Last year, University of Chicago Law alumnus Ilya Shapiro was thrust into the national spotlight when Georgetown Law administrators raked him through the coals over a tweet. He is now back in the news as the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal article, “DEI at Law Schools Could Bring Down America,” which mentions his upcoming book, Canceling Justice: The Illiberal Takeover of Legal Education.
It’s good to see law schools getting scrutiny, and we student reporters would like to join the fun. In this piece, I assess the validity of Shapiro’s contentions one by one.
Claim: DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) activists at law schools are trying to replace the rule of law with something resembling critical race theory. My take: True but boring.
This isn’t news. Progressives have been ignoring the rule of law since Brown v. Board in 1954, when the Supreme Court substituted progressive morality for the U.S. Constitution to strengthen the push for school desegregation.
Nowadays, a major activity at law schools is dreaming up new ways to bend the law towards progressive morality for everything from environmental protection to critical race theory. Here at UChicago, we have classes specifically devoted to both of those topics and more.
Claim: DEI at law schools is an existential threat to American democracy because brainwashed law grads will soon be getting important jobs in law firms and the government. My take: False.
On some level, DEI is a LARP: It’s fake, and it’s all about status and feel-good points anyway.
The progressive law students who heckled conservative speakers out of Yale and Stanford were not being unreasonable; what they did made sense within their value system and the political order we live in. Yale and Stanford law grads are not stupid, and they know better than to, say, heckle a conservative judge in court or something like that.
And it’s hard to see how today’s wave of hecklers could do more damage to the American legal system than previous generations of Yale and Stanford grads have already done. Lawyers for green NGOs and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have already made it virtually impossible to build new oil refineries or mines in the U.S., for instance, and they have forced blue-state power grids to go as green as energy prices will allow.
Previous generations of federal lawyers took policing between the sheets pretty far under Title IX; there’s not much room for this to expand under a new generation of radicals. It’s hard to be cutting edge when the edge has already cut so deep.
Claim: Law professors are unable to openly discuss some topics, including rape law. My take: True.
My criminal law professor talked like he had peanut butter in his mouth through the entire sexual assault unit and still received student complaints. In fact, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Project group at the law school held a “survivors’ support circle” specifically to give students space to complain about the criminal law curriculum. I don’t think an open, honest discussion of rape law is possible in the current law school environment.
Claim: Administrators are the source of law school DEI, and many of them should be fired. My take: Sort of true, and the part about firing administrators is extra true.
The main reason why we have DEI at law schools is not because of administrators. It is because most law students are socially isolated, unattached from any particular community or faith, and focused on getting rich and having a good time, all of which leads to a pretty miserable existence. Race- and gender-based affinity groups help fill that void: they give law students a sense of belonging, quasi-religion, and purpose.
For example, the Black Law Student Association offers incoming black students a ready group of friends, a sense of purpose advocating for something (the cause of black people), and an essentially religious worldview with its own holidays and symbols (Black History Month). Plus, there are career benefits and cushy perks (banquets and retreats). It’s hard for young people to pass that up, and it’s hard for outside advocates to mess with the system.
For reference, see Ron DeSantis’s extremely feeble efforts to reform Florida schools. The university-media-NGO-billionaire complex has unified in opposition; prospective college students are even deserting the state. While DeSantis has installed conservative rock stars like Christopher Rufo and Ryan Anderson to the board of trustees of the small, poorly known New College of Florida, his action triggered massive protests, and that college still has a “diversity and inclusion” page and a gender studies program. If you need any proof that conservatives can’t win a culture war to save their lives, this is it.
Administrators, though, play a role. They enforce DEI at the edge of a knife—they’ve got to justify their sinecures somehow. The sheer number of administrators is a problem: UChicago, for example, has roughly 16,000 administrators serving roughly 18,500 students. When there is blood in the water, the sharks come out to bite.
Claim: Only an exogenous shock can get law schools out of DEI fairyland. My take: True.
Universities’ woke students, woke administrators, and woke professors are not going to change on their own. That leaves state and federal governments, which shovel buckets of cash to public and private universities alike, ostensibly to serve the “public interest.”
It’s not clear how much public interest is being served, however, and that money should come with strings attached. Woke government bureaucrats have tried to attach transgender bathroom requirements to education funding; anti-woke bureaucrats could just as easily attach a defund DEI requirement (if the university-media-NGO-billionaire complex would let them, which it will not).
Claim: The solution to this problem is a reaffirmation of classical liberal principles. My take: False, false, FALSE!
Progressives are not illiberal; they are extra liberal. The most obnoxious progressives I know love freedom; they just don’t want other people’s prejudiced or “traditional” beliefs to impinge on their freedom. They take maximum freedom to its logical end, which includes sweeping away irrational traditions like conservatism or Christianity. It’s absurd for liberals to tolerate Christians any more than they tolerate racists.
Right-wing “classical liberals” are digging their own graves. That ideology might get people sinecures at the Cato Institute, but it won’t fix the university blob. We can’t beat liberals at their own game.
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
** Correction: a prior version of this story implied that the Domestic and Sexual Violence Project at UChicago Law only involved female students.