Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Unsettling Politicization of Higher Education (Including Legal Education)

Law schools should train students how to think, write, and practice like a lawyer. They should only admit students, based on LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point average, who are likely to succeed in a law school and the legal profession. And they should produce competent graduates who can pass the bar examination on their first attempt, and who obtain jobs that justify the non-dischargeable debt that graduates often incur.  

To do so, contrary to the views espoused by some scholars, the Socratic method is necessary, as it teaches students the value of, among other things, preparation, thinking on your feet, and performing capably in front of a large audience.[1] And if cold calling causes students stress and anxiety, so be it. Law schools should teach students how to cope with, not avoid, anxiety, pressure, and stress because that will prepare them for the legal profession – and life. Additionally, legal writing courses should be integrated within the law school curriculum and courses should blend doctrine and practical skills to produce marketable graduates. In short, law school is about teaching students how, not what, to think, providing students with real-world skills, and respecting the diverse viewpoints that students of all backgrounds bring into the classroom.

Recently, however, some law schools – and universities – have become so liberal that division and discord have replaced civility and respect, and ideological uniformity has replaced the tolerance of diverse viewpoints.[2] The bias against hiring conservative scholars at many law schools is one example that reflects the liberal bias and discriminatory behavior that pervades some institutions.[3]

Sadly, the current conflict in the Middle East underscores how political – and often extreme – institutions of higher education have become. To be sure, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. Both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered horribly, and both sides bear responsibility. One would expect that academics, including law professors, would have a balanced view that recognizes the nuances of this conflict and appreciates the diverse points of view that students and citizens express on this tragic situation.

Think again.

For example, despite the torture and murder of Israelis last month, a professor at Albany Law School posted on social media "Long live the Palestinian resistance & people of Gaza, tearing down the walls of colonialism and apartheid."[4] Did this professor express compassion for the horror and suffering that so many Israelis endured? No. Additionally, a professor at Cornell University described the attacks by Hamas as “exhilarating,”[5] and a professor at Columbia University described Hamas’ attacks as “astounding,” "incredible,” and a "stunning victory."[6] Not to be outdone, an organization that a New York University professor  co-founded praised “heroic Palestinian resistance.”[7] And an adjunct professor at the City University of New York posed on social media that “Zionists are straight Babylon swine,” who are “racist arrogant bullies” affected by a “genocidal disease.”[8]

In response, major donors at some institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania, criticized these universities for failing to explicitly condemn Hamas’ attack, with one Penn donor expressing disgust at the university’s “silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel.”[9] Considering the expressed and unrelenting desire of some of Penn’s faculty and administration to fire Professor Amy Wax, one would have expected that Penn’s administration would immediately condemn the torture and slaughtering of countless Israelis. It did not.[10] Given the increasing toxicity in academia, it should come as no surprise that students are so afraid to disagree with their professors.[11]

This troubling reality, namely, academics with extreme viewpoints who show no tolerance for opposing views, is not new.  At Stanford University, former Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach told federal judge Kyle Duncan, who was invited to speak at the law school, that his opinions have “caused harm” thus placating a mob of students who tried to shout down Duncan because they disagreed with his conservative judicial philosophy.[12] Similarly disgraceful conduct occurred when Josh Blackmun, an accomplished and highly respected constitutional scholar, attempted to speak at CUNY Law School, only to be met by students who sought to censor his speech and mischaracterize his views.[13] And consider administrators and professors who, while preaching “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” condemn “whiteness,” embrace segregated living spaces and graduation ceremonies, establish “bias” hotlines where students can anonymously claim to be the victim of “microaggressions,” ban words such as “brave” and “American,” and claim that math is racist.[14]  Sadly, this is only a sample of the concerning behavior that is occurring on college and law school campuses across the country – and dividing students based on, among other things, race, gender, and political affiliation.

***

The deplorable conduct of these and other educators has affected students and inhibited the exchange of diverse viewpoints. For example, Nyna Workman, an NYU law student, refused to condemn Hamas, stating that “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life,” and that Israel’s “regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary.”[15] Remember that this gibberish was expressed by a student at NYU Law – one of the best law schools in the United States – not at some predatory law school that admits unqualified students, saddles them with non-dischargeable debt, and provides them with no legitimate prospects for long-term employment.  Thankfully, in response to Workman’s disgraceful conduct, Winston and Strawn withdrew her offer of employment.[16]

Likewise, at Harvard University several student groups stated that Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence.[17] And few can forget CUNY Law School’s student commencement speaker who used her platform to denounce “Israeli settler colonialism” and “the fascist N.Y.P.D.”[18] Additionally, some NYU students were seen ripping down posters detailing stories about Israeli hostages,[19] and a student at Cornell University threatened to slit the throats of Jewish students.[20]  Not to mention, Princeton and NYU law graduate Colinford Mattis, who, along with Urooj Rahman, thought it would be a good idea to throw a Molotov cocktail at an empty police car.[21] This is a sample of what some universities and law schools are producing these days. Indeed, the damage that ideologically driven professors inflict has far-reaching consequences on the students that they serve because it fails to teach students how to think critically, disagree respectfully, and communicate civilly.

To make matters worse, some professors coddle rather than challenge students, placing less emphasis on the development of critical thinking and other real-world skills, and instead indoctrinating them into a worldview where diverse viewpoints are unwelcome, ‘feelings’ matter more than logic, and emotion matters more than reason.[22] Lest there be any doubt, look at the nonsense occurring on many campuses where ultra-fragile students often feel “unsafe” when confronted with a perspectives different from their own and thus demand “safe spaces,” administrators provide “cry closets,” to help students deal with the stress of examinations, or offer Play-Doh to students who could not cope with the results of the 2016 presidential election. [23] And consider the shenanigans at Yale Law School, where a group of ‘offended’ students interrupted a discussion on free speech by a speaker whose views differed from their own.[24] 

Put simply, some academics have placed a premium on identity politics, where one’s group identity matters far more than an individual’s character, and on victimhood, where students are convinced that they are ‘oppressed’ and ‘marginalized.’ As Cornell Law Professor William A. Jacobson stated, “[a]lmost everything now is viewed through an identity lens, pitting groups against each other, pitting colleagues against one another, and pitting students against their peers.”[25]  In other words, the notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion is anything but diverse, equitable, or inclusive.[26]

As Professor Jacobson stated, "[t]here is substantial evidence that such DEI programming makes race and other relations worse, not better.”[27] Moreover, the impact of this divisive nonsense is that it promotes hate and homogeneity of thought, not diversity and a marketplace of ideas. As one professor at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law stated, “if you don’t want to hire people who advocate hate and practice discrimination, don’t hire some of my students.”[28] No wonder our society is divided and riddled with ignorance.

The role of professors is to prepare students for the real world, not to indoctrinate students into a liberal or conservative worldview that is infused which the very implicit and explicit biases that professors often accuse others of harboring. Professors should develop students’ (particularly law students’) critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, and hold students to high standards. They should also ensure that the classroom is a welcoming place for all students, regardless of, among other things, political affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, and socioeconomic status. Equally as important, professors should expose students to conservative and liberal viewpoints, and ensure that dialogue is civil and respectful. After all, if diversity, equity, and inclusion mean anything, it should mean that universities respect and welcome views with which they disagree, and that educators dedicate themselves to equipping students with the tangible and intangible qualities needed to succeed in law and life.

Put simply, educators must teach students how to think, not what to think, because teaching is not about professors or their views – it is about the students.

 

[1] See The University of Chicago Law School, The Socratic Method, available at: The Socratic Method | University of Chicago Law School (uchicago.edu)

[2] See, e.g., Robert Leroux, Woke Madness and the University (Winter 2021), available at:  Woke Madness and the University by Robert Leroux | NAS; Lexi Lonas, UPenn Loses Bog Donor, Board Member Resigns Citing ‘Antisemitism,’ (Oct. 16, 2023), available at:  UPenn loses big donor, board member resigns citing ‘antisemitism’;  

[3] See Adam Bonica, et al., The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (2018), available at:  The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (harvard.edu)

[4] Michael Goot, Albany Law Professor Ripped for Praise of Palestinians ‘Tearing Down the Walls of Colonialism (October 12, 2023), available at:   Albany Law professor ripped for praise of Palestinians 'tearing down the walls of colonialism' - WNYT.com NewsChannel 13

[5]   Yarun Steinbuch, Cornell Professor Who Found Hamas Attack ‘Exhilarating and ‘Energizing’ Now on Leave of Absence (Cornell professor who found Hamas attack ‘exhilarating’ and ‘energizing’ now on leave of absence (msn.com)

[6]   Tens of Thousands Sign Petition to Oust Ivy League Columbia Professor Who Praised Hamas Terror Attack Against Israel as an ‘Awesome Stunning Victory,’ (Oct. 16, 2023), available at:  Tens of thousands sign petition to oust Ivy League Columbia professor who praised Hamas terror attack against Israel as an 'awesome stunning victory' | Daily Mail Online

[7] Marya Ruth Dunner,   NYU Prof’s ‘Decolonization’ Org Praises ‘Heroic’ Hamas After Brutal Attacks Against Jews (Oct. 11, 2023), available at: Campus Reform | NYU prof's 'decolonization' org praises 'heroic' Hamas after brutal attacks against Jews

[8]  See Juni Nguyen, Some U.S. Professors Praise Hamas’s October 7 Terror Attacks (Nov. 8, 2023), available at: Some U.S. Professors Praise Hamas’s October 7 Terror Attacks | ADL

[9]  Kate Anderon, Donors Pull Support After Harvard, UPenn Fail to Condemn Hamas (Oct. 24, 2023), available at: Donors Pull Support After Harvard, UPenn Fail to Condemn Hamas (dailysignal.com); see also Judy N. Liu,  Alumni Condemn University’s Response to Hamas Attach (Oct. 31, 2023),  available at: Alumni condemn University's response to Hamas attack (stanforddaily.com)

[10] See id.

[11] See James Freeman, Most U.S. College Students Afraid to Disagree with Professors (Oct. 26, 2018), available at: Most U.S. College Students Afraid to Disagree with Professors - WSJ To be clear, there are many outstanding and inspiring law professors (and professors throughout academia) who are instrumental in helping their students prepare for the legal profession (or whatever profession they pursue). And there are many law schools whose administrations do the same. But that is increasingly becoming the exception, not the rule.

[12] Josh Moody, Dean at Center of Stanford Law Controversy Resigns (July 21, 2023), available at:  Dean at center of Stanford Law controversy resigns (insidehighered.com)

[13]  See  Scott Jaschik, Guest Lecture on Free Speech at CUNY Law School Heckled (April 15, 2018), available at:  Guest lecture on free speech at CUNY law school heckled (insidehighered.com)

[14] See, e.g., Paul Farrell, Florida University Adopts Radical DEI Program that Condemns US As a System of ‘White Supremacy,’ (March 1, 2023), available at:  Florida university adopts radical DEI program that condemns US as a system of 'white supremacy' | Daily Mail Online; Seattle Schools Propose to Teach That Math Education is Racist—Will California Be Far Behind? (Oct. 29, 2019), Lee Ohanian, available at:  Seattle Schools Propose To Teach That Math Education Is Racist—Will California Be Far Behind? | ;  Karsten Schneider, New York University Moves to Implement Racial Segregation in Student Dorms (Aug. 24, 2020), available at:  New York University moves to implement racial segregation in student dorms - World Socialist Web Site (wsws.org); Richard Vedder, Racial Segregation on American Campuses: A Widespread Phenomenon (Nov. 15, 2018), available at: Racial Segregation On American Campuses: A Widespread Phenomenon (forbes.com)

[15]  Danielle Wallace, Nonbinary NYU Student Bar Association President Loses Job After Defending Hamas Terror Attack on Jews (Oct. 11, 2023), available at:  Nonbinary NYU Student Bar Association president loses job offer after defending Hamas terror attack on Jews | Fox Business; Tesfaye Negussie and Aisha Frazier, NYU Law Student Who Blamed Israel After Hamas Attacks Defends Remarks (Oct. 25, 2023), available at: NYU law student who blamed Israel after Hamas attack defends remarks - ABC News (go.com)

[16] See id.

[17]  Names and Faces of Harvard Students Linked to an Anti-Israel Statement Were Plastered on Mobile Billboards and Online Sites (Oct. 12, 20203), available at:  Names and faces of Harvard students linked to an anti-Israel statement were plastered on mobile billboards and online sites | CNN Business

[18]  Ginia Bellafante, She Attacked Israel and the N.Y.P.D. It Made Her Law School a Target (June 2, 2023), available at:  She Attacked Israel and the N.Y.P.D. It Made Her Law School a Target. - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[19]  Krish Dev, Students Caught Tearing Down Israeli Hostage Posters May Face Disciplinary Action (Oct. 23, 2023), available at: Students caught tearing down Israeli hostage posters may face disciplinary action (nyunews.com)

[20]  See Brian Mann, Cornell Student Arrested in Connection with Antisemitic Threats on NY Campus (Oct. 31, 2023), available at:  Cornell student arrested in connection with antisemitic threats on NY campus : NPR

[21]  Jonathan Dienst, Lawyers Who Allegedly Threw Molotovs at NYPD Cars Amid George Floyd Protests to Plead Guilty Oct. 6, 2021), available at:   Lawyers Who Allegedly Threw Molotovs at NYPD Cars Amid George Floyd Protests to Plead Guilty – NBC New York

[22]  See, e.g., Yascha Mounk The Real Chill on Campus (June 16, 2022), available at: The Real Chill on Campus - The Atlantic

[23]  See, e.g., Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up A Generation for Failure available at: The Coddling of the American Mind; Grace Bird, ‘Cry Closet’ Installed for Finals at University of Utah (April 25, 2018), available at: 'Cry Closet' Installed for Finals at University of Utah (insidehighered.com); Jonathan Zimmerman, College Campuses Should Not be Safe Spaces (Jan. 17, 2019), available at: College Campuses Should Not Be Safe Spaces (chronicle.com); Stacy Zaretsky, T14 Law School Removes Post-Election Play-Doh Event From Website After Students Labeled ‘P*ssies,’ (Nov. 14, 2016), available at: T14 Law School Removes Post-Election Play-Doh Event From Website After Students Labeled 'P*ssies' - Above the Law

[24]  See Yaron Steinbuch, Yale Law Students Disrupt Bipartisan Free Speech Panel (March 18, 2022), available at: Yale law students disrupt bipartisan free speech panel (nypost.com)

[25]  Louis Casiano, Ivy League School Slammed After Professor Calls Israel Attack ‘Exhilarating’: A Much Deeper Problem (Oct. 20, 2023), available at:  Ivy League school slammed after professor calls Israel attack ‘exhilarating’: ‘A much deeper problem’ | Fox News

[26]  Ryan Quinn White Professor Resigns, Alleges Reverse Discrimination (June 26, 2023), available at: White professor resigns, alleges reverse discrimination (insidehighered.com); Bonica, et al., supra note 3, available at:  The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity (harvard.edu)

[27] Casiano, supra note 26, available at: Ivy League school slammed after professor calls Israel attack ‘exhilarating’: ‘A much deeper problem’ | Fox News

[28]  Allie Griffin, UC Berkeley Law Professor Urges Firms to Not Hire His ‘Antisemitic’ Students (Oct. 21, 2023), available at: UC Berkeley law professor urges firms to not hire his ‘antisemitic’ students (msn.com)

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