Deans Should Not Solicit Signatures For Statements On Matters Of Public Concern

Faculty--especially untenured and adjunct members--will be pressured to join.


For professors, a deanship can be the capstone of a successful career. But in many regards, becoming a Dean is constricting. Professors have wide latitude to write and speak about their scholarly agenda. Moreover, professors–especially law professors–can engage in advocacy to promote their ideas. But Deans lose much of that autonomy. Of course, Deans are still allowed to engage in scholarly pursuits. But their primary goal should be promoting their institution's interests. And when a Dean's scholarly pursuits conflicts with the mission of the institution, the latter will usually prevail. Often, this conflict will limit a Dean's ability to engage in public advocacy. Or at least this conflict is supposed to limit a Dean's ability to engage in public advocacy.

Over the past year, law school Deans have often departed from this traditional role. Deans have issued a never-ending series of statements about "systemic racism," criminal justice, and so on. Some of these Deans have a background in writing about these issues. Most of them do not. Many of these deans are writing about topics for which they lack any expertise. Additionally, these statements are often issued on behalf of the law school. Of course, these statements were never put up for a faculty vote. But the lack of any consensus is besides the point. Deans should not take official positions on contested matters of public concern. A university is designed to allow scholars to seek truth and knowledge. When the Dean adopts an official position, the College has established an orthodoxy.

Even worse, at least one Dean solicited faculty members to sign such a statement. Professor Brian Leiter (Chicago) reports that Dean Hari Osofsky (Penn State) asked her colleagues to join an open letter "condemning racist violence, police brutality, and systematic racism against Black men and women." Osofsky wrote, "I am signing this letter and I hope you will consider signing." (Osofky was recently appointed Dean at Northwestern).

Leiter writes:

"That seems to me a serious violation of academic freedom: the Dean of a law school should not be proclaiming the correct interpretation of public events (e.g., that this killing reflected racism, or was connected to something called "systemic racism"), let alone using her position to solicit support for her interpretation."

Leiter added on Twitter that such requests create undue pressure. Deans exert control over faculty members. I agree entirely with Leiter. They often set salaries, approve funding for conferences, assign teaching loads, approve sabbaticals, and so on. Would a colleague feel free to decline signing the statement? Or worse, would an untenured faculty member, or an adjunct feel free to speak out against the statement?

This pressure is even greater because of the current moment we find ourselves in. Students, alumni, and other interest groups are constantly lobbying academic institutions to take positions on all social issues. Professors may feel unable to resist these currents–especially when the Dean is pushing the message from the top. Indeed, I suspect many Deans will soon be unable to fight the movements. They are afraid of losing their faculty in the face of student revolts. Perhaps the current roster of Deans will slowly retire to escape this mess. And the new crop of Deans, who are fluent in Newspeak, will expand these movements.

NEXT: Poetry Tuesday!: "Листья" ("Leaves") by Fyodor Tyutchev

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  1. The schools of all woke Deans should lose all government exemptions, grants and subsidies for the slightest viewpoint discrimination. Those privileges are to support education. Presenting one point of view is indoctrination, and cannot be supported by the taxpayer.

    1. Coked up Cockatoo Champions Creationists (among other Crazy viewpoints)!

      1. Reported. I felt threatened by you.

        1. It’s a very skittish breed.

    2. I disagree. “Critical Race Theory” is not really a theory, about which people can reasonably differ. It is an unfounded accusation of malice, both past and present, against an entire race. If any school where I’m a student, or any employer, presented it as fact and demanded my cooperation, I would call it hostile environment racial harassment and bring charges or sue. And I hope enough people do just that, that the doctrine is effectively permanently banned.

  2. I’m wondering if an intrepid attorney could make this into something in a situation where tenure is later denied.

    Particularly in a public university, I’m thinking….

  3. In a cult. The leaders must keep the group pressure on the sheep so none stray out of line.

    1. Please don’t threadjack, this post isn’t about the GOP punishment of Cheney and other Trump critics.

      1. You’re the one going off topic. Even if it was on topic the Trump critic canceling apparatus isn’t quite as big as the faculty indoctrination apparatus mentioned here.

        1. “the Trump critic canceling apparatus isn’t quite as big as the faculty indoctrination apparatus mentioned here.”

          Lol, yes, forget the billionaire former President and cult-like leader of one of the two major parties of the most powerful nation on earth, the *real* power we should worry about is…[checks notes]..a few college deans…?

          The contortions and bullcrap conservatives have to twist into and offer in order to constantly play the victim is fantastic.

          1. How many people have been fired for some sjw infraction? Now how many people have been fired for criticizing Trump?

      2. I don’t see Amos’ comment as “threadjacking.” It is directly on topic.

        1. Pretty sure it was a joke.

          1. I don’t think so, but we can’t be sure.

          2. Maybe I lack your finely tuned senses but I fail to see how this post is just a joke bro, and all that different from the usual Amalthea fare we’re supposed to take seriously.

          3. Pretty sure QA lacks the capacity to joke.

          4. The joke is ‘what AA said about group pressure applies much better to this other thing than the OP, so don’t go off topic like that.’

            Seems really clear to me, but of course I more than many on here know YMMV when it comes to facetiousness.

        1. Not you, Donnie, the Queen has been reported. Everyone should Flag the Queen. See if we can get rid of it.

          1. Cockatoos have big beaks, they can achieve a relative remarkable amount of skill in things like pecking a keyboard but we can’t expect too much.

            1. Reported. Stereotyping and racism.

    2. Cults indoctrinate, do not educate. There is great pressure to conform, including, shunning, physical engorcement, and manipulation. Another feature is unverifiable supernatural beliefs, such as forecasting, mind reading, standards set by a fictitious character. These often conger authority on the leadership. This leadership is immune from enforcement of the rules.

      The lawyer profession meets these criteria. Because it takes our money and provides little of valuation, it is fradulent.

      That makes the profession a criminal cult enterprise.

  4. The Emperor will dissolve the councils eventually. The regional governors will then have complete control over their territories. Fear will keep the faculty in line.

  5. While I do not see letters from Deans, Provosts and Presidents as a violation of academic freedom, I do find them to create a stifling monoculture of thought within the faculty and even in the classroom.

  6. There is simply no substitute for guts. If a Dean wants you to sign something you don’t want to sign, don’t sign it. I’d recommend being polite about it rather than telling him or her to pound sand, but don’t be a snowflake.

    1. That always worked for me.
      Of course, I got fired a lot. (or resigned ahead of the lynch mob)
      But then I was in a real profession where jobs were plentiful, not in academia where you can be blackballed more easily.

    2. Right. I’m not a fan of these kinds of loyalty pledges, but the usual response (in my experience) is to delete the email without a second thought; and if you get chased for a response, continually neglect to pay attention to it.

      The snowflakes doth protest too much.

  7. Eh, I don’t think a dean has to refrain from asking people to agree with him. If people are seriously worried that a dean will retaliate for not agreeing with him, there are underlying problems that need dealing with that have nothing to do with the positions the dean is taking.

    1. …underlying problems which are more likely to exist under a Dean who “invites” faculty he supervises to sign his statements.

  8. Please stop making me agree with Brian Leiter.

  9. I actually agree with Blackman here. A college official has the right to speak for themselves and, where authorized, for the school’s administration, but directly soliciting those under their authority to express a point of view is bad form at the least.

    1. Are professors adults or not? Can they decide whether they want to sign or not? Why treat them like weak children?

  10. Leiter’s right.

    I would add something else- there’s nothing wrong with staying in your lane. You are a law school. If a big issue INVOLVING LAW SCHOOLS arises, such as, say, the “diploma privilege” issue where the bar exam is suspended, that’s moment where a law faculty might contribute its expertise and viewpoint and sign a group letter.

    But nobody really cares what the faculty of Elite Law School or Semi-Elite Law School thinks about George Floyd. Really. Their opinions are completely irrelevant. Just shut up and teach the law, already.

    1. Yeah, I think you nailed this, Dilan.

  11. Deans are on the arrest list for the lawyer hierarchy. They transmit and indoctrinate the fake doctrines of the criminal cult enterprise to thousands of students a year.

    Insurrection sentencing should be changed to include summary executions after a guilty verdict.

    1. Silly comment David

      Dean Eugene Levy (U Chicago) ==> President Eugene Levu (Chicago)==> Attorney General Eugene Levi. The best AG of modern times

  12. It is pretty easy. If it is “woke” then thumbs up. Deans should do whatever it takes to forward the objective and goal. If not, big thumbs down. That is how it works. And why we need to defund all of higher education.

    1. Defunding all of higher education, even if by that you mean just American higher education, would be a horrible idea, if only because this includes American academic STEM research, one of humanity’s intellectual crown jewels and now a key driver of the explosive growth in human understanding and technological capabilities that began not with our brains attaining their current size and structure (which happened tens of thousands of years ago), but only in the second half of the 17th century with the advent of research institutions and the scientific method.

      1. Liberals ruined all of that stuff in just about 20 years. Nothing will be lost if we defund all of higher ed.

        1. Inspired by Will Baude’s steelmanning thread, it occurred to me to try applying that method to the above comment.

          But on further reflection I think I’ll try to walk before I run.

  13. I wonder if there is a notable difference from school to school in the way faculty regard a dean. I can remember when elite faculty (anyone on tenure track) at an elite university viewed being appointed a dean as a bit of a booby prize. It wasn’t exactly a disgrace to accept the offer, but neither did it confer prestige. To get someone to accept, you might have to limit the term of service to only a few years, and throw in immediate tenure.

    Of course, scholarly collegiality was the governing principle for almost everything of consequence within the departments. Even a dean was free to redeem himself by solid scholarship.

    The example I have in mind continued to do good scholarship, but also discovered a talent for administration. He went on to become an honored university president, with a gift for use of moral advocacy to rally disparate support—not at all like the picture of authority painted by Blackman.

    1. ” I can remember when elite faculty (anyone on tenure track) at an elite university viewed being appointed a dean as a bit of a booby prize”
      Stephen, you’d better look again in modern times. Being made an academic dean at an elite university is a stepping stone to becoming V-P for research or even provost, which is one the way to becoming a university president. At elite universities only full professors are made academic deans. It is a highly desirable position which is extremely well compensated.

  14. Anyone care what a law school dean thinks? In my now 40-plus years of practice, I don’t recall ever wanting to know what an academic thinks. I can’t recall one of my clients asking, or a judge, or a jury. I suppose other academics care, so they can all throw tantrums at each other. Much ado about nothing.

    1. Unless you’re a law school professor, I suppose. And that is who blogs here. I guess they’re entitled to complain about issues none of the rest of us care about, every once in a while.

    2. Unless the academic was Judge Richard Posner.

  15. In the case of law school, if forced out, expect to double your income, and to halve your stress immediately on entering the private sector. If ever fired, Volokh or Blackman could be making $5 million a year as ordinary partners somewhere, even in the absence of huge cases. This hobby of theirs is really expensive.

    1. Apparently I flagged a comment thumbing blindly trying to squint and increase brightness in the sun, but cannot unflag it.

  16. “Lawyers should not take positions on matters of public concern.”

    Brian and Josh both prove, here, just how tone-deaf they are to the young law students and lawyers they purport to be educating. These kids are entering a legal market where law firms have, for a long time, simply avoided a lot of these politically-sensitive issues. But this is no longer a tenable position. Young law students and lawyers think that law firms should be putting their substantial resources and legal know-how to good use. So law firms – and, in parallel, law schools – are shifting their approach to social issues to market themselves to these students.

    You may not like it, Josh, but you’re far too enamored of your “academic freedom.” It really isn’t about you; the less law students know about your views, the better for your law school. It’s about attracting law students to law schools, and pitching their own students to law firms.

    It’s continually amazing to me, long out of law school by now, how highly law professors think of themselves. This is marketing and PR, and if your heads weren’t up your asses quite so far, you’d see that.

    1. Haha, “no longer a tenable position”. “should be putting their substantial resources and legal know-how to good use”. As if successful firms got that way by doing otherwise. Talk about having your head up your own ass!

      1. I don’t know what kind of point you think you’re making. But law firms are incorporating meaty, social-justice issues into their pro bono mandates, becoming more vocal on social justice issues, etc., because that’s the kind of thing law students think law firms can and should be doing.

    2. “kids” – Why are we infantilizing law students? And law professors?

      1. I am too old to think of twenty-something law students as anything other than “kids.”

        Law professors, on the other hand, are children.

  17. Prof. Blackman writes, “Many of these deans are writing about topics for which they lack any expertise,” and then goes on and writes a blog for which he lacks any expertise.

    1. “Apedad doesnt’ agree” “Writes a blog for which he lacks any expertise”

  18. Please, some academic write a post to the Volokh blog explaining to us outsiders how the power balance has shifted so dramatically in universities.

    It sounds like a small vocal woke crowd are the only ones holding power in American universities today. News reports say that it is spreading to universities in Europe. How did that come about?
    Why is the woke crowd influential rather than ignored? Is it skill in manipulating media? Is it part of the evolution of affirmative action diversity? Is it merely partisan politics?

    It needs explanation in an article apart from specific incidents.

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