Marilyn Yarbrough was named dean of the College of Law in 1987, the first black dean of a major Southern Law School and the second African American female dean of a law school. A Kentucky native, she earned the bachelor’s degree in English from Virginia State University and worked for IBM and Westinghouse as her first career. She then entered UCLA Law School, for which she and her then-husband, Walter Ainsworth, were able partially to pay her way with her winnings from the Hollywood Squares TV show (she also accumulated winnings on the TV game shows Concentration and Match Game).
She received the JD in 1973 and began her career in education as a teaching fellow at the Boston College Law School. She joined the faculty of the University of Kansas School of Law in 1976; rose to full professor in 1981; and served as associate vice chancellor for research, graduate studies, and public service from 1983 to 1987. After four years as UT’s Dean of Law, she took a leave of absence in 1991 to become the William J. Maier Jr. Professor of Law at West Virginia University. In 1993 she joined the law faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was associate provost at UNC from 1994 to 1996 and then returned to the UNC College of Law. In March 2002 when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted an invitation to spend a day at the UNC Law School, she and the four other African American law faculty boycotted the visit because, as she was quoted in Nat Hentoff’s syndicated column, “Joining Thomas would have been seen as an endorsement, at least a tacit approval, of his views.”