Friday, September 28, 2007
Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
Your well-deserved appointment as Dean of UC Irvine Law School was the result of your impressive qualifications. But the decision to rescind that appointment for fear of offending conservatives who dislike your liberal political views was only reversed after a massive outcry against ideological discrimination from scholars across the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, the problem of ideological discrimination in faculty hiring is not limited to your case. At the top 20 law schools, faculty contributing to Democratic political candidates outnumber those contributing to Republicans by almost 6 to 1 (81% of contributors to 15%). By no means is this imbalance due solely to discrimination; far from it. However, studies show that discrimination against non-liberals probably does account for a significant part of the ideological imbalance on arts and science faculties. Law schools are unlikely to be much different, a conjecture supported by a good deal of anecdotal evidence (see e.g. here).
Social science research suggests that most people dislike questioning of their political views and often prefer to be surrounded by those who agree with them. Moreover, as Cass Sunstein has shown, groups of like-minded people tend to grow more extreme in their views over time and less tolerant of dissent. It is no surprise if these tendencies are sometimes exhibited by law faculties, as well as other ideologically lopsided groups. In the academic world, ideological discrimination in hiring usually takes the form of discrimination against conservatives and libertarians. That is not because liberals are uniquely intolerant, but because the preponderance of liberals in academia ensures that they have greater ability and temptation to discriminate. Conservatives and libertarians would probably behave the same way were the situations reversed.
You can help change this situation. By committing to a strong policy of ideological nondiscrimination in faculty hiring, you and UC Irvine can help set a good example for other schools. At the same time, you can also improve the reputation of UCI by hiring top scholars who may have been overlooked by your competitors because of their ideologies. Even if you end up with a higher percentage of conservatives or libertarians than is typical in academia, your own sterling liberal credentials will prevent any perception of favoritism towards the right. The opportunity to do well by doing good is there for your taking.
For all the posts in the series, see here.