Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Law Schools Face An Inflection Point With Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

Following up my previous post, The ABA Needs Ideological Diversity to Ensure Its Future:  ABA Journal Op-Ed:  Law Schools Face an Inflection Point With Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, by Josh Blackman (South Texas; Google Scholar):

In recent years, there has been a rise in law students heckling speakers. In 2018, I was shouted down at the CUNY Law School in New York. In 2022, Ilya Shapiro was shouted down at the law school formerly known as Hastings. And more recently, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit was shouted down at Stanford Law School.

We were protested for speaking on different topics, but there was a common thread: Students at each institution insisted that we were not welcome on campus; that our mere presence made them feel unsafe; and that our messages were not worth the pain and suffering we would cause. Thus, the students refused to let us speak.

Who is to blame for these protests? Of course, the students who heckled speakers, in clear violation of university policy, were at fault. But the blame goes much deeper. These students have been taught from the earliest age that harmful speech has no place in educational institutions. ...

Universities and faculties in particular should take decisive action to prevent [DEI administrators] from subverting the core principles of academic inquiry. At this inflection point, I propose a five-course action plan.

First, every faculty should adopt, or reaffirm, a free speech policy that clearly spells out the university’s commitment to a diversity of viewpoints. That policy also should delineate the consequences for heckling speakers. Students should be given a stern warning at orientation, so they are on clear notice about the rules.

Second, universities should restructure DEI departments. For starters, DEI deans should be tenured members of the faculty, rather than untenured staff. ... Moreover, the institution should define the jurisdiction of DEI departments and ensure that student-facing deans remain neutral and do not endorse any particular ideology. ...

Third, faculty governance should assert oversight of DEI departments. ... 

Fourth, DEI staffers should be required to attend training on free speech and academic freedom. ...

Fifth—and this one is key—universities should commit themselves to hiring ideologically-diverse professors. It is regrettable that Stanford has one right-of-center public law scholar—Judge McConnell. Yale has zero. Conservative students at Stanford and Yale are jurisprudential orphans. If more conservative scholars are hired, progressive students will invariably learn how to deal with those they disagree with—cross-cultural competency in modern lingo—and may realize that the divide between right and left isn’t as large as they thought. Harvard, which has a handful of conservative faculty members, has unsurprisingly stayed out of the headlines. Other schools should follow the hiring practice started more than a decade ago by Dean Elena Kagan.

Higher education faces an inflection point. Stanford is just the proverbial cardinal in the coal mine. Institutions must choose whether to allow DEI to erect their own fiefdoms that will tower over a school’s academic mission. Or deans and faculty can restore the proper balance of powers between academic departments. They should make this choice, while they can still make this choice.

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