Although I would have chosen differently, I’ve tried to give the president the benefit of the doubt on the Miers nomination. Having said that, I note a worrisome report in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education. It seems that Miers was a key figure behind the establishment of a lecture series in women’s studies at SMU. Here is the critical excerpt from today’s Chronicle story:
In the late 1990s, as a member of the advisory board for Southern Methodist University’s law school, Ms. Miers pushed for the creation of an endowed lecture series in women’s studies named for Louise B. Raggio, one of the first women to rise to prominence in the Texas legal community. A strong advocate for women, Ms. Raggio helped persuade state lawmakers to revise Texas laws to give women new rights over property and in the event of divorce.
1. Ms. Miers, whom President Bush announced on Monday as his choice to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, not only advocated for the lecture series, but also gave money and solicited donations to help get it off the ground.
A feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, delivered the series’s first lecture, in 1998. In the following two years, the speakers were Patricia S. Schroeder, the former Democratic congresswoman widely associated with women’s causes, and Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991). Ann W. Richards, the Democrat whom George W. Bush unseated as governor of Texas in 1994, delivered the lecture in 2003.
In this case, Miers clearly wanted to honor a ground-breaking woman lawyer, and also encourage young women interested in law. The charitable view is that Miers was willing to see left-leaning feminists take advantage of the donation in a spirit of intellectual fairness, and because her larger concern was to honor her predecessor and to encourage young women lawyers. Maybe conservative women lectured in this series as well. In which case, we’d have a much less disturbing case of a forum for real debate on an important social issue. But given today’s university, it seems more likely that this lecture series was taken over by doctrinaire feminists who shut out conservative views. (Someone should get the whole list of lecturers.)
In any case, I find this disturbing, especially because it happened in the late nineties, by which time Miers was well into her conservative phase. It forces us again to give Miers the benefit of the doubt, when the matter at hand is of ultimate importance. Even presuming Miers’ genuine conservatism, it shows how even a well intentioned conservative can be led astray without real institutional expertise. And that is the issue at hand in this nomination. I am still inclined to make the best of this and give the president the benefit of the doubt. Again, sadly, genuine conservatives giving money and establishing chairs that universities then turn to liberal purposes is the norm nowadays. But I must say that this report worries me.