Paul L. Caron

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Free Speech And Cancel Culture: A Tale Of Two Law Schools

Following up on my previous posts:

David Lat, Free Speech And Cancel Culture: A Tale Of Two Law Schools:

In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, last Friday’s big abortion ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington has become a leading battlefield in the culture wars. ... The nation’s capital is also the latest front in the law-school culture wars. Two law schools in D.C., American University Washington College of Law and the George Washington University Law School, have experienced free speech and cancel culture controversies in the past week. ...


American University is investigating eight law students after a conservative classmate claimed they harassed him during an online group chat about the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. ... 

As I’ve said in these pages again and again, law students—on the right, on the left, or in between—should address these conflicts on their own, without running to the administration at the first opportunity. If they can’t engage in spirited debate without wilting, they’re going to have a rough time of it out there as lawyers.

And administrators need to stop indulging the complaining students by launching ridiculous “investigations.” As FIRE attorney Alex Morey stated, “American cannot let its process for investigating actual discrimination and harassment be weaponized to investigate students’ opinions, but that’s exactly what’s happening here.”

If administrators feel obliged to launch something nominally called an “investigation” because of university policy, they should close the investigation immediately after opening it. I could have “investigated” the AU controversy in all of five minutes by reading the chat and writing a one-line memo: “Nothing to see here, move along folks.”

At AU, the attempt to stifle free speech by claiming “harassment” and “discrimination” comes from the right. In the controversy at George Washington University Law School (“GW Law”), the effort to cancel comes from the left. ...

George Washington

Since 2011, Justice Clarence Thomas has co-taught a constitutional law seminar at GW with his former clerk Gregory Maggs (now Judge Maggs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, but for many years Professor Maggs of GW Law). They’re scheduled to teach the course again in fall 2022.

On Sunday afternoon, Jon Kay, a rising junior at GW, created a petition calling for firing Justice Thomas. ... The petition received more than 7,000 signatures, but the university didn’t cave. On Tuesday, as reported by the GW Hatchet, Provost Christopher Bracey and GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew sent out an email. ...

I like this response. First, and most importantly, Provost Bracey and Dean Matthew stood up for academic freedom and free expression, in clear and unmistakable terms. Second, they did not include the expected condemnation of Dobbs. ... Third, Bracey and Matthew rejected the request promptly, instead of letting it fester for days and allowing the brouhaha to grow.

The AU and GW Law controversies are some of the first over Dobbs, but they won’t be the last. May they provide useful lessons to law school students and administrators for how to handle—and how not to handle—Dobbs disputes in the future.

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