Blogger Diva Ann Althouse Offers Advice on How to Talk About Race

University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse writes a fascinating New York Times op/ed arguing that we should not let our emotions run away with us when we talk about race.

That's very good advice.

Update: Damn. I somehow missed the fact that my colleague Radley Balko already noted this Althouse op/ed on his weekend open thread blog. Sorry to bother y'all with it again. 

Also, at the request of several commenters and my editor, here's the link to my earlier blog item about race, Althouse and emotion. 

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  • ||

    We owe our law students respect...

    We do? Why exactly? Personally, I've got more respect for what I scrape off the soles of my shoes.

  • ||

    You might think that a law school would want to teach scrupulous procedure, including a passion for the search for the truth and the need to find the facts before devising the remedy.

    Unless you've actually been to law school. Oh, and isn't the implication that devising a remedy will be the final step a bit shy of scrupulous?

  • Dan T.||

    "Fascinating"? It read to me like another hackneyed "I'm a WASP and don't see why race is a big deal" piece...

  • ||

    I am surprised that the professor got into so much trouble. His remarks must have been extremely offensive (to everyone, not just the hypersensitive) and/or he must not have tenure. At my law school, the professor don't shy away from describing the views of Southern Whites in the Jim Crow era, which sounds kind of parallel to what may have happened here. Other professors have said things that are outright offensive (ignorant but not , and nothing has been done. I suppose it could be because the parties that would have taken personal offense were black, and they have been inured to a certain level of offense.

  • ||

    You know what would have made this piece better? Facts. Specifics.

    We have no idea what any of these people actually said, but we're just supposed to take Ann Althouse's word for it that they were harmless? That's little different than just taking the whiny students' word for it that they were inappropriate.

    Althouse sets out to make the case that we should find the facts and consider the context and meaning before we rush to judgement, but she then gives us her judgement, without providing and facts or context.

    Anti-hysteria is a worthy cause, but I don't think it was well-served here.

  • biologist||

    Ron: you're overdosing on irony, aren't you?

  • ||

    I'd prefer to know exactly what was said before forming an opinion, but I am reminded of an incident I read of (over 10 years ago), in which a professor had said to his class, in a discussion of racism, "If I were to call Miss (x) a 'nigger," that would be racist." Miss (x) complained to the powers-that-were, the professor was censured for his "insensitivity." Miss (x), asked if the specifics of the incident did not, in fact, indicate that the professor was NOT expressing racist sentiments, said "I don't know what he said, I just know how I felt."

    I remember "feeling" appalled that a college would support a student's setting reaction higher than fact.

    FWIW.

  • ||

    biologist: You betcha! ;-)

  • ||

    "Fascinating"? It read to me like another hackneyed "I'm a WASP and don't see why race is a big deal" piece...

    Dan,

    It's fascinating in light of Ms. Althouse's argument with Ron Bailey from a few months ago.

  • edna||

    we're just supposed to take Ann Althouse's word for it that they were harmless?

    i think the lack of bodies and damage is a pretty good indication that the words were harmless.

  • Dan T.||

    Gotcha, Dave.

    Ron: my bad.

  • ||

    I'm with all those who wanted to know precisely what the guy said before either excusing or condemning the guy. I've had jobs before where I investigated claims of discrimination based on offensive language, and the first thing we learned to ask was "please tell me the exact words used." No exact words, no finding of fault for the speaker.

    While I certainly agree that a history class ought to be able to discuss racial attitudes in the Jim Crow era without causing an uproar, assuming of course that this is the advertised subject matter of the class, there are also ways of doing this that are really, really wrong. We can't make any conclusions in this case because we don't have all the evidence.

    Finally, Althouse must not be a very good professor if this is typical of what goes on in her classroom. Does she expect her students to ape her conclusions without any evidence? I'm not hiring any graduates of that law school if that's the case.

  • ||

    From the UW Law School web page, she teaches Constitutional Law, which where law students learn that the Supreme Court has always just made stuff up.

  • ||

    edna,

    "i think the lack of bodies and damage is a pretty good indication that the words were harmless."

    Shouldn't you be explaining to someone that criticizing neoconservative foreign policy is going to usher in the next Final Solution?

  • ||

    Ron,

    You should update the post to link to your earlier piece about Althouse.

  • ||

    Maybe if the professor had flirted a little with the students none of this would have ever happened.

  • edna||

    houldn't you be explaining to someone that criticizing neoconservative foreign policy is going to usher in the next Final Solution?

    godwin! godwin!

    thanks, joe, you sure addressed that head on.

  • Kevin B. O\'Reilly||

    Ron, you forgot to employ your sarcasm tags.

  • ||

    edna,

    I think the fact that I didn't actually use my head on the keyboard to compose that last post that I didn't address it "head-on."

    Oh, I'm sorry, is excruciating literarlity hour over?

  • ||

    We have no idea what any of these people actually said, but we're just supposed to take Ann Althouse's word for it that they were harmless?

    Part of Ann's point, at least on her blog, is that nobody (who wasn't there) knows what he said, because there has been a huge media and collegiate uproar with no one actually publishing what was said.

    And really, I think the burden is on those who cry racism to make the offensive remarks public. Why should we take their word for it? The presumption runs in favor of the speaker, in my mind.

  • ||

    R C,

    "Everyone freaked out, but look, it's perfectly innocent" makes that point a lot better than "Everyone freaked out and, well, we don't really know. But trust me, they shouldn't have freaked out."

    That's all I'm saying. If you tell me a hole a dry, you're better off if I can look in the hold and see that it's dry.

  • John Kindley||

    I was a student of both Kaplan's and Althouse's. I'll just copy below what I wrote about the uproar on Althouse's blog.

    "As others have said, law students just need to grow the nerve to openly disagree with their professors when their professors express in class beliefs, about the law or otherwise, which are dubious and with which the students disagree. I did, in Kaplan's class and other's. If it looks like your grades are suffering because of such valid disagreement, that's the time to really raise hell. If you truly believe the professor's expressed belief is egregiously offensive, then respond egregiously. There's a good chance the professor will either qualify or clarify his remarks. Having been a student of Prof. Kaplan's, and recalling his freewheeling and at times intentionally-provocative lecture style, I bet that's what would have happened if only the offended students had had some nerve, and the description of the context by a law student who was there on another thread rings true to me. So much better than crawling off into a corner, working yourself into a tizzy, and running to the Dean. (You could also make your complaints known in the evaluation form at the end of the semester.)"

    "While in a comment above I expressed the wish that law students would speak up and have the courage to challenge their professors in class when they say something dubious and/or offensive, instead of running to the Dean and creating a media circus, I also have to second communitygal's observation above as a former student of Kaplan, about Kaplan's teaching style. There did seem to be a lot of unnecessary baiting, and the free association lecture style, typically delivered while pacing back and forth, often seemed to smack more of the personal and subjective than the substantial and objective. I remember being surprised at some of the things he said in class on that score, and fellow students expressing dissatisfaction outside of class with things he said. Oddly, I also remember once being surprised when he said something, in the space of about 15 seconds, that was actually quite lucid, insightful and substantial about the point of law or policy under discussion. Kaplan seemed to realize it was out of the ordinary for him too, as he followed it up with something like, "Now how about that?" I regretted that he did not lecture in that manner more often.

    I hesitated to say this, because I have nothing personal against Kaplan and liked him, and I agree wholeheartedly with the Committee's statement. On the other hand, perhaps this very unfortunate incident will motivate Kaplan to re-evaluate his lecture style in a positive way."

  • John Kindley||

    I know this is a lazy way to comment, but my suggestion above, that much of law school (and other higher education) is a waste of time and money, is amplified in my comment (copied below) to a recent Althouse post on a Justice Thomas interview in which he talked about what he'd like to have done differently in college:

    "It's unfortunate that we have to make life-determining decisions, like what to major in, when we're young and have little experience of life. I majored in Philosophy, because I was passionate about it at the time, but in retrospect realize I would have learned everything worthwhile about Philosophy that I learned as a Philosophy major even if I hadn't majored in it, simply because my natural interest in it led me to study it on my own, outside of coursework.

    Now many years of life experience has developed in me an interest in economics, particularly the economics of taxation, but I'm all too aware that formal study of the subject at this point in my life would be economically disadvantageous and for all practical purposes useless.

    I learned far more about law in law school from researching and writing my law review article than I did from the three years of coursework I was required to take, and what I produced was of actual potential benefit to lawyers. Too bad the credentialing process in America in all fields isn't based more on such productive thesis-writing (and productive apprenticeships) and less on just jumpin' through hoops and puttin' in time. If it was, I could prove myself and gain the requisite knowledge by researching and writing an article or articles having to do with the economics of taxation, and others could do the same in areas that life has interested them in, and ways would be opened for acting on their interests.

    Lower the artificial career entry barriers that are for the most part just a matter of the already-credentialed protecting their turf. For my part, I wouldn't care less if a competent paralegal were allowed to hang out a shingle and practice law. Let him put his paralegal degree on his office wall and let potential clients decide whether to hire him. Without law school debt, I bet his fees would be significantly lower than the lawyer's down the street."

  • edna||

    good one again, joe. ad hom is always the most convincing argument.

    mr kindley, would you not agree that someone whose tender feelings are irreparably hurt by an aggressive law school prof ought to find another line of work? what's going to happen the first time they have to depose someone hostile? or actually have to argue with another lawyer? waah, waah, he said nasty things, waah, waah. that's not going to cut it in court.

  • Guy Montag||

    Also, at the request of several commenters and my editor, here's the link to my earlier blog item about race, Althouse and emotion.

    Oh, don't worry about that pesky editor. He only controls the means of production.

  • John Kindley||

    "mr kindley, would you not agree that someone whose tender feelings are irreparably hurt by an aggressive law school prof ought to find another line of work? what's going to happen the first time they have to depose someone hostile?"

    Absolutely, that's why I suggested law students should grow some balls and actually challenge in class dubious statements made by their professors in class. On the other hand, law students, if they want to become lawyers, are forced to attend lectures (well, actually, they can skip class, but can't skip tuition payments) and are a captive audience to their professors, which privilege they have to pay for. They have a right to expect substance and to learn a lot about the law, and their time and money should not be wasted with superficial subjective ramblings, offensive or otherwise.

  • ||

    One of the reasons people at law schools don't challenge the professors is because law students hate "gunners." Gunners are people who talk too much in class and we don't pay $45k+ to hear some idiot relate it to his personal life. If they want to, they can talk to the professor after class.

  • John Kindley||

    "One of the reasons people at law schools don't challenge the professors is because law students hate "gunners." Gunners are people who talk too much in class and we don't pay $45k+ to hear some idiot relate it to his personal life. If they want to, they can talk to the professor after class."

    The small nugget of truth in your comment is that law students typically care too much about what other students and the professors think, and care too much about melding into the herd. And a few resent the excellence and/or nerve of the non-sheep. I had a professor who in Civil Procedure class made the claim that conservative justices who seek to roll back the judicial "legislation" enacted by liberal justices are just as much judicial "activists" as the liberals whose legislation they're trying to roll back. I and another student challenged that assertion with reasoned arguments. Our comments took all of 1 or 2 minutes and had nothing to do with our personal lives. Unfortunately, the professor had nothing to say in response, and moved on to the next topic. Our comments in that instance added value to an otherwise one-sided assertion.

    Law students also don't pay $45+ to hear professors spout off their personal political beliefs.

    And yeah, no student should "talk too much in class," and there were several examples of the type in my law school experience. But demonstrating the nerve to challenge an assertion of a professor in class when the situation warrants does not by itself make one a "gunner."

  • ||

    Sure law school students pay $45K+ to hear our professors spout their political beliefs. We listen to them, get good grades, and get higher paying jobs.

  • John Kindley||

    The other student in my Civ Pro class I'm referring to had excellent grades and got one of the plumbest and highest paying legal jobs in Madison, WI upon graduation. I was a published author on law review (www.proinformation.net), turned down two high-paying opportunities at law firms in D.C. and New Orleans in order to personally advance litigation of great public importance (see, e.g., Kjolsrud v. MKB Management on the North Dakota Supreme Court website), and now enjoy the independence of solo practice.

    Your assumption that keeping your mouth shut while submissively jumping through the law school hoops is the best path to your holy grail, a high-paying job, is telling and sadly typical of law students and lawyers.

  • ||

    I was a published author on law review (www.proinformation.net), turned down two high-paying opportunities at law firms in D.C. and New Orleans in order to personally advance litigation of great public importance (see, e.g., Kjolsrud v. MKB Management on the North Dakota Supreme Court website), and now enjoy the independence of solo practice.

    Why not include LSAT score and penis size while you're at it?

  • ||

    Does the complainant file papers with the campus gestapo every time someone rides by with their bumpy stereo spouting the same racial epithet? If not, can we assume that they dont mind the language but just want to bust someones chops cause they can?

  • John Kindley||

    AC,

    I was responding to an unwarranted implication made by FinFangFoom. The point of my response was that high grades and a high-paying job should not be the sole consideration for a law student, and a man should not let himself become less of a man for the sake of those things. Yeah, I agree, what I accomplished or didn't accomplish has no relevance for that proposition, but nevertheless seems to have relevance for an all-too-common law school mindset that FinFangFoom seemed to be representing.

  • ||

    Why not include LSAT score and penis size while you're at it?

    740.

    I can't remember my LSAT score, though.

  • edna||

    740 microns is not very impressive. here's the keys to your porsche.

  • Guy Montag||

    edna,

    That is now my favorite version of the Porsche dick joke!

  • Guy Montag||

    AC,

    Very good for you!

    I no longer understand the money focused folks at all. I thought I did in the past, but I really didn't and don't now.

    If you do well at anything that has any demand at all the money will follow.

    My son has just been accepted to two law schools, others pending. He does not like either because of their average salaries. Folks I know, and I, have all told him those averages don't matter as much as how well he does himelf, grades and activities. Besides, he has never made average or below average at work anyway.

    My take is: If you are just about the money then you will never be happy. Find something you like and make money being happy.

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