The Volokh Conspiracy

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In Defense of CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek


In 2018, students at CUNY Law School tried to shut down my lecture on free speech. Prior to the event, Dean Mary Lu Bilek refused to cancel the event. But after my event, she said the "non-violent, limited protest was a reasonable exercise of protected free speech, and it did not violate any university policy."

Dean Bilek never reached out to me. Indeed, not a single faculty member CUNY ever said a word to me. I briefly considered litigation, but ultimately decided against it. Based on my analysis of the events, the Dean followed controlling First Amendment caselaw, albeit grudgingly. I did submit requests under New York's Freedom of Information Law. Nothing meaningful turned up. I know that Bilek retained a crisis management firm, but nothing of substance was discussed over email. I let the matter go.

A few months later I attended a small conference of law professors. Dean Bilek was there. I walked over to her and introduced myself. She said hello, pretended not to know me, and briskly walked away. I surmised that she was in a tough spot. I understood the type of institution she taught in. And I recognized that if she showed me even the slightest courtesy, her students would rebel. I can't fathom what teaching at CUNY Law is like.

I gave Dean Bilek very little thought over the past few years. Fast forward to the present. By now, Dean Bilek's self-cancellation has made national headlines. I encourage you to read the summary in the New York Times. I won't even try to summarize the surreal circumstances. I'll admit it. I had a brief moment of schadenfreude, but then my libertarian wheels started spinning, and I rallied to her cause.

I write in defense of Mary Lu Bilek. I truly feel bad for her. Dean Bilek spent her career promoting the cause of social justice and anti-racism. She did everything in her power to address the unique concerns of the CUNY community. But then she slipped. Once. She made a mistake. Who knows why she said what she said. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she was under a lot of stress. Maybe she thought she was making a more profound point that was lost in translation. Whatever the reason, she said what she said.

That one comment ruined her career. In our current culture, there is no room for error. And, no one knows ex ante what those errors will be. We live in precarious times. There is no longer any margin of errors. Apologies are meaningless. If a dyed-in-the-wool progressive can be shunned for a single errant comment, none of us are safe. I fear the legal academy will become something of a circular firing squad. Anyone who crosses an ill-defined line will be subject to summary cancellation. And anyone who disagrees with that sentence will be charged with bystander liability. At bottom, the most aggrieved students will have the power to control any aspect of the institution. Universities will no longer be places where truth and knowledge can be pursued. Rather, Universities will first and foremost be designed to pursue social justice, as defined by the vacillating whims of societal revolution. Dissidents will be excluded.

I'm sorry we had to witness Bilek's decanal self-immolation. But I must defend her, even if she wouldn't defend me.

NEXT: 25-Foot Rooftop Videocamera Peering Into Neighbor’s Yard Must Be Taken Down

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  1. Has Concern Trolling ever been so clumsily done?

    1. Yup. And the absurd sense of self-importance of the post is also amazing. “I must defend her ...” LOL.

  2. Perhaps at 65 she just wasn't interested in fighting about it.

    1. I couldn't get the NY Times article to load for some reason so I looked up a different article about it, and it seems like she was planning on retiring soon anyway. I actually agree with Josh's defense of her, but I wouldn't say her career has been ruined. It sounds like the slip just made her decide to accelerate her plan to retire.

  3. Artie Ray Lee Wayne Jim-Bob Kirkland forgives you, too, Prof. Blackman. Of course, he is no longer welcome at this blog to express that sentiment directly.

    So do I (I was not banned, instead merely censored), although the hypocrisy with respect to censorship exhibited at this blog makes me fear for the future of conservative legal academia.

    Have you consulted the Volokh Conspiracy's Board of Censors with respect to its vivid, repeated, viewpoint-driven acts of censorship? Should we thank you for the relative recent diminution of censorship at this blog?

    1. Artie. I was banned by Volokh and on his Washington Post blog. Volokh had no problem with personalized death threats and links to sites depicting sex with animals. I complained to A Vice President restored my privileges. Volokh is the poster boy for the lawyer dumbass. He had the highest IQ in the country. After 1L, he became an oblivious dumbass. He is in denial about the devastating effect of 1L. He is doing the same, carpet bombing the intelligence of high IQ students with 1L supernatural indoctrination.

      Volokh is not banning anybody in this Reason Foundation blog. Move on from this complaint.

      1. The Volokh Conspiracy has imposed censorship since moving to Reason. A two-year anniversary is near.

        1. The horseshoe meets back up at the intersection of David Behar and the Very Reverend Arthur Lattimer Kirkland. Brings a tear to my eye. Like the “teach the world to sing” Coke commercial.

          1. The L. stands for libertarian, clinger.

        2. Funny, the only complaints I've ever gotten from Prof. Volokh were for being too vulgar in insulting *you*.

    2. Nice to see you two agreeing.

      1. I love the lawyer. Iam the best friend of the lawyer. I am the savior of the lawyer profession.

  4. As I read the story, she wasn't pushed out; she decided to retire voluntarily. So I'm not sure what needs defending.

    1. Did you read the article? She is being criticized for retiring and not sticking around and providing concessions.

    2. "she wasn’t pushed out; she decided to retire voluntarily"

      Were you born last night?

  5. Circular firing squad seems to be a good thing. The more outrageously ridiculous it gets within academia, the less outsiders can defend it. The faster people within the progressive movement eat their own, the faster we get to the finish line of all this, and the less time they're will be to indoctrinate young professionals that this behavior is normal and acceptable.

    1. Yes, she's been there since 1985, she's part of the problem.

    2. Yup. If the circular cancelations continue, all of the cancelers will be gone and nothing but normal people will be left.

  6. Mary Lu Bilek must be defended from being able to retire in a virtue-signaling manner.

    Is this the same lady that said that it was protected expression to threaten to set black people on fire?

  7. One of those freedom associations should sue CUNY, and take it down with ruinous litigation. To deter.

    1. CUNY gets sued all the time over First Amendment issues. It usually wins, and its occasional losses haven't come close to hurting it.

  8. Yeah, but Schadenfreude is the BEST!

  9. The best part of the story is that her faculty tormentors would prefer to preclude her from retiring, so they can leverage her verbal slip to win various political concessions. But really, given that she nurtured the culture that did her in, one can defend her against the ridiculous excesses of her colleagues and students while also experiencing Schadenfreude.

    1. The revolution always eats its own.

  10. I can't fathom what teaching at CUNY Law is like.

    Don't sell yourself short! Enough hot takes, and maybe one day you too can score a gig at a school with a median LSAT score over 150.

  11. "I had a brief moment of schadenfreude"

    As you should. She tried to ride the tiger and it ate her anyway.

  12. dec·a·nal
    relating to a dean or deanery. new to me.

  13. Is no one going to talk about why a New York university uses an acronym that resembles an obscene term for a certain part of a woman's anatomy?

  14. She can burn in hell for all I care. Does anyone seriously believe that defending her will serve the cause of justice? Those chasing her with pitchforks and torches don't give a shit about your principles. You fight fire with fire, not with nice talk.

  15. i continue to be amazed at how executives at leading institutions and corporations are being intimidated by students and employees. If the students didnt like her management, they were free to transfer to another school. if the employees of the NY Times dont like the workplace, I'm sure there are plenty of good reporters who would love to work there. when are the leaders going to regain control of their institutions?

  16. I am a 2018 CUNY Law grad and was horrified with the way Mr. Blackman was treated. It was humiliating to see law students refuse to engage in argument (that's why we were there?) with an *invited* speaker. And then the outburst "f*&k the law!" just sent me over the edge. Dean Bilek was not a great dean, I'm sure she was attempting to hasten her departure. The campus was not safe (there's another story); the standards of admittance too low and if a student didn't sit on the far left, the environment was deeply uncomfortable. Some of us made it out with a decent education and passed the Bar the first time, but it's because we didn't engage in the craziness and focused on learning.

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