Thursday, April 4

Divers Thoughts

While I am still new to this medium and experimenting with presentation and other formal, rather than substantive, issues, I will, from time to time, post material that I have written previously. The following is one of my column's from my law school newspaper. The column is entitled "Contrary to Popular Belief" and this particular one was called "Divers Thoughts."

"Great research universities are committed to the principle that dialogue and rigorous examination of ideas produces better ideas." NYU Law School Dean, John Sexton, remarks before the first panel of the recent "Islam and America in a Global World" event, sponsored by the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation.

Of all words, "diversity" would appear to be an unlikely candidate for ideological hijacking. How could a word, the very meaning of which connotes multiplicity, be twisted into representing a single, narrow idea? And yet, in the space of less than a decade, the word has come to signify, to the almost complete exclusion other meanings, racial and ethnic diversity. Occasionally, sex and sexual orientation are invited to join the diversity club, but the door is quickly closed behind them.

The under-representation of, among others, women, Asians and blacks among the full-time faculty at NYU Law School has received widespread publicity in the form of posters, regular public demonstrations, and even the founding of a student group committed to remedying these statistical anomalies. Less well publicized is the absence of political or legal conservatives (and yes, there are important differences) among our faculty. This is not a phenomenon unique to NYU, of course; a study (scroll down) conducted by Northwestern University's James Lindgren found that Democrats outnumber Republicans at the top 100 American law schools 80.4 percent to 13.2 percent. NYU, however, fails to meet even this ignominious standard. According my extremely unscientific estimation, not more than three or four of the full-time faculty would identify themselves as Republicans (I would be pleased to be proved wrong by anyone who can identify more). In fact, while I am engaging in rampant speculation, I would submit that it is safe to assume that more of our faculty supported the candidacy of Ralph Nader than that of the President! How much more unrepresentative can you get?

Unlike the case of ethnic and racial diversity, the situation among members of the non-Vanderbilt teaching staff is probably even more unbalanced. NYU prides itself on being "a private university in the public service," but its peculiar brand of eleemosynary zeal reflects the lack of prominent conservative or libertarian voices on the faculty. You can scan the website's list of "Institutes & Centers" until your eyes bleed and you will not find a "Center for the Defense of Property Rights" and do not even bother trying to find any pretence of political neutrality in the Public Interest Forum’s series of Monday Night Speakers. In the case of the latter, such a brazenly partisan approach to public interest law is not only utterly irresponsible, it is puzzling. Are the convictions of NYU’s soi-disent public interest crowed so fragile that it fears exposure to even a single speaker from the Institute for Justice or the Heritage Foundation?

But I do not wish to overstate my complaint. NYU Law School is hardly in danger of coming to resemble one of those cultural studies departments in which the faculty’s political convictions run the gamut from Marx to Engels. With one glaring exception, my professors have been models of academic responsibility, receptive to dissent and balanced in their presentation of most issues. Nevertheless, the conservative silence is beginning to deafen. While the merits of other forms of diversity within an educational institution are open to debate (one sometimes wonders how Athenian students in the original grove of Academe managed to learn anything at all from such an ethnically homogenous faculty), the lack of viewpoint diversity discourages the rigorous examination of ideas without which academic discourse degenerates into self-congratulatory solipsism.