Scalia Law School Faculty Statement of Commitment to Open Dialogue and Debate

In light of recent developments at Georgetown University Law Center, and other law schools in the area, it seems like a good time to recall readers of this blog about the August 2020 statement that my faculty made. Although I would love to say there have been similar statements from other faculties of law schools, none has.

Statement of Principles for Faculty
Given the state of debate and dialog in America, Antonin Scalia Law School’s faculty reiterates their commitment to free inquiry and freedom for speech.

Many schools established official speech codes years ago to protect students’ rights from unpopular views. George Mason University has been awarded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s highest Freedom of Speech rating. That achievement was a great honor.

It has been commonplace for universities and colleges to issue sanctions to faculty who do research that is not in line with the accepted opinion. It is becoming more dangerous to express insufficient passion for some causes or beliefs as conformity pressures increase.

The faculty rejects any imposition by us of political or ideological orthodoxy. No hierarchy of authority is recognized in the world. Students and professors both have the exact same rights to share their views and challenge those they don’t agree with. They can also participate in any public activity that the country has to offer. The moral duty to encourage civility and tolerance is shared by both students and professors. The faculty strongly opposes efforts—whether from within our community or from outside—to pressure us or the school’s administration to engage in the repression of unpopular opinions, whether we as individuals agree or disagree with those opinions.

Of course there will always be an inequality between the student and instructor when it comes to the classroom. It is obvious that professors shouldn’t use their power to indoctrinate or influence political and ideological views. Professors shouldn’t belittled or intimidated by students for expressing views that are different from theirs. They should also not encourage or support students to intimidate or degrade other students.

Students should also recognize the special authority that professors have over students in class because of their special obligations and responsibilities. Curriculum is established by the faculty. The curriculum is determined by the faculty as a whole. Individual professors determine what subjects will be covered in classes, how they will discuss them, and which questions will be addressed in the time available. Although students can express their views on the matter, the professors make the final decisions. They also have an obligation of exercising their judgement.

It is important for students to recognize that their professors do not serve them any favors by treating our education mission like a contest of popularity. The University of Chicago President Hanna Holborn Gray observed the following:

It is not the purpose of education to make people feel comfortable. It is expected that universities will provide conditions where hard thinking, disagreements, independent judgement, and questioning of stubborn assumptions can thrive in the most liberated environment.

While President Gray’s words have important implications for all universities, they are particularly relevant to law school students. Effective legal training requires that students be challenged—by their instructors and by their classmates—to make well-reasoned arguments, often about topics that are controversial or personally painful. Many lawyers are forced to confront difficult issues they don’t want to. It is not easy to be exposed for the weaknesses of one’s arguments, or forced to accept that strong arguments may exist in support of those with whom they disagree. This is not the end of legal education. However, professors who try to avoid unpleasant disagreements with their students are cheating them.

Our faculty strives to give our students a real education. This faculty will continue to support respectful discussion and an open and free exchange of ideas. It extends to the classrooms and our scholarship as well as to other public discussions where we are invited to join. Daniel D. Polsby, our Dean many years back, stated that there must be a space in the world for controversial views and viewpoints to be air and given space. It is this place.