Antonin Scalia Law School's Commitment to Open Dialogue and Debate

"The faculty adopted the following Statement of Faculty Principles pertaining to respectful debate and the full and open exchange of ideas at the law school."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I am happy to share the Antonin Scalia Law School's statement of principles concerning open dialogue and debate:

Commitment to Open Dialogue & Debate

In November 2019, the Dean appointed an ad hoc faculty committee on Classroom Dialogue and Debate. Based on the work of the committee, in August 2020, the faculty adopted the following Statement of Faculty Principles pertaining to respectful debate and the full and open exchange of ideas at the law school.

Statement of Faculty Principles

In light of the current state of dialogue and debate in this country, the faculty of the Antonin Scalia Law School hereby reaffirms our commitment to freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech for all members of our community.

Starting some years ago, many schools have promulgated official speech codes that seek to prevent students from expressing unpopular opinions. Thanks largely to the efforts of Scalia Law faculty, George Mason University as a whole has earned the highest rating for freedom of speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. We are proud of that accomplishment.

Recently, it has become far too common for colleges and universities to impose sanctions on faculty members whose research or public statements do not conform to the reigning climate of approved opinion. As pressures for conformity increase throughout our society, it is even becoming dangerous to show insufficient enthusiasm for certain causes and beliefs.

This faculty has always rejected the imposition of any political or ideological orthodoxy by us or on us. We recognize no hierarchy of authority in the world of ideas. Professors and students each have exactly the same right to express their opinions, to challenge views with which they disagree, and to participate as they see fit in the public life of the nation. They also have the same moral obligation to foster an atmosphere of civility and tolerance. The faculty strongly opposes efforts—whether from within our community or from outside—to pressure us or the school's administration to engage in the repression of unpopular opinions, whether we as individuals agree or disagree with those opinions.

In the classroom, of course, there is necessarily an inequality between the instructor and the students. We think it is self-evident that professors should not use their authority in the service of political or ideological indoctrination. We also think it is self-evident that professors should not belittle or intimidate students who express views with which the instructor disagrees, or encourage students to belittle or intimidate their classmates.

Conversely, students should recognize that professors exercise a special authority in the classroom because they have special responsibilities and obligations. The faculty as a whole establishes the curriculum. Individual professors decide what will be studied in their courses, what topics will be discussed in class, and what questions will be dealt with in the limited time that is available. Students are welcome to express their own opinions about these matters, but the professors are responsible for the decisions, and they have an obligation to exercise their own judgment in making those decisions.

Students should also recognize that professors are not doing them a service when they treat our educational mission as a popularity contest. Several years ago, President Hannah Holborn Gray of the University of Chicago made the following observation:

Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.

President Gray's statement has important applications throughout any university, but her words are especially relevant to law schools. Effective legal training requires that students be challenged—by their instructors and by their classmates—to make well-reasoned arguments, often about topics that are controversial or personally painful. Lawyers are frequently compelled to grapple with issues that they would really prefer not to think about at all. Nobody enjoys having the shortcomings of their own arguments exposed, or being forced to acknowledge that serious arguments can be made in support of conclusions with which they strongly disagree. These experiences are not by any means the only components of legal education, but professors who focus on sparing their students from unpleasant disagreements are actually cheating them.

This faculty aspires to provide our students with a genuine education. We will therefore maintain our commitment to respectful debate and the full and open exchange of ideas. That commitment extends to our classrooms, to our scholarship, and to any other public discussions in which we choose to participate. As Daniel D. Polsby put it several years ago, when he was our Dean, "There has to be a place in the world where controversial ideas and points of view are aired out and given space. This is that place."

More faculties should take such a principled stance on open dialogue and debate. I am proud of my alma matter.


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  1. Bravo!

    The only thing missing is a quote from West VA v Barnette, including the “uniformity of the graveyard” part.

    And I like to remind people that the concept of academic freedom arose because Mrs. Stanford didn’t like the fact that a Stanford Econ professor was saying that her late husband had exploited Chinese laborers in building his railroad(s).

    He had — but that was an unpopular view back then, and Chinese weren’t particularly popular at the time either — this was a couple decades before FDR’s forced relocation.

    1. FDR didn’t relocate any Chinese. He did relocate Japanese, include American citizens, to concentration camps.

    2. The Stanford controversy arose because an economics professor attacked Leland just for using Chinese laborers, not “exploiting” them, because, like other progressive economists of the time, the professor thought industrialists should only use white labor.

      1. Citation?

        I ask because the AUP says he said “exploited.”
        What you say makes sense, but do you have a citation?

        1. AAUP. My bad.

          1. ” Until his dismissal, Ross increasingly tested the ability of
            the university to allow for the free discussion of ideas. By
            1900, Ross had embraced several controversial subjects: the
            free coinage of silver, the municipal ownership of public
            utilities, and the railway union strike of 1898. He had spo-
            ken at a public forum about ‘ruthless capitalists.’ He also
            argued vehemently against Asian immigration because,
            Ross claimed, Asian laborers took jobs away from the working class.”

            William G. Tierney, “Tenure and Community in Academe,” Educational Researcher, Vol. 26, No. 8 (Nov., 1997), pp. 17-23, at 18.

            1. ” These causes were seen by many as socialist, political,
              and aberrant to the views that ought to be held by a profes-
              sor at Stanford University. The institution, financed by the
              sole trustee, Mrs. Leland Stanford, could not withstand
              such attacks from one of its own. For the wife of a railroad
              baron who had made countless millions by employing in-
              expensive Chinese laborers to build a privately owned rail-
              road, the words of Ross were no less than heresy. His ideas
              threatened the health, well-being, and stability of the uni-
              versity. By November 12, 1900, Mrs. Stanford demanded
              and received President Jordan’s concurrence that Ross must
              be fired. Jordan dismissed him; Ross had no recourse but to
              leave the institution.”

              1. “On May 7, 1900, Edward Ross addressed a San Francisco forum at the
                urging of David Starr Jordan on the subject of Japanese immigration. Ross
                argued that the ‘‘fecundity’’ of Japanese immigrants threatened both the
                ‘‘Anglo-Saxon character of American society’’ and the standard of living of
                ‘‘the American worker.’’ The San Francisco Call quoted Ross as depicting the
                situation as so dire that he urged, ‘‘should the worst come to the worst it
                would be better for us to train our guns on every vessel bringing Japanese
                to our shores rather than to permit them to land.’’ Though Ross claimed
                that this comment was not in fact in his text, in Jane Stanford’s eyes, his
                nativist outburst was too reminiscent of the uniquely successful political
                mobilization of the Workingman’s Party of California under Dennis Kearney. Kearney’s partisans occupied San Francisco’s sand lots, blasting railroad owners such as Leland Stanford for employing Chinese laborers until
                they e√ected the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882….

                “The xenophobic statements made by Ross against Japanese workers
                not only evoked the ‘‘evil passions’’ in people, as Jane Stanford called them
                in her letter to Jordan demanding Ross’s final termination, they echoed
                the particular virulence of campaigns for racial purity with a haunting
                twist [etc]…

                “Ross concluded in his address that it was the Japanese population’s
                partial adoption of American customs that made them ‘‘dangerous,’’ and
                California governor Henry Gage repeated the claim in 1901. The ‘‘danger’’
                Ross suggested lay not only in the agricultural and economic success of
                Japanese farmers, but in the implicit threat that they would continue to
                marry early and have more children than Americanized farmers….

                “Amid the controversy and publicity surrounding Ross’s dismissal, a
                committee of the American Economics Association convened to investigate the situation. Their report cleared Ross of ‘‘any defect in moral character,’’ ‘‘incompetence,’’ or ‘‘unfaithfulness in the discharge of his duties.’’ Instead the committee blamed Mrs. Stanford for acting on her
                intolerance of Ross’s views on ‘‘silver, on Japanese immigration, and public ownership of the railroads.’’∞Ω In 1901, Ross was hired at the University
                of Nebraska. In that same year, at the annual meeting of the American
                Academy of Political and Social Science, he reiterated his anti-Asian stance
                as he spelled out the threat of what he named race suicide, explaining it in
                terms of immigration, standards of living, and urbanization.”

                LOVETT, L. (2007). THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF SEX: EDWARD A. ROSS AND RACE SUICIDE. In Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938 (pp. 77-108), at 82-85. University of North Carolina Press. doi:10.5149/9780807868102_lovett.7

                1. So I guess what you’re telling us is that academic freedom–and probably freedom if expression generally–is a device to protect racists and xenophobes. Really makes you wonder why we should fetishize a first amendment written by white male cishet slaveholders the way we do. If we want to get serious about Diversion, Inclusion, and Equity, we could learn a lot from the country that has Professor Ross so het up–China (as long as you don’t ask about the Tibetans and Uighurs).

                  1. After observing the strident censorship, routine rejection of academic freedom, and strenuous viewpoint-based discrimination that are routine on conservative-controlled campuses, I doubt many American mainstreamers are in the market for pointers from right-wingers about freedom of expression, academic freedom, or similar issues.

                    1. I used to post, “Oh Artie, you’re so droll,” but now it is much more accurate to post, “Oh Artie, you’re so NPC.”

  2. As a personal note, my Asian father in law told stories about traveling thru many small towns in California in the 1930s-50s with signs on the border warning Asians not to be found in the town after dark. Guess Ross had some influence, eh.

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