Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 1, 2021

An Open Letter To Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken


Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Peter Berkowitz (J.D. 1990, Yale; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution), An Open Letter to Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken:

Yale Law Logo (2020)Dear Dean Gerken,
Many years ago, when I was a student at Yale Law School, the institution prided itself on providing a continuation of liberal education. I greatly valued the opportunity to supplement the standard legal studies curriculum with forays into the classics of English jurisprudence; explorations of different bodies of religious law and the interpretative traditions to which they gave rise; philosophical reflections on the limits of reason, legal and otherwise; and, in the effort to understand the intricacies of American constitutional law, readings in history, literature, political thought, and sociology. By going beyond the teaching of technical expertise in black-letter law, Yale enabled students to gain an appreciation of the place of law and the courts in a free and democratic society.

At the same time, worrying signs back then cast doubt on the strength of Yale Law School’s commitment to maintaining an atmosphere of free and open inquiry, a vital prerequisite of liberal as well as legal education. A progressive orthodoxy reigned at the law school. The majority — among students as well as faculty — seemed to regard the conservative viewpoint as an aberration to be frowned upon but which in small doses could be tolerated. Particularly in constitutional law classes, probing analysis of both sides of the argument tended to give way to advocacy for progressive outcomes. Some of my classmates were disposed to define race partly in terms of political opinions. According to their calculations, if a faculty member could not be counted on to affirm prescribed beliefs — on, say, abortion or affirmative action — then, for the purpose of measuring law-school-faculty diversity, that professor should not be classified as belonging to a historically disadvantaged group, regardless of the professor’s skin color, ethnicity, or sex.

Judging by the Trent Colbert affair, the worrying tendencies visible during my days at Yale have worsened considerably. Because of the school’s disproportionate role in training the nation’s law professors and judges, restoration on campus of the understanding and practice of liberty of thought and discussion is particularly urgent. ...

To assist you in ameliorating dispositions to take offense, chill protected speech, and censor that have gained a foothold at Yale, I offer three proposals to reinvigorate a culture of free speech at the law school and throughout the university.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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