Implies my free speech lecture at Vassar was intended to “defend racism,” and alleges I’m part of a “well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities”
Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports website, run by U. Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, isn’t a high traffic site, but it does have a following among people interested in the law professor profession.
So it is not surprising that some Legal Insurrection readers also read Leiter’s website. Several of those readers contacted me today about a guest column by USC Professor of Law and Accounting Michael Simkovic about me and other conservative law professors. I don’t know who Simkovic is and never heard of him before.
The column wasn’t only about me. In fact, reading the column, I get the sense I was mere collateral damage, the main focus was on rising conservative star law professor Josh Blackman. Blackman has been in the news lately after his lecture on free speech at CUNY Law School was disrupted by students shouting, among other things, “fuck the law.” There has been widespread condemnation of the disruption and the CUNY Dean’s reaction.
The title of Simkovic’s column at Leiter’s website was A well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities is exploiting students and manipulating the public.
George Mason Law Professor David Bernstein addresses at Volokh Conspiracy the absurdity of Simkovic’s thesis that conservatives bait hostile liberals into shutting down speech as part of some nefarious master plan:
The whole piece is like this, full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it.
Prof. Bernstein also rebuts the bevy of charges lodged by Simkovic against Prof. Blackman, and focuses on what has made Prof. Blackman a target, his rising stardom in the Federalist Society world:
“Josh is, I believe, the most prolific speaker for the Federalist Society. He speaks at many schools every year. By Federalist Society rules, the students at each chapter have to invite him, he can’t invite himself. In short, the idea that he somehow chose CUNY to provoke a reaction is ridiculous, and the notion that presenting an anodyne talk on free speech, which Josh had presented at several other law schools without incident, should provoke any sensible, mature person is ridiculous.”
In a companion post at Instapundit, Prof. Bernstein is more blunt about the absurdity of Simkovic’s conspiracy theory:
I’M EMBARRASSED FOR THE AUTHOR: USC lawprof Michael Simkovic … The whole piece is … full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it. Read it and weep.
(added) Attorney Scott Greenfield has an even more scathing response to Simkovic, Michael Simkovic’s Grand Delusion.
While Prof. Blackman clearly was the main target, and other conservative professors were included, Simkovic opened the column with an attack on me and my lecture at Vassar College last October.
While my speech at Vassar wasn’t disrupted, there was campus hysteria whipped up by student and faculty activists, and attempts to cancel the lecture, based on complete fabrications and false accusations that I was a white supremacist intent on bringing white nationalists to campus. I documented the factual fabrications behind these accusations both at Legal Insurrection and also at U.S.A. Today, My pro-free speech views made me the target of a smear campaign at Vassar College.
The lecture ended up being hugely successful, with almost 300 students filling the venue and spilling into the hallways to listen to me discuss the basic legal background on free speech, and why the values of free speech should be embraced even on private campuses like Vassar. You can watch my 45-minute lecture and 1.5 hour Question and Answer, and judge for yourself.
The campus reaction after my appearance was quite different than the hysteria that preceded the event. One student wrote in the campus newspaper of the “misrepresentation of facts” regarding me that preceded my appearance.
Another student wrote in a student publication devoted to political discourse:
“It’s time to acknowledge that H2A and the VSA lied to us.”
[H2A was the student activist group against my appearance, and VSA is the Vassar Student Association which wanted my lecture cancelled.]
Another student emailed me directly:
I attended your event at Vassar last month and I just wanted to say thank you the insightful free speech talk that you gave. This message is a little late, but these thoughts have been mulling around in my head for a while, so I thought that I should reach out you. When I first heard that you were going to give a talk on campus, I was totally swept up in the rumors that you were a white nationalist, xenophobic, racist man with ties to the alt-right (as many of my friends were – literally, students with official administrative positions mass spread these rumors, and the administration did nothing to denounce them). I was surprised to find a reasonable, nonpartisan argument about the importance of free speech. You started an important discussion on campus and you’ve motivated a change within myself.
An alumnus published a lengthy letter to Vassar’s President in the student newspaper decrying the treatment of me:
To the eternal shame of Vassar, it appears that not a single member of the Vassar faculty or administration publicly supported Professor Jacobson or his free speech message. It also appears that many, like you, actively supported H2A.
In their silence and actions, the faculty and administration at Vassar have clearly learned a lesson from Nicholas and Erika Christakis at Yale University. This couple dared to speak truth to power, and it cost them their careers.
You owe Professor Jacobson a public apology, and you owe the Vassar community a statement thoroughly repudiating H2A and its ideas.
Anyone who took the time to understand what happened to me at Vassar, and who was interested in the truth, would not still try to smear me as a white supremacist or suggest that I was to blame for the hysteria that preceded my appearance. Unfortunately, Simkovic in his column at Leiter Law School Reports tried to do just that.
Here is the entirety of the portion of Simkovic’s column addressing me:
After a violent attack on civil rights protestors that left three dead and more than a dozen injured at the University of Virginia, students and administrators at Vassar became concerned when they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism. Jacobson’s libertarian hosts advertised his lecture as “‘Hate Speech’ is Free Speech, Even After Charlottesville.” Jacobson’s previous racially charged comments and dubious assertions earned Jacobson the admiration of White-nationalist websites such as V-Dare (see also here), the John Birch Society’s New American, and Breitbart news.
But Jacobson’s much-hyped lecture turned out to be a superficial and innocuous discussion of free speech, at the level of a high school civics class. Jacobson’s prosaic lecture was not news worthy. Instead, the press focused on student and university officials’ purported over-reactions to a talk about “free speech.”
Let’s take this piece by piece:
“… students and administrators at Vassar became concerned when they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism.”
The link is to a Cornell Sun article about the controversy over the title of my lecture, for which the students who invited me took full responsibility. Nowhere in the Cornell Sun article does it say I was “coming to defend racism” or similar language. I addressed the inaccuracies in the Cornell Sun article about the confusion over the title in a response, which Simkovic does not link. Simkovic’s phrasing (“they learned that William Jacobson was coming to defend racism”) suggests that that was indeed the purpose of the speech. That not only was not true, it is a pernicious method of attack on those of us who defend free speech — that supporting someone’s right to speak is the equivalent of agreeing with the content of the speech. I would have expected a law professor not to feed into that destructive narrative.
“Jacobson’s previous racially charged comments…”
That hyperlink goes to my post It’s time for Elizabeth Warren to apologize for her Native American deception. In what possible way could calling on Elizabeth Warren to apologize to Native Americans be deemed “racially charged”? Please read that post which Simkovic uses as proof I have made “racially charged” comments. No reasonable person interested in the truth could come to that conclusion or try to use that post to smear me as racist.
“and dubious assertions”
That clause links to the controversy over Elizabeth Warren’s practice of law without a law license in Massachusetts, using her Harvard Law School address as her regular office address. I extensively researched the matter in 2012, and laid out the evidence. The article linked by Simkovic is centered on a statement by the General Counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers that Warren did not need to be licensed. But in a follow up post not linked by Simkovic, I showed how the General Counsel admitted he didn’t know the facts of Warren’s practice, was speaking purely in a private capacity, did not purport to exonerate her, and didn’t mean to suggest that law professors don’t need to be licensed. Ultimately I was vindicated by a private ethics watchdog, although no action was taken against Warren:
Prof Jacobson, on his blog Legal Insurrection, is in line for an Ethics Hero award with his tenacity regarding Elizabeth Warren’s dubious qualifications to engage in the practice of law in Massachusetts. The overwhelming reaction by his colleagues in legal academia, and mine in the legal ethics community, has been to airily dismiss his arguments as trivial, far-fetched and thinly disguised political warfare, since Jacobson is an unapologetic conservative blogger (and a distinguished one.) Meanwhile, the mainstream media has, I think it is fair to say, completely ignored the story….
The rude brush off Prof. Jacobson is getting in this wagon-circling exercise is wrong in every way, and does injustice to every person and institution involved, including the Massachusetts legal establishment, the legal profession, ethical lawyers (which, believe it or not, the vast majority of them are), Senator Brown, the U.S. Senate, Massachusetts voters, and the American public….
Yet the complexity of this issue was presented as me making a “dubious” assertion right after I was wrongly smeared as having made “racially charged comments.”
I have been quoted and linked hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times, since starting Legal Insurrection in 2008. That’s not to mention my dozens of professional securities law-related quotations and links. From those thousands of quotes and links, Simkovic found a very small number from websites he calls white nationalist. It must have taken a lot of work to dig those out.
I don’t control who quotes or links to me. But if you look at the links Simkovic found, they are on Elizabeth Warren’s false claim to be Native American (V-Dare), the Oberlin College 2013 racism hoax (V-Dare)[my original post here], and Obamacare intensifying the doctor shortage (John Birch New American). None of those topics on which I am linked contain any white nationalist topics written by me. The Breitbart link is to a search of Breitbart’s website for all mentions of me; please scroll through that link, none of the topics for which I was linked were white nationalist, most had to do with Elizabeth Warren and other routine political matters.
Does finding a tiny number of links to me unrelated to any alleged white nationalist writings by me sound like the tactic of someone interested in a fair discussion? I don’t think so.
“But Jacobson’s much-hyped lecture turned out to be a superficial and innocuous discussion of free speech, at the level of a high school civics class. Jacobson’s prosaic lecture was not news worthy. Instead, the press focused on student and university officials’ purported over-reactions to a talk about “free speech.””
Well, this is mostly true, though snide. This was a basic 45-minute lecture on free speech for a non-legal audience. It was well received by that audience as the videos show. We shouldn’t belittle the value in bringing discussions of the law to non-lawyers, particularly on campuses.
So where does this leave us?
Professor Michael Simkovic tried to smear me as a racist white nationalist on a website frequented by people in my profession. Yet the proof he offered was misleading at best, out of context, and based on shoddy research. I don’t know why he felt the need to do this.
Michael Simkovic appears to have set out to denigrate me. In the end, I think he only denigrated himself.
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