Politics & Policy

Separate and Unequal

Thomas Jefferson's version of free speech.

Law schools are places where freedom of speech should be not only cherished but aggressively defended. Students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, California, however, see a very different picture. Conservatives there must stomach teachers excoriating Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and contend with professors quick to give Bush the middle finger.

#ad#Last fall, members of the school’s Federalist Society chapter mentioned how professors began classes by reminding students to support presidential candidate John Kerry. “They [professors] just assumed we agreed with them,” said a group spokesman. Many Thomas Jefferson faculty office doors feature insulting caricatures of President Bush.

This semester, while trying to tap into the free speech that liberals have been granted, the Federalist Society president received an unexpected tongue-lashing from the school’s administration. Dean Rudy Hasl responded to ads for a conservative speaker by issuing a mass e-mail decrying the lecture’s theme as “offensive” and “inappropriate.” Hasl said the event would not “foster the sense of community and intellectual openness that would lead to a productive discussion of important issues.”

Elizabeth Koren, Federalist Society president at Thomas Jefferson, had been advertising an upcoming appearance of Young America’s Foundation speaker Star Parker. The lecture’s title came straight from Parker’s book, Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It.

To help ensure a large turnout, Koren publicized the event using catchy, edgy, and compelling fliers. Four ads were posted displaying Parker’s theme: big government is a minority’s worst enemy: “Why Would a Black Woman Advocate Less Welfare for Minorities?”; “Government Policies Shackle Minorities,”; “Government Endorses Black Slavery in America”; and “Government Policies Enslave Minorities and the Poor.” In addition to advertising the lecture, the fliers promoted healthy discussions among students, and their messages contained objective truths. Hurricane Katrina has brought to light a poignant example of how big-government policies “enslave” minorities to a life of poverty, destitution, and welfare. Especially with New Orleans in mind, Parker’s solutions for minority empowerment should have been welcomed by the school’s administration and by the school’s black community.

Instead, the Black Law Students Association and the administration attempted to curtail attendance at and even awareness of Parker’s campus appearance. Members of the BLSA complained to Student Services that their feelings were “hurt” by Koren’s fliers. Rather than opening their mind to a different point of view, this group demanded that all the fliers be removed.

One member e-mailed Star Parker, arguing that the Federalist Society’s actions were nourishing an already uncomfortable environment for minorities at that school. According to Heidi Foreman, black students are “having an issue at [Thomas Jefferson] regarding diversity and fostering a non-hostile environment for students of color.” She then went on to call the Federalist Society an “extremist group [that] is using [the] event as an opportunity to harrass [sic] and intimidate black students in ways that [Parker] could not imagine.” Foreman neglected to provide proof of allegations that the Federalist Society badgered black students or that the lecture was scheduled in order to promote discomfort.

Dean Hasl’s action was confined to indicating that he’s not a conservative, doesn’t agree with the conservatives, and would never create a hostile environment for liberal blacks. On October 4, Hasl sent an e-mail letter to the entire student body titled “Nurturing an Academic Community.” Not only did Hasl call the Federalist Society fliers “inappropriate” and “offensive,” but he said that Koren’s group needs “to exercise some self restraint and think about the potential harmful impact of what they advocate and publicize.” Hasl started the letter by saying that the “challenge we have as faculty members and administrators is to create an environment where difficult and controversial topics can be fully explored,” but still urged “all members of our community to be sensitive to the impact that may be created from positions that are advocated or from the way these positions are advocated.”

Although ostensibly embracing a full spectrum of views, Hasl in fact seeks to contain a full exploration of ideas. In a nutshell, his argument is “We value free speech, just not yours.” He labeled the conservative lecture “offensive” and asserted that it would destroy, not foster, community growth, forgetting that all students, not just leftists, pay the Dean’s salary.

If a reprimand is deserved, Hasl need go no further than the nearest mirror to find its due target. He is to blame for the discomfort that may exist among races on that campus. Conservative solutions to ongoing problems are given almost exclusively by speakers invited by the Federalist Society, rather than by the university. There are frequent left-wing lectures featuring organizations such as the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program and DEMOS decrying capital punishment, alleging Guantánamo Bay mistreatment, and championing a host of liberal policy initiatives, but no corresponding array of university-sponsored speakers offering conservative views on these or similar issues. Hasl compounded the inequity by profiling (!) a conservative’s message, deeming it insensitive before he even heard her speech.

Koren asked Hasl why the Black Law Students Association wasn’t admonished for ripping down Star Parker fliers that didn’t belong to them while the Federalist Society received a stern rebuke for enriching campus debate. “Many of us do not understand the disparity in treatment between the two groups involved in this situation. The speaking party is demonized while those who destroyed fliers . . . are treated as poor victims and are not chastised for their actions at all,” said Koren.

Leftists, such as Hasl and members of the Black Law Students Association, wiggle their way out of defending free speech with knee-jerk buzzwords such as “civility” and “collegiality,” forgetting that higher education is not a baby-sitting club but rather a place to encounter a variety of ideas. Hasl is training future lawyers to crumble and cry when they do not get their way, as if they could win cases by merely bawling in front of a sympathetic judge. Lawyers should be thick-skinned and persuasive, not fragile and whining.

Extending undue protection to minorities considered too delicate to encounter ideas successfully on their own amounts to infantilization and to reverse-prejudice pandering. It’s astonishing that a law-school dean would reward students for squealing rather than countering controversial ideas with convincing responses.

Conservatives at Thomas Jefferson could have used many opportunities to rhapsodize over “hurt feelings.” The school has a lecture series named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is arranging an “expert on feminist jurisprudence” to address the students. Why didn’t school officials ask the young conservatives if they were “hurt” by naming a lecture series after a prominent liberal apologist such as Ginsburg? Ginsburg’s pro-abortion stance is much more egregious on the “offensive” barometer than Parker’s position against government welfare.

That another education official shows hostility toward conservatism may be nothing new, but it’s a wonder that campus administrators fail to notice how their defense of free speech never steps across the ideological aisle. Perhaps Hasl needs a refresher course in constitutional law, which shouldn’t be a problem, since his school currently offers the class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 to 11:15 AM.

Jason Mattera is the spokesman for Young America’s Foundation. Jedediah Jones assisted with this article.

Jason Mattera — Jason Mattera is spokesman for the Young America's Foundation.

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