There is a growing concern over the intolerance shown conservative students and groups on our campuses. The latest such incident occurred at Seattle University School of Law where a debate was planned on immigration with both liberal and conservative views represented. That would seem precisely the type of exchange that law schools relish. However, students protested that one of the sponsors was the conservative Federalist Society. Over a couple hundred people signed a Change.org petition asking the school to cancel the Oct. 16th debate. The debate was scheduled to be part of the school’s “Social Justice Monday” series and was co-hosted by the school’s Access to Justice Institute. The law school eventually withdrew as a sponsor due to the protests from students.
Destinee Evers, a second-year law student, objected that “Our school does a lot of work in its recruitment and its programming trying to support students in marginalized communities . . . [and] we would be potentially supporting an event that would create dialogue that might make some of those students unsafe or unwelcome.”
Of course, dialogue is usually a positive thing. Indeed, it is what higher education seeks to foster, particularly between diametrically opposed views or values. Some of us still believe that students should consider opposing views even when those views many cause them discomfort or displeasure. Such exposure deepens one’s understanding of contemporary controversies and, yes, people of different backgrounds and values. This is why the University of Chicago has correctly informed its incoming students that they will not be protected from unpleasant or unwelcomed views. Indeed, the university promised to foster such debates.
Federalist Society chapter president Thomas Reinhard has said that, after the petition, the law school’s ATJI withdrew as a sponsor for the debate. The law school has drawn the distinction that it never withdrew support for the debate since it is still allowed at the school as sponsored by an organization but ATJI has formally withdrawn as a sponsor.
Dean Annette Clark sent an email to students that said the school “miscalculated and erred” in its co-sponsorship. He noted that the event will still be held but with only the Federalist Society as the sole sponsor. Clark then took the Trump Administration to task for seeking to rescind DAVA and said that the Administration had
“generated great fear within vulnerable immigrant communities and has caused real harm, making discussions of immigration policy that include a conservative viewpoint even more painful and anxiety- and anger-producing for those individuals and families who are at risk (and for their allies). In other words, we should have taken into account the historical moment in which this program was going to be presented as a Social Justice Monday and what that would mean to marginalized individuals in our community.”
Clark added that “because Social Justice Mondays have traditionally been led by the voices of marginalized students, we should have included them in discussions about why we felt this program was appropriate to be under the auspices of a Social Justice Monday, and we should have reached a decision about its appropriateness together.”
The debate was supposed to include Tahmina Watson of Watson Immigration Law, Seattle, who later also withdrew from participation. Nevertheless, the panel will now include Stuart Verdery of the Monument Policy Group and former counsel to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He will be joined by Matt Adams, Legal Director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which provides legal services and advocacy on behalf of immigrants. Notably, both Verdery and Adams support eventual citizenship for DACA recipients.
I fail to see the basis for the withdrawal of the sponsorship as well as the apology by Clark for the holding of a balanced debate on an issue for great national importance. The debate reflects precisely the mission of higher education to encourage debates on issues that divide our country. It is therefore troubling to read a dean apologizing for sponsoring an exchange of ideas and agreeing that the decision to “include a conservative viewpoint” causes “even more painful and anxiety- and anger-producing ” feelings among some students and families.” Immigration is an area that is highly personal and at times painful for some. We have a duty to approach the subject with respect and consideration for other members of our community. However, that does not mean silencing voices that some deem “anxiety- and anger-producing.”
What do you think?