There is an effort underway to get me fired at Cornell Law School, where I’ve worked since November 2007, or if not fired, at least denounced publicly by the school.
Ever since I started Legal Insurrection in October 2008, it’s been an awkward relationship given the overwhelmingly liberal faculty and atmosphere. Living as a conservative on a liberal campus is like being the mouse waiting for the cat to pounce.
For over 12 years, the Cornell cat did not pounce. Though there were frequent and aggressive attempts by outsiders to get me fired, including threats and harassment, it always came from off campus.
I made great efforts to keep this website separate from my work. I did not write about Cornell that frequently, and rarely about the law school itself. Nonetheless, the website and my political views were the elephant in every room, because the website is widely read, particularly by non-liberal students.Over the years, many students approached me privately and behind closed doors to express gratitude that someone was able to speak up, because they remained politically silent out of fear of social ostracization with the related possible career damage from falsely being accused of one of the “-ists” or “-isms.”
Not until now, to the best of my knowledge, has there been an effort from inside the Cornell community to get me fired.
The impetus for the effort was two posts I wrote at Legal Insurrection regarding the history and tactics of the Black Lives Matter Movement:
Those posts accurately detail the history of how the Black Lives Matters Movement started, and the agenda of the founders which is playing out in the cultural purge and rioting taking place now.
From Saturday, June 6, through Monday, June 8, over 15 emails from CLS alumni were received by the Dean of the law school, demanding that action be taken against me ranging from an institutional statement denouncing me to firing. I don’t know whether and to what extent that number has increased since Monday. The Dean properly has defended my writings as protected within my academic freedom, although he strongly disagrees with my views.
The effort appears coordinated, as some of the emails were in a template form. All of the emails as of Monday were from graduates within the past 10 years.
Only one of the emails was shared with me, with names removed, on the condition that I not post it or quote from it. I am permitted to characterize the complaint: My views are not consistent with the law school Dean’s public statement on police violence and my writings were hurtful and divisive, and the person could not understand why I am still on the faculty. [As an aside, my writings are consistent with the Dean’s statement, but that’s another matter.]
My clinical faculty colleagues, apparently in consultation with the Black Law Students Association, drafted and then published in the Cornell Sun on June 9 a letter denouncing “commentators, some of them attached to Ivy League Institutions, who are leading a smear campaign against Black Lives Matter.” While I am not mentioned by name, based on what I’ve seen BLSA and possibly others were told it was about me. The letter is absurd name-calling, distorting and even misquoting my writings, to the extent it purports to be about me. According to a document I’ve seen, the letter was shared with these students before it was published in the Cornell Sun.
None of the 21 signatories, some of whom I’d worked closely with for over a decade and who I considered friends, had the common decency to approach me with any concerns. Instead they ran to the Cornell Sun while virtue signaling to students behind the scenes that this was a denunciation of me. Such is the political environment we live in now at CLS.
BLSA and other groups are working on their own effort against me. Based on documents I’ve seen, there was consideration of demanding my firing, but it appears to have moved away from that not because they don’t want me fired, but “because calling for his firing would only draw more attention to his blog and bolster his platform, and we do not want to give him that satisfaction.” The plan is to call for “the law school to unequivocally denounce his rhetoric, acknowledge the harm caused by subjecting students to his racist pedagogy, and critically examine the views of the people they employ as professors of the law.” They plan to circulate the petition to the law school community and to “inform incoming students” of the situation.
I have little doubt that many students will sign because there is no choice in this environment. BLSA has announced on its Facebook page that “Silence Is Violence.” Who would refuse to sign when failure to sign would be deemed an act of violence?
I thank people who have voluntarily shared information with me, and if there are students, faculty or staff reading this, please feel free to forward information to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is not just about me. It’s about the intellectual freedom and vibrancy of Cornell and other higher education institutions, and the society at large.
Open inquiry and debate are core features of a vibrant intellectual community. This has been the way Cornell Law School operated for the 12 years I’ve been here, until now. In this toxic political environment in which intellectual diversity and differences of opinion are not tolerated, trying to shut down debate through false accusations of racism seems to be the preferred tactic.
I challenge a representative of those student groups and a faculty member of their choosing to a public debate at the law school regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement, so that I can present my argument and confront the false allegations in real time rather than having to respond to baseless community email blasts. I ask the law school to arrange an in-person live-streamed debate during fall term, or if for some reason the law school does not have in-person instruction, to arrange a ‘virtual’ format.
Throughout my legal and academic career spanning over three decades, there has never been a single instance in which I have been accused of discrimination toward any student, client or colleague. I have always treated my students as individuals, without regard to race, ethnicity or other such factors. I condemn in the strongest terms any insinuation that I am racist, and I greatly resent any attempt to leverage meritless accusations in hopes of causing me reputational harm. While such efforts might succeed in scaring others in a similiar position, I will not be intimidated.
We are living in extraordinarily dangerous times, reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution, in which professors guilty of wrongthink were publicy denounced and fired at the behest of students who insisted on absolute ideological orthodoxy. It’s a way of instilling terror in other students, faculty, staff, and society, so that others shut up and don’t voice dissenting views. We are seeing monuments destroyed in Taliban-fashion because they represent an uncomfortable history, movies and TV shows cancelled, and individuals disappeared from employment due to even the slightest deviation from the prevailing political culture.
This is not going to end well unless people of good conscience, who support black lives but not the Black Lives Movement as it was founded and currently operates, to speak up and refuse to cower in fear.
The law school Dean, in response to media inquiries and emails, has released a statement that takes a shot at my posts but promises no discipline:
…. In light of this deep and rich tradition of walking the walk of racial justice, in no uncertain terms, recent blog posts of Professor William Jacobson, casting broad and categorical aspersions on the goals of those protesting for justice for Black Americans, do not reflect the values of Cornell Law School as I have articulated them. I found his recent posts to be both offensive and poorly reasoned…. But to take disciplinary action against him for the views he has expressed would fatally pit our values against one another in ways that would corrode our ability to operate as an academic institution.”
Of course, I did not criticize “those protesting for justice for Black Americans,” I criticized the Black Lives Matters Movement and the rioting and looting and cultural purge. But that’s how it goes. (added) And of course, you don’t see these sort of statements issued for far-left professors. We have one (who I happen to like) who was with Occupy Wall Street and is an advisor to AOC on the Green New Deal, but the school never publicly criticizes his “reasoning” — it’s a one way street and it’s just as much a part of the cancel culture as firing someone.
[Featured Image: Me standing at Cornell ‘Take a Knee’ protest 2017]