The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
On Friday, I posted on the official and unofficial reaction to a controversial op-ed written by a law student at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Scott Surovjak, a third-year law student at the Ohio, asked for the opportunity to offer a different perspective on what occurred at the school. His response is below.
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I am a third-year law student at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and I would like to offer a different perspective about recent events at my school than was offered by Jonathan Adler in his post from last Friday.
As Professor Adler recounted, a second-year law student, in her affiliation with the Washington Times, wrote a provocative Web article on abortion and race. As with most controversial articles, her piece received a barrage of online feedback from critics and supporters alike. Some comments were thoughtful; others were not. Facebook discussions and comment sections became so heated that the Moritz administration and Student Bar Association coordinated numerous viewpoint discussions along with student organizations-both liberal and conservative-to encourage open dialogue from the entire student body. The student took what was, in Adler's words, "an intemperate social media posting" as a physical threat; Adler thinks she overreacted.
The student met with three Moritz administrators to discuss the social media response. The administrators additionally discussed the article with the student and challenged her to engage in facilitated viewpoint discussions with those holding opposing viewpoints. While FERPA regulations leave this meeting's contents to one-sided speculation, the student and Adler feel that the faculty's response was out of line. Conservative pundits and talk show hosts across the country characterized the entire situation - from the online response, to the faculty meeting, to the facilitated discussions - as liberal bullying.
Adler suggests that the series of events epitomizes an atmosphere devoid of viewpoint diversity. As he sees it, Moritz, and its liberal, "deep, deep blue" faculty, lack the composition to welcome conservative ideologies:
I've heard from several sources that some of these [viewpoint] discussions highlighted the relative lack of viewpoint diversity in classrooms. Many students apparently feel unable to discuss hot-button issues in the classroom, and some report that alternative views are frequently belittled in the classroom.
This lack of viewpoint diversity, Adler suggests, "could . . . explain why school administrators could respond inappropriately, in an official capacity, to what was ultimately a fairly run-of-the-mill anti-abortion op-ed."
Like Adler's sources, I too attended one of the many student viewpoint discussions. Like his sources, I can confirm that students in the meeting felt unable to discuss hot-button issues, and belittled everywhere from classrooms to hallways to the Internet. However, this facilitated discussion was not among members of the conservative Federalist Society or Law School Republicans; it was among members of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). The participants were tired of feeling disparaged, tokenized and unwelcome in the United States' legal classrooms, which rarely, if ever, discuss the intersection of the law and race. Minority students across the country know all too well the daily inundation of bias and hostility, regardless of whether they transmit their beliefs to the nation via the Washington Times.
Adler argues that a lack of ideological diversity "leaves many law students unexposed to perspectives and arguments with which they will have to contend in the practice of law." However, many in the BLSA discussion, myself included, worried the same of a legal education that does not prepare us for candid discussions about class, gender and race. Regardless of faculty ideology, U.S. jurisprudence and the U.S. law school experience is disproportionately affluent, male and white. Rarely, if ever, are law students asked to consider law's social implications through any other lens. And when raised, these assertions typically end more conversations than they begin. Such viewpoints are discussed in classes like Critical Race Theory and Gender and the Law. These classes, of course, are not required and can be avoided by the students who would most benefit from exploring those viewpoints.
For many, law school represents the first time facing complex viewpoints other than our own, articulating closely held beliefs and having those beliefs challenged. Given that law students are rarely confronted with the social implications of the law, it should come as no surprise that our arguments and critiques may be inarticulate and visceral - especially when made online. However, if our reaction to criticism is to simply dismiss the challenge and search for scapegoats, then our knowledge will not expand, our perspectives will not evolve and we will leave law school no better than when we arrived.
Ultimately, Adler suggests that the faculty response was inappropriate. Perhaps the faculty could have been more sympathetic to an alleged threat; perhaps they were more sympathetic than portrayed. With limited details, we may never know. But, thanks in part to faculty response and encouragement, we as students thought more critically about our beliefs and the subject of race, and spoke openly with those who hold opposing views.
As many colleges and universities fail to acknowledge minority viewpoints and struggle with diversity inclusion, the steps taken by Moritz's faculty make them leaders in this regard. Rather than searching for blame in the faculty, we should instead ask why, at law schools across the country, discussions such as those held at Moritz are not encouraged more often.