Today, CUNY School of Law. Tomorrow, your Law School.

Threatening to burn a person with a lighter is peaceful free speech, but the name John Marshall is violent speech.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

My experience at CUNY Law in 2018 was formative and frightening. Dozens of students took time out of their day to protest my talk on free speech. They called me a fascist, Nazi, and white supremacist. They said my ideas "harmed" them. That my mere presence on campus was a form of "violence" that "traumatized" them. The hate and vitriol in the room was palpable.

After the event, CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek defended her students. She said, "This non-violent, limited protest was a reasonable exercise of protected free speech, and it did not violate any university policy." (I wrote about the First Amendment issues here.) Dean Bilek never contacted me. Indeed, the following year, I introduced myself to her at a conference. She pretended not to know me. I also have not heard a word from any CUNY Law faculty members. Silence. I suspect some professors were embarrassed by their students, but were too afraid to say so publicly or privately. Other professors probably agreed with the protestors, and wished I had never come onto campus.

You see, CUNY Law is not a normal law school. It has expressly adopted a social justice platform. My presence was inconsistent with that platform:

CUNY School of Law is the nation's #1 public interest law school; its dual mission to practice law in the service of human needs and transform the teaching, learning, and practice of law to include those it has excluded, marginalized, and oppressed make it a singular institution. As the only publicly funded law school in New York City, CUNY Law increases access to excellent legal training through this mission.

CUNY Law is built on a tradition of radical lawyering: movements for social change are built with leadership and collaboration from the people and communities who have experienced injustice.

These sort of mission statement are antithetical to the purposes of institutions of higher education: scholars and students should be able to pursue knowledge, wherever it leads. The school should not direct that journey in a specific direction. But CUNY is not committed to the open exchange of ideas. The college has put its thumb on the scale on "radical lawyering" and "social change." Conservative lawyering has no place at that institution. I truly was not welcome on that campus.

Earlier today, David blogged about another episode that illustrates the dynamics at CUNY Law. A CUNY Law student threatened to burn a man who was wearing an Israeli Defense Force sweater. Watch the video! She held up a lighter inches from his chest.

In any jurisdiction, this action would be considered assault. In any normal law school, this student would be subject to severe discipline. But not at CUNY. Dean Bilek said that the student with the lighter "exercised her First Amendment right to express her opinion." Yes, the same line she used to defend the students who disrupted my talk.

Meanwhile, another CUNY law student reported that he was forced out of the school for her views on Israel: "If you are Jewish and you believe that Israel should exist in any way, shape, or form, you're basically blacklisted, there's no room for your point of view on the CUNY Law campus." The First Amendment for thee but not for me.

And here we are. The name "John Marshall" on the wall is an act of violence, but threatening a person with a lighter is free speech. To quote Justice Scalia, "words no longer have meaning."War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

You may laugh and scoff at this situation. But beware. The absolute control that students have over the CUNY Dean will not remain isolated. Students at law schools across the country give demands to administration. Some of these demands may have merit. Others are ridiculous. Over time, the ability to say no to those ultimatums will fade.

Unless your Dean is willing to say NO to these demands, your school will slide towards CUNY. I fear most Deans lack the courage to resist the encroachment on the free exchange of ideas. Indeed, 150 Deans (including my own) asked the ABA to impose onerous anti-racism requirements on all law schools–requirements that each Dean could impose independently.

At CUNY Law, "I saw what might well happen." And you will see it too. Remember: graduates of these schools will become associates, partners, public defenders, district attorneys, and judges.

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NEXT: National Law Journal: "Should Law Schools 'Cancel' SCOTUS Titan John Marshall?"

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  1. “…Dean Bilek never contacted me. Indeed, the following year, I introduced myself to her at a conference. She pretended not to know me. I also have not heard a word from any CUNY Law faculty members. Silence….”

    Paranoid much? Isn’t it infinitely more likely that she simply did not remember you? For God’s sake; you are bending over backwards to find insult wherever possible. I thought you were against promoting the victim culture.

    Of course it’s existentially possibly that the dean was, in fact, deliberately pretending to not recognize you. But you gave us no facts that would support this . . . I always give the benefit of the doubt in these types of cases (ie, where there are no additional facts given), and I’d humbly suggest that you’ll live a happier and more-fulfilled life if you live without a chip on your shoulder. Josh, it is remotely possible that you are not as important as you think, and that you’re more forgettable than you think, isn’t it?

  2. Classic Josh: “Someone credibly threatened to set another person on fire over what his expression. How can I spend 1,000 words making this all about me?”

    1. You’re just embarrassed that you can’t string 1000 words together.

      1. The left can only attack people. The facts abandoned them 100 years ago. Marxists should be banned as a member of KKK should not be hired to teach law school. Purge all Marxists from our law school, or else end all government subsidies, privileges, and funding.

    2. If you don’t like his articles, then why do you bother reading them?

  3. There was a one minute disruption before the students were told to stand to the side or the back. Give me a break.

  4. Josh. We should write a complaint to the Non-Profit Office of the IRS to rescind the non-profit privilege of this law school. Do the same with the NY State if it has one too.

  5. Shrug. CUNY is the place where parents successfully sued to get Bertrand Russell fired for not being of “sound moral character”. Surely after that no sane person would touch that place with a barge pole?

  6. Most university administrators that were on the ground when the student radicals took over in 1969 through till around 74 knew the long term effects letting them run the university had on college campuses. Then when those administrators left in the early 90’s the student radicals took over again with the first wave of PC. Those administrators then learned their lesson. But now they must have forgotten to tell the new generation of administrators that are repeating the exact same errors of their predecessors. It will take 2-4 years but they will learn the same lesson.

    1. The admin building at my alma mater, Michigan Tech, was built not long after that first wave of student riots. (At other institutions, of course!)

      The first floor windows were all too narrow to enter by even if broken out, and the entryways were designed to be defensible, with clear and protected lines of fire for defenders. It could even be evacuated in an emergency via the campus underground steam tunnels. It was literally designed as a defensive fortification! And this at a university that never saw any riots.

      1. Who would have the energy to riot in the Keweenaw Peninsula? Too busy shoveling snow.

  7. “Remember: graduates of these schools will become associates, partners, public defenders, district attorneys, and judges.”

    Really? Seems to me that it would be extremely foolish to hire a law graduate from such a school. More likely they will graduate to become real estate agents or used care salespeople.

    1. CUNY isn’t exactly on par with a good school when it comes to getting its students jobs as lawyers, but it’s head and shoulders above, say, the South Texas College of Law.

      1. Sounds like a CUNY alumni. How’s that job search going?

        1. Quite the contrary: I went to a good school, and if I had my druthers schools as sub-par as CUNY would wind down their operations.

          That doesn’t excuse the hucksters like Prof. Blackman who are comfortable enriching themselves by duping naïfs into thinking that if they fork over enough money and waste years of their lives, they could actually have a successful legal career.

          1. Whatever you think of Prof. Blackman, I’m pretty sure he’s not the Dean of the law school or president of the university. He just teaches the students who were duped by those people.

  8. It’s amazing how many commenters are illustrating so well exactly what Josh is complaining about: that those students / these commenters don’t like what Josh has to say, they seem to be incapable of offering any constructive criticism or rebuttal of what he actually says, so they resort to personal attacks and trying to shame him for having the audacity of speaking out loud in ways they don’t approve.

    The rank unawareness is breath-taking. Commenters, heal thyself.

    1. If Prof. Blackman ever actually does have something to say, I’ll be happy to constructively criticize it.

      1. Pretty weak cop out, just dismiss everything you don’t agree with as “Too weak to respond to”. Not impressed. You’ve put more work into doing nothing than being honorable.

        1. My problem with Prof. Blackman isn’t that I don’t agree with him. In fact, if you took an issue-by-issue poll, I imagine I’d agree with him more than I would the median American adult, and (as best I can tell from your posts here) more than I’d agree with you.

          My problem with Prof. Blackman is that his posts are vacuously masturbatory efforts at self-promotion, which drown out the interesting content and substantive discussion at what used to be one of my favorite websites, and lately which display increasingly ghoulish bad taste.

          1. This x 1000.

      2. The claim that holding a lit lighter a few inches from someone and threatening to burn them is conduct worthy of punishment seems like “something” to me.

  9. “You may laugh and scoff at this situation. But beware.”

    Indeed, I was saying something similar about the campus violence we were seeing a few years ago: That the people who would take a bicycle lock to somebody’s skull on campus would soon be entering the nation at large.

    This summer we’ve seen what the first wave of campus indoctrinated radicals are like. The second wave will be larger, and likely even more violent.

  10. Sounds like it’s a good thing you gave your speech before the dean green-lit setting fire to people as free expression.

    Anybody who speaks a CUNY after that should know that they’re doing so that their peril.

  11. Josh should have called 911, and had these students rounded up. I felt threatened by their micro-aggression. Their presence in that lecture hall is a form of violence and gave me PTSD.

    1. I would not call threatening to set a person on fire “micro-aggression”. I’d call it a “terroristic threat”, which is a class D felony (NY Penal Code, section 490.20)

      Incidentally, I own and wear what appears to be an identical sweatshirt.

  12. you handled this with great dignity and i hope the students learned something from this. This cancel culture is something one would expect to see in the USSR or Nazi Germany.

  13. “Remember: graduates of these schools will become associates, partners, public defenders, district attorneys, and judges.”

    It’s the latter three that scares me — we are inexorably heading to a Second Civil War and it won’t be pretty.

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