Ilya Shapiro, the director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, submitted the following letter to the editor in response to staff writer Ben Ogilvie’s recent piece on law school DEI initiatives. Shapiro is an alumnus of the University of Chicago Law School, where he will be speaking on Friday, April 14 at 12:15 PM in Room I.
Thanks to Ben Ogilvie for offering the perspective of a law student at my own alma mater about my argument on the perverse trends in legal education (“What Ilya Shapiro Gets Right and Wrong About Law Schools,” April 6).
We are in full agreement that DEI is bad for law schools and bad for America, but Ogilvie misunderstands the nature of the problem and my prescription for remedying it. What we’re seeing isn’t simply the next step in the liberal control of higher education, provoking the latest conservative complaint in a cycle going back decades. It’s a difference of kind, not degree, an illiberal takeover, rejecting not just academic freedom and the essential truth-seeking mission of higher education, but the bedrock values undergirding American society as a whole: free speech, due process, and the equal protection of the laws.
Even in my day law students took classes on environmental protection and social justice, going on to work for government agencies and left-wing NGOs (typically after a stint as a Big Law associate). But what’s different now is that DEI offices and other non-teaching staff—who now outnumber faculty at most universities—drive an indoctrination agenda that enables radical student mobs and cows careerist-bureaucrat provosts and deans. This new dynamic operationalizes critical legal studies, of which critical race theory is but one subpart. Under this worldview, the law can be ignored because it’s a function of patriarchal white supremacy and, besides, legalistic words have no objective meaning when divorced from the relative intersectional power dynamic of the speaker and listener—but not at Chicago Law, thankfully, which is why Ogilvie perceives just another ratcheting-up of same-old, same-old progressive activism.
That’s why indeed it’ll take “exogenous shocks,” like pressure from employers and government action—state legislation of the kind I’ve proposed, and tying strings to federal funding, as I recently suggested in House testimony—to excise this cancer from the body academic, if it’s not already too late. I’m not so naïve as to suggest merely “reaffirmation of classical liberal principles,” though that should be the ultimate goal that higher-ed officials be made to reestablish at their universities. Law school leaders are good at inculcating the virtues of public service, diversity, entrepreneurship, and the like. They can do likewise for civil discourse, searching academic inquiry, and intellectual rigor over therapeutic sophistry (“harm,” “safe space,” etc.).
At base, I think Ogilvie agrees that for any chance of salvaging our future political and legal institutions, administrators and faculty alike must be shown that there are real costs to allowing their law schools to become incubators for the viral subversion of our constitutional order.
— Ilya Shapiro (J.D., ’03)
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
It is hard to argue with the writer’s characterization of law schools, or the insidious federal apparatus inside them. As John Dewey argued, however, one’s mode of apprehension is vulnerable to other “isms.” This may lead to more reaction than solution; moreover, you can’t legislate your way to a different academy culture. What you can do is attend another law school, including in another country. There are currently over 200 to choose from in the US alone. While somewhat a monolith due to the Bar, they have meaningful cultural and technical differences. It is also important to appreciate that the writer’s perspective is shaped by the “elite” sector which makes up approximately 5 percent of the total, and operates in an especially autopoietic, or self-referential manner. See https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2023/01/a-new-way-to-rank-law-schools/ and https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2022/08/30/how-law-professors-undermine-the-law/