American University law faculty members disgrace themselves

Recently, a student at American University Washington College of Law put a note on the door of a law professor stating “All Lives Matter.” This expression of what ought to be truism caused the AU law faculty to freak out.

Nearly sixty faculty members and staff signed a letter calling this an “incidence of intolerance.” A sounder position would hold that objecting to the statement “All Lives Matter” as a response to the statement “Black Lives Matter” smacks of intolerance because it places one racial group on a higher level than others.

The letter claims that “in context, the message appears intended by the messenger to be an attempt to silence and intimidate an opposing viewpoint, not an effort to communicate a different perspective” But how does saying “all lives matter” constitute an attempt to silence and intimidate people with an opposing viewpoint? The only rational sense in which the statement could be construed that way lies in the fact that it’s untenable to argue that all lives don’t matter. The note “intimidates” only because its logic is unassailable.

The letter suggest that because the sign was placed in the vicinity of “a flyer for a training program on police violence” and “near flyers for other social justice and racial equality events,” it should be viewed as intimidating. But the professors make no attempt to defend this non sequitur. If students are encouraged not to make certain political statements near flyers about “social justice,” then it is the flyers, not the statements (which may or may not be a response) that are tending to silence and intimidate expression.

The letter goes on to tell students how they should go about “hav[ing] a conversation about controversial issues.” “There is value,” they instruct, “in simply asking someone, ‘If you feel comfortable, I would like to talk to you sometime about X. I have been reading a lot about the topic, and I am interested in hearing your perspective,’”

Left unclear is whether students should go down on their knees when using this script.

It is scandalous that law professors would attempt to dictate how political discourse takes place. There is also an obvious double standard here. Apparently, adherents to the Black Lives Matter movement need not check the comfort level of students and/or request to have a conversation before expressing their views on this set of issues.

Our friends Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow of the Civil Right Commission have sent a letter to the dean of AU law school about this matter. They state:

We write as two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and not on behalf of the Commission as a whole. And while we are required to begin our letters with the preceding sentence under the Commission’s rules, we would have preferred to open with: What is wrong with your faculty and staff members?

We understand that a student put a note on a faculty member’s door that said, “All lives matter.” As law professors ourselves, we know that it is common for students to place cartoons, news clippings and other notes on faculty member’s doors. While this student did so anonymously, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about that.

The response of American University faculty and staff was nothing short of Orwellian. Nearly sixty members of the law faculty and staff signed a letter calling this an “act of intolerance,” because it refers to “all lives” rather than only “black lives.” This makes American University look foolish. Even sillier, the letter calls this obviously true statement—that the lives of all members of the human species are valuable—“a rallying cry for many who espouse ideas of white supremacy.”

While we know that President Obama has stated that “all lives matter,” we are not personally aware of any cases in which white supremacists (a rare species these days) have made that statement. But if some have, we note that they have likely also uttered such unobjectionable sentiments such as “Good morning” and “The sky is blue.” Equating a student making a legitimate and utterly unobjectionable point with a white supremacist is nonsensical.

The letter further states that it is unacceptable for a student to make such a statement anonymously. But what do you expect in an environment in which faculty members will accuse a student of uttering “a rallying cry for many who espouse ideas of white supremacy”?

We are embarrassed for your law school, especially because it is a law school. We hope that you share our sentiments.

(Emphasis in original; footnote omitted)

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