May 15, 2008
Fedtke from UCL to Tulane
Jorg Fedtke (European Union law, comparative law, torts, public law), Professor of Law at University College London, has accepted a senior offer from the law school at Tulane University, where he will start in January 2009. We had the pleasure of having Professor Fedtke as a visiting professor for a number of years here at UT, so I can speak from some personal knowledge in saying this is a very good appointment for Tulane. It's yet a further blow for the UCL law faculty, which seems to be in something of a crisis. Sir Basil Markesinis, the distinguished authority on European private law, took early retirement from UCL not long ago, and now his successor, Professor Fedtke, is departing.
UPDATE: A colleague elsewhere in the U.S. points out, fairly enough, that UCL still has the leading environmental law faculty in Britain, which seems right. He also notes that UCL has just added a leading property theorist, James Penner, from King's College, London. On the other hand, the former Dean of the law faculty, Michael Bridge (whom I rather liked during the time I spent there), has decamped for LSE. So it goes in London!
Kuhns v. Wrighton on the Schafly Honorary Degree Scandal
As noted yesterday (see the Update), Chancellor Mark Wrighton of Washington University, St. Louis has defended, in a letter to the university community, the decision to award know-nothing bigot Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree. Here is the crux of Chancellor Wrighton's letter:
I write to address the controversy surrounding the decision to award Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree at Commencement this Friday, May 16, 2008. I am sorry that this controversy may detract from Commencement. However, the Trustees, the University administration and I fully support the rights of our students and others within this community to express their concerns on this issue.
Our long-standing process for awarding the honorary degree was followed: Mrs. Schlafly was nominated by a member of the community and was reviewed by the Board's Honorary Degree Committee. The Committee included faculty, students, trustees and administrators. After two meetings, Mrs. Schlafly and other nominees were recommended unanimously for consideration at the full Board meeting. The full Board voted to award the honorary degree at the May 2007 meeting.
Following the public announcement of the honorary degrees, many in the University community have called for the University to rescind that offer, stating that Mrs. Schlafly is associated with some views, opinions and statements that are inconsistent with the tolerant and inclusive values of the Washington University community. Personally, I do not endorse her views or opinions, and in many instances, I strongly disagree with them.
However, after further consultation with members of the University's Board of Trustees, the University has concluded that it will fulfill its commitment to award the degree to Mrs. Schlafly. I apologize for the anguish this decision has caused to many members of our community.
In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly's views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold....
In the midst of this controversy, I want to affirm my personal and the University's institutional commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusiveness and to improving gender balance. Additionally, I have made a commitment that the University will review the process for awarding honorary degrees and will propose appropriate changes.
Washington University is home to students and faculty from all walks of life, from most systems of religious belief and political thought, and from all corners of the world. Yet we do not require these widely diverse individuals to agree with one another. We are stronger because disagreement allows us the opportunity to speak as individuals and as advocates for sometimes widely divergent agendas. Collegial dialogue and discourse inform us as to our feelings and help guide an institution that nurtures debate and tolerance. A university is strengthened by exchanges that may be strongly worded, and that may have been born from the passions and rhetoric of disagreement.
Washington University - or any other university - is neither perfect nor are all its processes for making decisions. We can always do better. In the aftermath of Commencement, I am deeply committed to whatever work needs to be done to rebuild damaged relationships with members of our community -- faculty, students, alumni, parents, trustees and staff. I thank you for all that you do to make this a community so open, tolerant and inclusive, and I ask for your assistance as we work together to build the very best environment for all who live, learn, discover and create
Wash U law professor Richard Kuhns agreed to let me share his astute and sharply worded reply to Chancellor Wrighton:
Your defense of the decision to grant an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly adds insult to injury.
A substantive defense of the decision, with which I obviously would disagree, would at least be understandable. Instead you have engaged in subterfuge and, to say the least, what borders on dishonesty.
From a procedural standpoint, the initial decision was not unanimous; and even if the "process" technically was followed, student member of the committee have already disavowed the decision.
More important, the notion that the honorary degree "is not endorsing Mrs. Schlaflys’ views or opinions" is ludicrous. An honorary degree, of course, is not an endorsement of everything a recipient has said; but it is unmistakably an endorsement of the general principles for which the recipient stands; and as I and a number of my colleagues have pointed out, Ms. Schlafly’s principles are antithetical to the values for which Washington University purports to stand.
Indeed, Phyllis Schlafly’s recent statements referring to the protesters - hundreds of faculty and students - as "a bunch of bitter women," "a bunch of losers," who need "to get a life" only highlights how antithetical her views are to those of rational discourse that should prevail in a great university.
By embracing the decision to grant Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree and at the same time "fully support[ing] the rights of our students and others within this community to express their concerns on this issue," you have invited and, indeed, encouraged the protest that will certainly take place at what should be a time of great celebration, not disagreement.
The issue, contrary to your statement, has never been one of tolerating diverse points of view. Rather, it has been whether Washington University should honor bigotry and anti-intellectualism.
Given your empty defense of the University’s decision, your pious commitment to "rebuild damaged relationships with our community" rings hollow.
Washington University in St. Louis plainly needs new leadership. Any leader of a serious research university--Wrighton is a scientist no less!--who at the dawn of the 21st-century could not foresee the inappropriateness of "honoring" a woman who mocks basic biological science, derides the idea of marital rape, demeans and opposes the aspirations of professional women, and makes bigoted remarks about immigrants, homosexuals, and "liberals" (among many others) is a leader who has lost his intellectual compass.
May 14, 2008
Association of Women Faculty at Wash U Collects Statements Opposing Awarding an Honorary Degree to Phyllis Schafly
Here. Time is running out (graduation is this weekend!) for Wash U to make amends for this embarrassing mistake. But so far, there's no indication that they realize the magnitude of the error; the University has issued a statement written in bureaucratise:
Alumna Phyllis Schlafly's articulation of her perspectives has been a significant part of American life during the last half of the 20th century and now the 21st century, serving as a lightning rod for vigorous debate on difficult issues where differences of opinion are profound and passionate. Not only should a university serve as a place where such discussions take place, but it may also choose to recognize those who provide leadership and articulation — both pro and con — on vital issues. When the University awards an honorary degree, it does so without endorsing viewpoints or taking sides on such issues.
I do wonder whether the people who write nonsense like this believe what they are writing. First of all, the issue has nothing to do with free discussion: any group that wants to invite Ms. Schafly to campus to present her 'ideas' should be free to do so, and no one would be talking about this if that's all that had happened. But an "honorary degree" is, of course, an "endorsement," honoring someone for their contributions. In Schafly's case that means honoring someone who has consistently advocated for the subordinate role of women in society (who has, e.g., called for women to be excluded from numerous professions, mocked the idea of marital rape, and opposed innumerable laws protecting the rights of women in the workplace), and promoted bigotry against immigrants, creationism, and various crackpot conspiracy theories. As the Association of Women Faculty at Wash U puts it:
As researchers we are committed to reaching conclusions via reasoned and balanced inquiry, and we rigorously train our students in such practice. By contrast, Ms. Schlafly's core convictions – that women are intellectually inferior, that American Indians are heathens, that homosexuals are ill, that biological evolution is untrue -- are presented in her writings and lectures as unsubstantiated claims. Your argument that her claims have served, in your words, as “a lightning rod for vigorous debate on difficult issues where differences of opinion are profound and passionate” is disconcertingly specious. In the academy, honor is given to those who back up their opinions with careful documentation and analysis. It is not given to loose cannons in the classroom, and it should not be given to loose cannons in the public arena.
We are deeply concerned that conferring on Ms. Schlafly an honorary degree will compromise our commitment to recruit and retain women students and faculty, and it will set back decades of effort to establish Washington University as a center of intellectual excellence, transforming us into “that school who honored -- can you believe? -- Phyllis Schlafly.
They are right to be concerned. Washington University has been mighty concerned with "branding" its image in recent years, but presumably the idea was not to be branded with a scarlet letter.
The University's statement, above, continues:
Washington University has honored many individuals in the past from all aspects of the political spectrum, including civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Julian Bond; political leaders as diverse as Madeleine Albright, John Major, Patricia Schroeder, John C. Danforth, Paul Simon and Richard Gephardt; educational leaders such as Ruth Simmons and Henry Louis Gates; and members of the media including Tom Friedman, George Will, Tim Russert and this year's commencement speaker, Chris Matthews.
But Schafly is unlike anyone on this list: she alone peddles bigotry, contempt for intellectual work and scientific knowledge, and ridicule of universities. It is hard to know what analogy would really capture the choice to 'honor' a disgraceful know-nothing like this: an honorary degree for Rush Limbaugh, perhaps? Or Don Imus?
If the University "honors" Schafly, one may expect that this will have a tangible impact on faculty recruitment and retention over the next year.
UPDATE: Around midday, Chancellor Mark Wrighton sent out an e-mail indicating that the school will award an honorary degree to Ms. Schafly. What a sad day for Washington University. Ironically, one of the few areas where Wash U is a leader nationally and internationally is in medicine and allied areas of biological research. For a university whose reputation depends so heavily on excellence in biology to honor an ignoramus who regularly mocks the foundation of biological science, the theory of evolution by natural selection, is almost unbelievable. Wash U must be deeply beholden to money from the far right to have tarnished its reputation so profoundly.
A Moving Profile of FSU's Steven Gey...
May 13, 2008
VAPs for 2008-09
UPDATE: The link is now fixed, sorry about that.
May 12, 2008
Wash U Alumni Create Website to Oppose Award of Honorary Degree to Schafly
Here. It includes a letter from undergraduates involved in the process shedding some light on how this travesty occurred:
As the undergraduate members of the Board of Trustees Honorary Degree Committee, we want to express our disappointment with the choice to award Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree at the 2008 commencement ceremony. The selection process was ineffective in providing a complete picture of the nominees, and the environment was hostile to dissent. We recognize our role in representing our peers, and we accept partial responsibility for the insufficient scrutiny of all nominees. However, throughout the two meetings of the Honorary Degree Committee and discussion of Ms. Schlafly, her prejudiced views were never brought to light.
The committee's recommendation of Ms. Schlafly was based on a complicated voting system. Voting occurred in two stages. In our first meeting, we ranked our preferences from approximately thirty names. The nominees were ranked based on the first balloting, and the top five were collected in a slate. We voted yes or no on the entire slate. An objection by one student was met with hostile opposition. The block of five names was then approved unanimously. We implore you to clarify the University's official statement on the nomination Ms. Schlafly. The explanation of the selection process suggests a unanimous vote on each nominee and disregards the balloting process. It endorses the widely held misconception that every member of the committee voted in favor of Ms. Schlafly.
Ms. Schlafly's views, specifically those opposing a woman's place in academia, are contradictory to the mission of Washington University and inappropriate for recognition at the commencement ceremony. We believe the selection of Phyllis Schlafly was a mistake.
That the students were not aware of her "prejudiced views" confirms this blogger's observation that, these days, not as many people are as vividly aware any longer of what a sexist, bigot, and anti-intellectual know-nothing Ms. Schafly is.
If the university does not reverse its decision, it's hard to see how its reputation will ever recover: certainly this foolishness will overwhelm perception of the school for a long time to come.
Are Journalists More Alert to the Problems with the US News Ranking Than in the Past
A colleague elsewhere writes:
I've been meaning to write to thank you for taking on the US News methodology. I think your work has greatly reduced the annual angst over US News this year. US News will likely continue to produce short-tem thinking and reaction by law schools, but this year it seems to me that there has been much less knee-jerk reaction than in years past. Most of that credit is due to you. Even our local reporter was less hysterical over US News this year and he cited your blog for the proposition that there are methodological flaws with US News.
I am curious whether others have the perception that their local journalists are better-informed about the limitations of U.S. News and the meaninglessness of movements in the rankings than in the past? Obviously much of the mindless damage that U.S. News inflicts is a consequence of the fact that journalists report changes in the rankings as though they have something to do with events in the real world, when they almost never do. As I noted in the "Open Letter" to Bob Morse:
[T]he almost exclusive way in which a school improves its US News rank (apart from some arbitrary fluctuations in reputational scores, which schools can not control) is very clear: manipulation, trickery and, at worst, deceit. You know this as well as I do. Schools hire unemployed graduates as research assistants, hand out fee waivers to hopeless applicants to improve their acceptance rates, inflate their expenditures data through creative accounting or simply fabrication, cut their first-year enrollment (to boost their medians) while increasing the number of transfers (to make up the lost revenue), and so on. Because more than half the total score in U.S. News depends on manipulable data, schools intent on securing the public relations benefits of a higher rank simply "cook the books" or manipulate the numbers to secure a more favorable U.S. News outcome. Schools vary, to be sure, in how aggressive they are about data manipulation, and one expects that public law schools, whose records are subject to scrutiny, are especially careful. But there is no one in legal education who will deny, with a straight face, that a significant number of law schools, probably the majority, now "massage" their reporting, often within the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules.
Have journalists who cover higher education and law finally gotten the message? I'd be interested in hearing from others in legal education about their perceptions/experiences. (Post only once; comments may take awhile to appear.)
May 10, 2008
Law Faculty at Wash U Protest University's Award of Honorary Degree to Phyllis Schafly
May 9, 2008
Interim Dean Makau Mutua at Buffalo Named Dean
The UB press release is here.
May 8, 2008
Northwestern Likes Rankings!
Here. I've never seen a page like this at any law school web site. Interesting. (I should note that two categories attributed to my ranking site (Admissions Selectivity and Best Experience) are not on my site, so this appears to be a typo; the others are accurate.) To Northwestern's credit, its Dean [David Van Zandt] has never signed any of the anti-ranking statements by the AALS or other entities.
UPDATE: Northwestern has fixed the error noted, above.