The Volokh Conspiracy

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Cornell Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver on the Jacobson Controversy

Dean Peñalver defends Jacobson's academic freedom, but adds an entirely gratuitous, and somewhat unfair condemnation of Jacobson's writings.


Earlier today, I wrote about demands that Cornell Law School fire clinical professor William Jacobson, and noted that Jacobson reported that Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver was properly defending his academic freedom.

Peñalver has now released a statement regarding Jacobson. The good news is that he writes that the "unwavering commitment to these [academic] values means that all Cornell Law professors must be able to write and speak freely," and that "to take disciplinary action against [Jacobson] … would corrode our ability to operate as an academic institution."

The bad news is that Peñalver should have stopped there (but did not), as there is really nothing more to say as dean as representative of the law school about opinions expressed by faculty members (something I agree with Brian Leiter about!) Instead, he writes, "In light of this deep and rich tradition of walking the walk of racial justice, in no uncertain terms, recent blog posts of Professor William Jacobson, casting broad and categorical aspersions on the goals of those protesting for justice for Black Americans, do not reflect the values of Cornell Law School as I have articulated them. I found his recent posts to be both offensive and poorly reasoned."

For what it's worth, I read the controversial blog posts that Jacobson wrote, and the way Peñalver describes them is rather unfair.

Their tone is rather conspiratorial and immoderate, but nothing especially out of the ordinary in today's media environment, certainly not relative to the sorts of things that, say, Harvard's Laurence Tribe or Princeton's Paul Krugman tweet out regularly. (And these are, after all, blog posts, not academic writings.)

And rather than being unqualified attacks on all "protesters for racial justice," the posts read to me as quite clearly a narrow and specific attack on the funders, founders, and leaders for the organized Black Lives Matter movement, and on what Jacobson sees as the radical and dishonestly-presented goals of the movement itself. He sees their agenda as a laundry list of far-left, anti-American and anti-capitalist goals at best very tangentially related to racial justice. I reread the posts several times, and I don't see any attack, much less a categorical one, on the average peaceful protester who isn't affiliated with the formal Black Lives Matter movement and has just attended protests to express concern about racism or police violence.