Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb observes that we as a society have become extremely credulous for an era of cynicism and that we as individuals have divested ourselves of critical judgment, preferring instead to defer to people who share our political ideology or qualify for special status for some other reason. Colb considers what might be driving this deference and how we can combat it. She points out that constructive disagreement is healthy and that “viewpoints are not violence, disagreement is not hatred, and no one has a patent on the truth.”
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the recent trend among professors to give “trigger warnings” prior to discussing sensitive materials with students and explains why she has chosen not to provide such warnings to her students. Colb points out that there is no reliable evidence that the warnings work as advertised; rather, they might actually do more harm than good. Colb concludes that an education necessarily means encountering ideas and theories that do not sit well with what one already believes, and students should not have the right to skip days or receive warnings when professors will be talking about unwelcome facts or theories.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies relates the story of one young man whose early life experiences and mistakes landed him in prison but who, after excelling in the Cornell Prison Education Program—a program in which Cornell professors teach university classes to prisoners—was released on parole after his first parole hearing and now attends Cornell University as a student. Margulies explains that this young man—Darnell Epps—may be exceptional, but he is not unique in being a person incarcerated at an early age who can redeem himself and contribute great things to our society.
Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines two (real, but slightly altered) conversations in order to explore the thoughts and feelings that might affect the weight we give to principles that support our positions, while disregarding the same principles when they run contrary to our positions. Colb describes the interrelatedness of conversations that arise regarding rape, racism, and free speech, specifically in the context of college fraternities, but applicable to many other situations.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar relates insights on campus free speech principles that came up during a recent discussion with renowned constitutional commentators Erwin Chemerinsky and Geof Stone. Among the insights are some possible explanations for why many college students today seem opposed to allowing offensive speech on campus, the different perspectives on the proper role of university officials regarding controversial guest speakers, and the question of when the costs of providing security for controversial speaker events justifies the cancellation or termination of the event.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar reflects on the ABA’s process for reaccreditation of American law schools and describes some of the positive and negative aspects of that process. Amar explains that during the reaccreditation site visits, schools have the opportunity to learn from others similarly situated and to showcase their own progress, but there are still some challenges such as consistent application of ABA standards and the attempt to treat of all schools, however different they might be, the same for accreditation purposes.
George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why a law faculty needs to cover the range of fields not only in teaching, but also in scholarship. Buchanan argues that if a law school is truly committed to covering specific courses, it should also be committed to hiring faculty with deep scholarly expertise in those subject matters. A professor who is not engaged with the subject matter both inside and outside the classroom is less effective in both realms.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers five resolutions he, as a law school dean, hopes to achieve in 2018. These resolutions include taking time to read recent scholarship by his faculty, increasing attendance at campus events, improving communication between faculty and alumni, managing (and reducing, when feasible) bureaucratic burdens, and spending more time with students.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar offers some timely tips for law students during the law school exam season. Noting that there often seems to be a divide between what students know on a given topic and what their exam answers convey to a grader, Amar provides common sense test-taking suggestions to help bridge that gap, as well as insight into what law professors often look for in a successful exam answer.
Boston University law professor Tamar Frankel pens a fable as a means of providing commentary on law school grades and the debate between pro-regulation approaches and more laissez-faire approaches. Through the voice of a fictional character, Frankel points out that the cost of relying on the market to correct itself is lingering mistrust, which erodes a community's prosperity and undermines its success for a very long time.
Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault because it allegedly denies due process to students accused of rape. While acknowledging specific instances where accused students have been treated poorly, Colb argues that the existing guidelines are eminently sensible and defensible and that rescinding them rather than editing or modifying them goes well beyond what is necessary to address concerns for accused students. Colb focuses on two commonly attacked features of campus policy—the preponderance of the evidence standard and the affirmative consent requirement—and explains why they are good policy.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent indications that the Trump Justice Department will investigate and possibly sue colleges and universities that make use of race-based affirmative action. Without expressing views as to the merits of pending lawsuits, Amar explains how one can simultaneously support race-based affirmative action and oppose the so-called “Asian penalty”—that is, systematically requiring Asian American applicants to have higher scores than white applicants.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf highlights some potentially dangerous consequences of the Justice Department’s recent indication that it would be investigating and suing colleges and universities that practice affirmative action. Dorf points out that the executive branch holds significant power over both public and private universities and colleges, and that it could exercise that power to induce significant changes in admissions policies.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar laments recent instances of censored speech, particularly on university campuses, and reminds us that freedom of speech and academic freedom protect even those speakers whose message might be perceived odious, racist, sexist, or hateful. Amar points out that both freedom of speech and academic freedom are rooted in the principle that ideas and arguments ought to be evaluated on their substance and that the essence of both kinds of freedom is the opportunity to persuade others of the merits of one's argument, rather than the use of power to coerce or silence others.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar comments on two important indicators of the health of legal education—employment outcomes and bar passage rates. Amar points out that based on the currently reported data on employment for America’s ABA-accredited law schools, the overall percentage has gone up for the Class of 2016 as compared to the Class of 2015. Amar also argues that law schools should take a deeper look at the factors contributing to low (and in some cases, increasingly low) bar pass rates.
Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, professor Ronald D. Rotunda critiques an English professor at Northern Arizona University for insisting that a student use the word “humankind” rather than “mankind.” Rotunda points out that the origin of the English word “man” encompasses both sexes and that for English professors (or any instructor) to force students to use certain words and shun others is an abuse of the power of words.
Guest columnist and former U.S. Congressman Brad Miller argues that the Trump administration’s plans to expand charter schools and provide vouchers for religious and other private schools may violate the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Miller points out that by paying for charters out of traditional public schools’ funds, states have de-prioritized their obligations to the purchasers of public school bonds in violation of the Contract Clause.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna Grossman argues that the decision by the Trump Administration to roll back protections for transgender students is mean-spirited and serves no legitimate purpose. Grossman briefly describes the history of the recognition of transgender rights under federal statutes and explains why protections for transgender students make far greater legal sense than denying those protections.
In this first of a three-part series of columns, Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, explains the U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence that allowed a conservative religious coalition to implant itself in the American public education system. Hamilton argues that the coup de grâce of this movement is Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos to Education Secretary, signaling a focus on ideology over the best interests of children.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the dropping passage rate of the California bar exam, and the bar’s apparent decision to stop providing school-by-school data on passage rates. Amar explains why releasing less—rather than more—data is a poor decision and calls upon the California bar to correct this wrong.