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June 09, 2023 From the Chair

Disrupting Speeches at Law Schools—How Did We Get Here? Plus, Odds and Ends for the Common Good

By Robb S. Harvey

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of “how did we get here?” While I cannot do justice to that enormous topic here, I wanted to share a few thoughts for your consideration. Since this column is written weeks before its publication, no doubt more, and perhaps better, examples will take place in the coming weeks.

Recent news reports provide accounts of Yale, Stanford, and UC-Hastings law students loudly and aggressively disrupting speeches by those with whom they disagree. The organizers of the speech at Stanford saw their faces/names plastered around campus in an apparent effort to “dox” them. The dean of Stanford Law issued an eloquent apology to the federal judge whose speech was shut down and has required Stanford Law students to attend a half-day session on the topic of “freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession.” Do we expect better of students at top law schools? Indeed, all law schools? Of course we do. Does a half-day workshop solve this problem? It seems unlikely. How did we get here?

Every person reading this column brings a personal perspective to how we “got here.” Each of us believes we have a unique set of opinions that are worthy of consideration. One of the questions we need to be asking is, where do we “go” from here? How does our Republic heal itself?

My own view is probably Pollyanna-ish. I’d like to share here a short statement from our friend, Michigan Law professor and Forum leader Len Niehoff, who assures me that things are not as dire in American law schools as they might appear from news reports. Here’s an excerpt from Len’s forthcoming article, which provided me with some measure of solace:

In his book The Tolerant Society, Lee Bollinger follows a different line of argument. In essence, he assumes that some speech exists that makes no meaningful contribution to finding the truth, to conveying the information we need to be good citizens, or otherwise and that we can figure out which speech this is. In addition, the speech is hurtful to individuals and corrosive to our communities. The example that Bollinger considers at length in his book is that of neo-Nazis marching in a residential neighborhood of Holocaust survivors.

Bollinger asks whether such speech has value, even though it adds nothing to the marketplace of ideas or to informed self-governance and comes at a significant social cost. He argues that it does. He contends that such extreme speech compels us to learn how to manage our reactions to it, cultivating the virtue of tolerance.

I think we can make a similar argument with respect to the virtue of courage. Freedom of speech does not just force us to confront “facts” we know to be false, “ideas” we believe to be intellectually bankrupt, and “principles” we view as morally obnoxious. It also brings into our orbit speech that we find threatening and frightening, and rationally so. Again, we must learn how to manage these reactions, and a fresh and more robust courage ensues.

L. Niehoff, [Draft] “Terrible Freedom, Ambiguous Authenticity, and the Pragmatism of the Endangered: Why Free Speech in Law School Gets Complicated,” presented at Hofstra Law Review Symposium Freedom of Expression at American Law Schools (Feb. 10, 2023), soon to be published in the Hofstra Law Review [footnotes omitted] [quoted with Len’s blessing].

To follow Len’s example although not as eloquently: Where do we go, and what traits do we try to instill in future lawyers? I choose to attempt to model courageousness. I choose to lead from the front. I choose to attempt to be kind to and patient with others. I choose to attempt to listen, hopefully with empathy/understanding, and to learn. And last, I choose to read William J. Bennett’s The Book of Virtues and President John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage (which includes a chapter about Tennessean Thomas Hart Benton (the senator, not the artist), after whom my son is named) to my grandchild frequently. Hopefully, we can bequeath to her a world that is “better” than the one we inherited.

I hope you will come up with your own set of choices. In keeping with my first two columns, $5 to the first three unique persons who email Len Niehoff and me that they read this column.

Odds and Ends

Some general notes for the Good of the Order:

  • Our Annual Conference held in New Orleans in early February had the second highest registration of all time (after Austin) and has garnered a lot of positive comments. People seemed to enjoy the content, venues, and vibe. Your Planning Committee is working on the next Annual Conference, scheduled for February 1–3, 2024, in Santa Barbara, California. Save the date and make plans to attend.
  • During our Annual Business Meeting held during the Conference, we elected three persons to fill At-Large Governing Committee positions with a term of three years. Those elected are: Claire Ferguson, Gray Television; Heather Goldman, Yahoo; and Bernard Gugar, Fox News.
  • At our New Orleans conference, Verite publisher Terry Baquet asked us to sign up for the email newsletter of The Weekly Download. You may do so here: The website also seeks donations. I have done so and encourage you to do so.
  • By the time this column is published, the Forum’s Representing Your Local Broadcaster conference, organized by co-chairs Josh Pila and Kathy Kirby, will be in the rearview mirror. They pulled off an outstanding substantive conference, with nearly 100 attendees—and have agreed to co-chair next year.
  • Some new announcements, and additions to the Governing Committee: (a) We are tapping Derek Bauer to serve as the first liaison to the ABA Litigation Section and TIPS. Lit/TIPS have enthusiastically accepted. The goal is to create content that will be useful to all three entities. (b) We have formed a new committee, focusing on small firms/solo practitioners in our FA/media/content space, to be co-chaired by Steve Zansberg and Joshua Koltun. That committee recently was announced via social media. If interested, please contact Steve and/or Joshua.
  • Planning for Santa Barbara is under way. We’ve appointed an ad hoc group to come up with some ideas for consideration for plenary and lunch sessions. We have a few ideas floated so far. If you have an idea, please let me know. You might get tapped to be the moderator.
  • Our Entertainment Committee in New Orleans did such a great job, we’ve already formed an Entertainment Committee for Santa Barbara. So far, Sarah Cronin, Lincoln Bandlow, and Jim Hemphill have agreed to serve. They have been kicking around some amazing ideas.
  • If you are interested in organizing a golf outing in Santa Barbara, please let me know. Seems like a shame to go to a fancy resort and not encourage the Hackers to play. Tennis (and maybe Pickleball) are covered.
  • Lincoln Bandlow has agreed to chair the ’23–’24 Sponsorship committee. We’ll be recruiting folks to help out, especially in-house lawyers. I am pleased to announce our first two committed sponsors for ’23–’24, Scripps and QBE. Thank you to Scripps and QBE for getting the ball rolling!
  • Our Webinar committee has gone from 0 to 2 sessions over the last few years to responding to the Strategic Planning Committee’s goal of having something every month (excluding conference months). Leslie Pedernales is chair, with backup from Erin Malone. On the agenda, some of which will have taken place by the date of publication: Diversity and Inclusion (May 16); Advertising in June; Insurance (Aug. 10), and NYT v. Sullivan (September).
  • Please send email addresses of in-house lawyers to Adrianna Rodriguez and David Seiden ([email protected]; [email protected]).
  • If your firm or company has not been a sponsor in recent years, please try to get us in your firm’s or company’s budget for ’23–’24. Or exceed what you did in ’23!
  • ABA has kicked off a 2023 SOC Diversity Scholarship Contest to support a scholarship fund. I have made a contribution—please investigate this opportunity and do so.
  • If you would like to volunteer for a committee, please see our website and contact the committee chair(s). “Many hands make light work.”

Thank you!

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By Robb S. Harvey

Robb has practiced in Tennessee since 1986, following a clerkship with the Hon. Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr., Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. His email address is [email protected].