The Volokh Conspiracy

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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.

NEXT: Another Amusing Dig

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  1. [in John Houseman voice] You come in with a head full of mush…and you leave with a head full of porridge!

    1. Enough. Please, no mas.

      Mandamus the Non-Profit Office of the IRS to take away the tax exemption for providing indoctrination, not the promised education. De-accredit it. Seize their assets for tax fraud in civil forfeiture. Then shut down this vile, treason indoctrination camp. Its graduates have been extremely toxic to our nation. It is a font of brain pollution. Shut it violently if necessary. No Yale Law grad has ever given any benefit to this country. Shut it down like the toxic dump that it is, and stop its vile stench and effluvia.

      1. Naturally, Lat is a YLS grad, and one of the dumbest most pathetic people in our country. He does not understand that woke are deniers. They cannot be spoken to by anyone. They have a Chinese Commie Party agenda to attack our nation from within. Only an asskicking remains. Two beatings then a bullet for this internal enemy.

        He likely studied 80 hours a week, memorizing books, and has a low social intelligence.

  2. It's a shame that it seems most schools have gotten to this extreme, and I have no hope that it will ever be corrected.

    Same for most companies, too.

  3. Few things more useless than an "open letter".

    Yale Law has a 1.2 billion endowment. Tax some of that away, then they will not listen so much to the local Red Guard.

    1. In what universe does David Lat have the authority to tax away Yale's endowments?

      1. In what universe do you have the authority to stop him?

        1. Where did I claim the authority to stop him? The government might have something to say about it though.

    2. Bob from Ohio....I don't think that would work = taxation. But forcing divestment in some legal manner (law, regulation, statute) might do what you are looking for. At the very least, Ivies with endowments will pay attention.

      1. 'member when the left raised alarms about similar multi-billion $ international NGOs wielding too much influence outside the control of government, read: many $$$$

        Good times.

    3. Convince rich alumni to stop donating.

    4. Few things more useless than an "open letter".

      Well, there's a Bob from Ohio post.

  4. Main problem with the letter is that the administrators agree with the leftist protesters and only pay lip service to free speech.

    1. You hit the nail on the head.

  5. You can't reason with a progressive. The very fact that they are progressive shows they have no critical thinking skills. Go talk to a fence post, you will have a more enjoyable and intelligent conservation.

    1. What does that say about conservatives, who have been getting stomped in the American culture war during at least a half-century of national progress shaped by the liberal-libertarian mainstream against the wishes and efforts of right-wingers?

      If progressives are so unreasonable and dumb, how do they continue to defeat clingers in the culture war?

      (Spoiler: It's the bigotry . . . and backwardness . . . and childish superstition . . . and belligerent ignorance . . . and did I mention the multifaceted bigotry?)

      1. Artie, Artie, Artie. When is the resignation coming? Until that happens, you need to STFU, you old, male, white supremacist.

  6. "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."

    This. My wife was a high school teacher. She pushed her kids to 'be all they could be'. This usually did not make her popular with current students, who were happy to get easy A's. She took solace from the many ex-students who returned 2 or 4 or 8 or 10 years later in their educational career and said 'Thank you for pushing me.'

    If you read military biographies, there is the same pattern - 'my drill instructor is a sadistic asshole' changes to 'my DI is the greatest' when the bullets start flying.

  7. It's not just the dean who bears culpability here. Faculty have to approve graduations as well ... and they should not do so for students who unapologetically trample all standards of decorum.

  8. I'm not sure labeling these students as "progressives" is very helpful. It just contributes to the general meaninglessness of all these carelessly used terms. I recently heard Randy Barnett make a distinction between leftie and progressive, and he was trying to make a point that these types of students aren't traditional liberals, but some new thing. I'm not sure "progressive" is the correct term, though, perhaps we need a new term.

    1. They go beyond previous definitional categories...they're authoritarian...they seek domination...they want to crush opponents with the threat of mob tell me whom they resemble.

      1. they're authoritarian...they seek domination...they want to crush opponents with the threat of mob tell me whom they resemble.

        Let's see: "authoritarians" who "seek domination" by "crush[ing] opponents with the threat of mob violence." Hmmm... No idea!
        (I'm kidding. We all know exactly what these people are. They're fascists. Just as self-righteous, just as intolerant of opposition. Did you know that fascists & Nazis considered themselves to be . . . progressive!)

      2. I don't know, Cal, who do you think they resemble? I'm open to suggestions.

        1. Remember those old commercials - raise your hand if you're Sure?

          1. They resemble people with dry armpits?

    2. Speaking of labels, does Randy Barnett still attempt to masquerade as a libertarian, wearing that unconvincing libertarian drag?

      1. If it makes him happy, who are we to cast stones?

      2. Arthur, Arthur, Arthur....It does not matter if Professor Barnett is a libertarian. Isn't it enough that he merely identifies as a libertarian? 🙂

        1. Others are welcome to wallow in political correctness but I have lost my taste for it. I see no reason to enable right-wingers and bigots to hide behind euphemisms such as “conservative values,” “family values,” “traditional values,” “colorblind,” “heartland,” and “libertarian.” Racism, gay-bashing, misogyny, xenophobia, and the like are not improved or cleansed by superstition or tradition. A superstitious gay-bashed is just another bigot. A traditional racist is just another bigot. A heartland immigrant-hater is just another bigot.

          1. You're accusing the wrong side of cultural Marxism. It has never been a trait of conservatives, and I do not recall any instances of leftists pulling their punches.

    3. AWD,
      Lenin had a phrase for them "infantile leftists." One well known brand of this group were the trotskyites. A general characteristic of such groups was the cult of perpetual revolution.
      One the other side of the spectrum were right-wing opportunists who frequently were entrance by cults of personality. By the time Lenin died, these folks had become Stalinists.

      1. I could live with "infantile leftists". "Those darn IL's are acting up again!"

  9. The dean should obviously be fired.

  10. This seems way off base. I don't know of any evidence that Dean Gerken has a velvet glove. What I have seen is more consistent with the view that she is a hard core leftist who enthusiastically supports the illiberal leftist students in their effort to suppress all disagreement. Of course, it is comforting, and all too common historically, for people like the Conspirators to deny the marginality of their position until it is too late.

    Now if you wanted to argue that Solovey is simply an ineffectual moron, not actually an evil person, that would be credible.

  11. Whether progressives have a right to think of conservatives as "bad people" cannot be disputed. But a more important question is whether they should. I don't think they should.

    Just because someone thinks differently than you do is usually not a sign that they are bad. Don't get me wrong. Some conservatives ARE bad people. And their political views might derive from a sociopathic perspective. But this is not a majority. Further, there are bad people on all sides.

    1. David Welker, when I try to follow debates of this sort I run into problems with labels. I do not think the, "progressives," are much aligned with historical progressives. I do not think the, "conservatives," are much aligned with historical conservatives. I think both groups are essentially tribal, involved in mostly-unprincipled struggles for political power, to exercise on behalf of what they see as tribal interests.

      In each case, harm to the other group looks like the energizing force which supplies the focal role political principles might previously have done. Operating that way pushes each group steadily farther from the political traditions their names historically implied.

      I wish something would come along to change that. I do not expect any such transformative impulse to come from within either group, however. It will have to come from outside, and inflict some recognizable experience of political failure severe enough to make these singularly unreflective groups look inward, and question their recent course.

      Here is the tricky part. Whatever impulse could do that, will not likely work to the nation's benefit unless it has power to humiliate both sides simultaneously. Any major defeat of either of them separately would tend to unleash a self-reinforcing wave of triumphalism in the other, to the detriment of everyone in the other tribe, and to the detriment of all the bystanders, who are a probable majority by now.

      1. I agree with you that there are many people on both sides who have become tribalistic. This is, in part, because negative campaigning works. But note, that such negative campaigning is usually about people and personalities rather than issues.

        When people start talking about personalities instead of policies or issues, the conversation often ends up being much lower quality.

        That is not to say that there isn't a place for talking about personalities. It wouldn't make sense to talk about the war in Ukraine without talking about the psychology of Vladimir Putin, for example. But, overall, way too much energy is put into talking about people and personalities and too little issues and policies.

        I think that is because issues and policies are much harder to talk about for humans compared to gossip about other human beings.

    2. Whether progressives have a right to think of conservatives as "bad people" cannot be disputed. But a more important question is whether they should. I don't think they should.

      You are to think the hoi polloi of the other side are hellbound dupes. The leaders then get elected, or not, depending on the outrage they generate.

      They do not think this way. That is reserved as an instruction for you.

      G.W. Bus is friends with Michelle Obama

      RBG and hubby were good friends with the Scalias.

      Soros and I think a Trump kid, or maybe a Koch bro, invested in a startup together.

      You are to hate The Other, for their power benefit. Those are not real emotions.

      1. Ooh I forgot Bush and Ellen.

  12. Pretty funny comment section. Put all these guys into law school together and you'd end up with the Conservatives thinking people who disagree with them are bad people and acting the exact same way they are critical of here.

    1. You are correct in assuming that people on "both sides" have a tendency believe that those who arrive at a different point of view are bad.

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