The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

David Lat's "Open Letter to Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken"


See here; worth reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

There's been a problem with the intellectual climate at Yale Law School for several years now. Some of it flows from the fact that progressive students ("Progressives") view those who disagree with them—definitely conservatives, and even some moderates—as bad people ("Bad People").

Progressives are free to think that their opponents are Bad People. They can exclude them from social gatherings. They can make Bad People feel unwelcome in affinity groups (already happening at YLS, with members of certain affinity groups being forced to choose between affinity-group and FedSoc membership). They can make fun of Bad People with satirical fliers.

But it's your job, as the Dean of Yale Law School, to tell Progressives that in an academic community based on free expression, there are limits to how much they can act on the view that their opponents are Bad People. Progressives can't shut down duly organized events because they disagree with the speakers. They can't weaponize anti-discrimination policies to punish the protected speech of their opponents. They can't make up and spread lies about professors with unpopular views (or the students who dare to associate with those professors). It's your job, as the Dean of Yale Law School, to remind Progressives of all this—even if they complain, call you "complicit," or say you're a Bad Person too….

It won't be fun in the short term, but over the long term, standing up to the Progressives is in both their interest and your interest. It's in their interest because if and when they become lawyers, they will have to deal with difficult situations and differences of opinion. By sheltering them from difficult situations and differences of opinion in law school, you're doing them no favors when it comes to their legal education and professional development. In the short term, they might dislike or even hate you for it—but over the long term, they will (or at least should) be grateful.

Standing up to the Progressives is in your interest as well. I'm guessing that you, like many law school deans, aspire to serve as a university president someday. A good university president is like the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove: charming and likable on the outside, strong and firm on the inside. No one, even your critics, questions your ability to be the velvet glove—and a presidential search committee won't either. But you have not (yet) displayed your ability to be the iron fist. Now's your chance.