Send A Letter: American Bar Assoc. Proposed Mandated Law School Race Curriculum Will Restrict Academic Freedom and Debate
Imposing these changes would violate professors’ rights to academic freedom and stifle classroom debate.
On May 25, 2021, the American Bar Association published for comment proposed revisions to Standards 205, 206, 303, 507 and 508 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.
To review the proposals, please click here. Comments are due by June 28, 2021—a very short comment period under the circumstances.
The proposed changes range from minor to significant—but they all require law schools to adopt specific viewpoints concerning “diversity, equity and inclusion” training, and would make these undefined goals part of core curricula and part of law school accreditation. Whether the proposed changes are good or bad is beside the point (and I express no judgment here); they merit individualized handling by law schools who are in the best position to decide what to do and how much. Imposing these changes would violate professors’ rights to academic freedom and stifle classroom debate.
I have prepared the below comment letter. If you agree, I respectfully ask that you send your own comments to the ABA (c/o [email protected]) or email me at [email protected] to have your name added to my letter. (I only ask that you be an admitted lawyer.) I know that many of our law school deans are working hard to address the issues identified in the proposed revisions and that they, along with their faculty and staff, are in the best position to address them. The ABA should stay its hand.
June 28, 2021
The American Bar Association
Scott Bales, Esq.
William Adams, Esq.
Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education
c/o Fernando Mariduena ([email protected])
Dear Sirs and Council Members:
The undersigned are practicing attorneys and alumni from accredited law schools across the United States. We cover the entire political spectrum, and we unanimously express our deep concerns in requesting that the American Bar Association not adopt proposed revisions to Standards 205, 206, 303, 507 and 508 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.
Many of the proposals are significant changes that, if adopted, will invade the provenance of law schools, their deans and faculties to set their own policies and curricula. One doesn’t have to disagree—and to the contrary, one may well agree—with the proposed changes to know they will encroach on academic freedom.
Law schools are trying to find their way through these difficult issues, each of them in their own way. We do not understand why the ABA is taking it upon itself to direct all law schools at once on what to do and how much. The ABA recommends “diversity, equity, and inclusion training” and proposes to make “diversity, equity and inclusion” a “core” standard for accreditation. These terms are not well-defined. Whatever the intent behind them, they appear to us to require or at least further the display of particular political values.
If a professor or student believes, for example, that admissions should be more color-blind even if that produces a less racially diverse class, is that view consistent with good “training” on diversity issues? Those who have signed this letter have a range of views on admissions policies ourselves, but we all believe that it should be possible to debate both sides of the issue openly and in good faith. The current climate of debate on such topics on the academy, however, is inhibited and restricted. The ABA’s proposals seem to us likely to make that climate more restricted still. Whether these proposed changes are good or bad is beside the point (and this letter makes no judgment); imposing them would violate professors’ rights to academic freedom and stifle classroom debate. (The proposed changes would also place additional financial hardships on law schools—likely requiring costly data collection and new administrative staff—and any increased costs will most certainly be passed along to students.)
If law schools want to enact programs of the kind in the proposal, that is their business. But the ABA purports to speak for the whole legal profession. We do not believe it should be the ABA’s role to provide direction to law schools on matters this sensitive and divisive. We are not aware that the ABA Council has better knowledge of the situation in law schools than the schools do themselves, and we do not believe that law schools are suffering from a shortage of pressure to engage in diversity-based initiatives and activities. (Surely the ABA could not believe that.) We therefore do not see the value added by these proposals, and see considerable risk in them. We would be grateful to the ABA for showing more restraint.
Gerald E. Hawxhurst
Jerry Hawxhurst is a commercial trial lawyer specializing in complex cases, class actions and antitrust. He received his JD with honors from The University of Texas School of Law. The opinions in this article and his comments to the ABA are his own, and are not necessarily the opinions of members of his firm or clients.DONATE
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