Prof. Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern) on the Emory Law Journal Controversy

It is now notorious that the Emory Law Journal commissioned and then tried to censor, as “hurtful and unnecessarily divisive,” an article that denied the existence of systemic racism. Journal rejected the article after the author refused bowdlerizing his work. In protest, two other authors contributed to the same issue. This has been portrayed as a familiar left/right fight, except for one detail: One of the authors who withdrew is on the left. There have been others. askingWho’s that guy? And what did he think?

That’s me. I am urgently concerned about systemic racism, which I have written about extensively, but I withdrew to protest the illiberalism that has these student editors in its grip. Illiberalism has negative consequences for universities and racial equality. This is a reflection of an ever more influential view of racial inequality that seems to be indifferent to the well-being of those it claims to serve. This is not an issue of right or wrong.

Law journal invited papers to be presented at a symposium honoring Michael Perry. Perry is one of the foremost living constitutional theorists. An invitation like this usually requires a promise to publish the paper if all basic standards of scholarship are met. Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego, who was invited to participate in Perry’s research on racial disparity, was one of those invitees. Alexander claimed that Black poverty is not caused by racism, but cultural factors which have led to family disintegration and poor education achievement.

Alexander was told by Emory editors that he would be unable to publish the essay unless they removed a section from his discussion. In their first memo, they stated that the Emory editors’ comments were merely suggestions. They encouraged Alexander to use or discard these suggestions however he wished. The memo noted that the “refutation of systemic racism” might not be an acceptable position as a matter of prudential concern. The editors changed their mind when Alexander decided to stick with that thesis. Next came an ultimatum. They acknowledged that there are “fair points in intellectual disagreement which would not necessarily warrant taking extreme measures to withdraw our publication offer.” They said that his article was “hurtful” and unnecessary divisive.

“Crucially,” the authors declared that “the discussion of racism isn’t strongly related to your comment on Professor Perry’s works, which are the subject of the issue, and the purpose for the publication chance offered.” (If you read the whole piece, you’ll see that this is obviously false.) …

I don’t agree with Alexander’s description of the world. I have fought with him in the past. (Jonathan Turley offers a good critique of his essay.) He does not deny that there is such a world. But, he presents evidence and we need to verify whether it is true. They do not accuse Falsity, nor provide evidence of Scholarly Dereliction. It’s been claimed that he resisted editing, but the editors did not ask for his claims to be better supported. They demanded the deletion of the entire final third of the article….

According to the editors, academic writing shouldn’t be about what the scholar believes to be true. If it is “hurtful”, or calls attention to such reality, then that work should not be described. That notion, which is increasingly common, attacks the scholarly enterprise at its root….