburgh)

It's hard to be an optimist today.

I had dinner recently with a friend who moved to Pittsburgh six months ago to take a management position at one of the local universities. I asked her: What are your impressions so far? She has lived out West, in New England, in the South, and in Europe; she comes to town with as open a mind as you could hope for.

She said that she was dumbstruck by the conservatism of the community, not only its unwillingness to change, but its outright fear of doing anything different. This is true not just at the public level (remember: Firefighters and police unions behaving badly!), but at the personal, individual level.

The remedy? Tough love. Strong medecine. Welcome to the fight, Scott Craven, "entrepreneur doctor." (And once again, goodbye to schools superintendent John Thompson. Thanks to Tony Norman for devoting today's column to this Pittsburgh parochialism, and to the community leaders of the Hill District, who are calling out the members of the Board of Education.

Her point two was the absolutely retrograde state of race relations in the city, both in terms of physical segregation, and in terms of social attitudes. This struck me, too, when I moved here Racially, Pittsburgh seems to be stuck in the 1970s. There's more than a slight echo of this in l'affaire Thompson, of course, even though the P-G's report tiptoes around it.

The remedy for this? Long, hard slogging, and a lot of marketing. Item: the city's legal community yesterday rallied around a formal commitment to train and hire more African-American lawyers. I'm hoping that this turns out to be more than mere marketing, more than "It's the right thing to do" for new lawyers and for the community. ACBA members should go ahead and say it. It's OK. Divesity is good for the bottom line.. Expanding your hiring and promotion of racial minorities will make law firms more profitable.

Over time, at least. Real change on the diversity front takes years and years to accomplish, and that estimate assumes the best of all possible worlds in the community at large. Law firms in San Francisco signed a similar pledge back in 1989, when I was a lawyer there, and achieving the goals of the pledge took roughly 10 years.

Finally, I can't decide on the recipient of my "weenie of the day" award. We elected these people; part of the job description is to stand up and say, "I'm responsible." Is it Dan "I fired them but it's Roddey's fault" Onorato? Or Jim "Don't blame me" Roddey? How about School Board chair Bill "Sergeant Schultz" Isler?


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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