The Volokh Conspiracy

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In Defense of Professor Lee Strang


For the past few years, the University of Toledo has given an "Inclusive Excellence Award." The purpose of the award is "to recognize the faculty, staff and departments on our campus who have put in the work implementing the University's Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion to make our campus a more diverse and inclusive place to study, work and grow." This past spring, the University's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, "reached out to the campus community for nominations this spring." Alas, that strategy backfired. Members of the university community nominated Professor Lee Strang. Strang, a conservative white male, was given the award. And then critics petitioned to revoke the award. Thankfully, the University did not rescind the award. But the University altered the process to make it harder for people like Lee to win again in the future. The academy is entering a very precarious stage. We may soon go beyond a point of no return.

Lee Strang is the John W. Stoepler Professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. Lee is a brilliant scholar. His new book on originalism and natural law is a must-read. Moreover, Lee is one of the nicest people I have met in academia. Truly. He is warm, compassionate, and cares for you as a person. He models the highest attributes of what academics should aspire to.

Moreover, Lee is a diamond in the rough. As best as I can tell, he is the only conservative public law scholar on the faculty. In the fall of 2019, the campus Federalist Society chapter invited me to do a debate on executive power. Lee volunteered to debate me. And he played a brilliant devil's advocate. He posed really tough questions to highlight the weaknesses of my position. In this video, Lee comes on around 35:40 mark.

In every sense, Lee brings diversity to the campus–diversity of viewpoint. He is one of the few allies that conservative law students have. At this public institution, Lee deserves every possible recognition.

An overwhelming number of people nominated Lee for the Inclusive Excellence award. One person "focused on [Lee's] presence in the classroom where he 'enjoys and respects a good healthy debate.'" Those who nominated Lee "recognized his conservative point of view as a minority in academia and a benefit to legal debate." Another person wrote, "Professor Strang always welcomes students to present and defend their perspectives while respectfully challenging them to consider points of view contrary to their starting point. I believe the academy at its best is a place where truth claims and viewpoints can contend with one another based on their own merits and scholars from all life experiences have the opportunity to wrestle with the arguments of others as well as their own assumptions." A third nomination read, "As much as any demographic measure of diversity, the diversity of thought and perspective is at the very heart of our identity as an academic institution." You can tell that Lee is rightly cherished by the Toledo community.

Given these recommendations, the University awarded Lee the Inclusive Excellence Award on April 23. Yet, there was a backlash. He simply wasn't diverse enough. Or to state it differently, Lee didn't bring the right type of diversity to campus.

One anonymous student told the press that Strang's "views are not exactly in tune with, I guess you can say, modern diversity and views most professors would hold." This statement is a self-contradiction. If Lee shared the views "most professors" held, then his views wouldn't be diverse. He would be conforming. Lee is diverse precisely because he doesn't hold the same views as the majority of professors. And indeed, the University rewarded Lee for holding those views. Alas, the student gave away the game. Lee is not in tune with "modern diversity." An undergraduate political science student offered a similar refrain: "Do you need diversity of opinion? Yes. Particularly in a learning setting. But not at the expense of other groups and other diverse communities." Under this view, diverse ideas cannot exist if they offend diverse communities. The only way to avoid offending diverse communities is through orthodox thought. The SBA president had similar thoughts: "There are some students who are concerned Professor Strang does not represent diversity and inclusion." And if orthodox students who share the same views agree, then Lee cannot be diverse.

Modern diversity does not mean diversity of ideas. In modern-speak, the words "diversity" have been sapped of any actual meaning. Indeed, I often think of "diversity." as a part of speech, like a comma or a period. Every sentence must include the word "diversity" at least once. And there is a bonus to using variants of "diversity" multiple times in one sentence. Consider a typical missive: "Diversity is an essential way to bring more diverse people to our community to obtain the educational benefits of diversity." That sentence, which I made up, conveys zero actual substance. It is nonsense. Words are being used to coverup an ideological commitment to provide benefits to certain minority groups. No more, no less. I no longer care to indulge in these pretenses. I blame Justice Powell. His inane Bakke decision has created a half-century long quixotic quest to wedge every progressive goal in the ambit of "diversity." Diversity is like "infrastructure." It now means everything, so it means nothing at all.

Ultimately, nearly 1,000 people signed a petition calling for Strang's award to be rescinded. And on Monday, April 26, The Office of Diversity and Inclusion updated the press release with this disclaimer:

The intent of this award is to recognize those at UToledo who best represent our diversity and inclusion values and the feedback we've received on the nomination and review process is important as we continue to advance this new recognition into the future.

We have learned that more work is needed on our part to inform our campus community and our alumni of this recognition opportunity and to seek their nominations. Our UToledo alumni is an audience we had not actively engaged for nominations and will do so in the years ahead. In addition, we will broaden the review committee beyond the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to be sure we have diverse perspectives during the selection process for this honor.

In these first two years of the awards in 2019 and 2021, the recipients have been selected based exclusively on the nominations submitted. We are working to revise the nomination and review process to be sure we take a comprehensive approach in selecting the recipients to ensure their bodies of work represent our diversity and inclusion values.

Let me translate that newspeak for you. The current process allowed a white male conservative to win that award. So that process must be destroyed. A new process will be adopted to ensure that white male conservatives are not allowed to win.

Lee offered a measured statement to the press. He approached this issue with charity and grace, like he does with everything:

Now as a professor, Mr. Strang said he promotes diverse viewpoints among his students, and wants to prepare his classes of future lawyers for all of the opposing views that come up in the field.

"When I'm teaching students now, my goal is to help students be members of the legal profession," he said. "The legal profession has all kinds of people, clients come in all different shapes and sizes. … So as a law professor, one of the things I try to do is help my students be prepared for the real life of legal practice, which includes interacting with people of all different views."

Mr. Strang admitted he was surprised he won the award, and even pondered whether he should accept it. But he ultimately decided to accept it, arguing that diversity of thought, and in turn diversity of political opinion, are underrepresented sections of diversity on college campuses across the country.

"I thought to myself, 'They had a selection process, people nominated me,'" Mr. Strang said. "And this is a statement about one aspect in diversity, so I thought, I've got to take it, because if I say no, then I'm participating in the university not being able to recognize this valuable part of diversity.

"When you look at the university's policy, it seems to indicate that all of those are valuable parts of diversity," Mr. Strang added, referencing the school's mission statement on diversity, which is 'We embrace diversity of pedagogy, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and political affiliation.

"[At UT], like most universities, there's not a lot of diversity of political thought, or religious views. And so I think the university was trying to say 'That's an underrepresented part of our university,'" he said.

We should all emulate Lee Strang. Alas the climate among students at Toledo has become increasingly hostile.

Last month, I wrote about the precarious state at Georgetown University Law Center. The fixation on "diversity, equity, and inclusion" threatens to undermine the entire academic enterprise. I explained:

"Diversity" does not mean diversity of thought. This fourth leg would mandate conformity of thought at every stage of the tenure process. Professors will no longer have the autonomy to challenge dogmas and pursue truth and knowledge as they see it. There will be lines that cannot be crossed. "Equity" does not refer to equality in the sense that people ought to be treated equally. Rather, anti-racism requires unequal treatment to address inequality. Professors who disagree with that dogma, and view anti-racism as racist, will be excoriated. And "inclusion" requires the exclusion of ideas inconsistent with diversity and equity.

Later, Georgetown Law Professor Lama Abu Odeh wrote about the Maoist cultural revolution at Georgetown, in the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion. One anecdote stuck out:

When I protested to the faculty diversity trainer, a law professor from the West Coast, that the real minority at Georgetown Law are the conservative students who have been telling me about how isolated and beleaguered they feel, especially with the flood of emails from the administration when Trump was in office denouncing racism, without defining what it is or indeed giving a single account of a racist incident, she quipped, "They don't have to be at Georgetown. They can go to Notre Dame!"

Perhaps you may think this great awokening is limited to elite institutions like Georgetown. Not even close. The latest episode has arose in the heart of the rust belt. And it affects one of my favorite members of the academy.