Paul L. Caron

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Duke Law School Kerfuffle Over Publication Of Article In Symposium On Sex In The Law


Above the Law, Student Staff Resign After Duke Law School Faculty Try To Force Anti-Trans Article Into Journal:

Duke Law School Faculty have incited a turf war with the student staff at Law and Contemporary Problems, the school’s oldest law journal. At the heart of the dispute is the Faculty Board’s insistence that an upcoming “Sex in the Law” issue include an article by UK philosophy professor Kathleen Stock. As Stock has spent the last few years aggressively promoting herself as the professor willing to rubberstamp whatever anti-trans sentiment will get her a media interview, it’s not exactly a mystery how she intends to use the student journal as a vehicle. ...

[T]he student editorial board voted overwhelmingly not to include this article but the Faculty Board is refusing to let the article move forward without it. We’ve been told 5 student editors have already resigned and at least 14 more are considering following.

Jonathan H. Adler (Case Western), Are Duke Law Faculty Forcing a Student-Run Journal to Publish an Offensive Article?:

When the symposium proposal was under consideration, some student editors objected to including Stock. In an effort to be sensitive to some student concerns, the faculty board sought input from the existing editors of the journal before making a final decision on the symposium as a whole. At no point did the faculty board consider excluding Stock. Given the opportunity to express input on whether to publish the symposium with a contribution from Stock, the then-serving student editors voted in favor of publication, and the faculty board accepted the symposium. This was the state of play last Fall.

Fast forward to 2021. A new student editorial board took over. The new board, unhappy about its predecessor's decision, tried to reverse course and excise Stock from the symposium. Although the symposium had been approved by both the faculty board and the prior student editorial board, some students were sufficiently upset with the Stock contribution that they wanted to remove it. As should not surprise, the faculty board refused. Some students were unhappy with this decision, and several opted to resign from the journal.

The faculty board, for its part, sent out the following notice to students:

Like the broader institution of which we are a part, Law and Contemporary Problems is committed to the vigorous and open exchange of ideas. The journal publishes issues that engage with matters of contemporary legal importance and feature contributions by a range of scholars in different disciplines. The issue on Sex in Law was approved in Fall 2020 by both the faculty advisory board and the 2020-2021 student editorial board after extensive discussion. The current student board members have recently asked that one of the pieces in that issue be removed. We respect the concerns and commitments of the students who have chosen to resign, but what they have asked of us is inconsistent with the journal's core scholarly mission.

Assuming there are not other relevant facts about which I am unaware, it seems to me that this is far from the faculty takeover of a student journal that ATL suggested. It further seems to me that the faculty editors did nothing wrong. To the contrary, they sought greater student input than the journal's current practices require. At the same time, the faculty board held firm to the principles upon which academic discourse is based–the open exchange of ideas and viewpoints–while also refusing to allow the journal to breach its commitment to publish this symposium–a symposium that is largely filled with contributions that takes views quite different from those advanced by Stock.

Above the Law, Student Staff Resign After Duke Law School Faculty Try To Force Anti-Trans Article Into Journal:

UPDATE: ... Alas, this is more or less what was expected in a situation like this. Academic freedom is, of course, an important value, but it’s also excessively deployed as a shield for professors to opine and behave in ways that marginalize others. From the unfortunately extensive population of white professors demanding to use the n-word in class to the continued saga of Amy Wax’s tenure at Penn Law, academic freedom is always raised as the defense when professors take actions that students — especially marginalized students — see as hurtful attacks on them as members of the university community. A “vigorous and open exchange of ideas” is valuable only to the extent it improves the academic mission of improving the human condition. Is Trans skepticism within that field? It shouldn’t be, but here we are.

Now the Volokh Conspiracy is dragging this article. Or, at least that’s what they think they’re doing. Either Professor Adler has completely missed the point or is being deliberately obtuse. Rather than focus on the wisdom of a legal journal extending its good reputation to an author who has generated heavily critical letters from her colleagues, the article throws hundreds of words at “since the Faculty Board has the authority to do this then there’s no reason anyone should question it.” Which is… certainly a take.

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