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Was it Yale Law, or Have Times Changed?:

I attended Yale Law School from 1988-1991, and the atmosphere of political correctness, enforced via social sanction (e.g., one could get socially ostracized by a significant segment of your classmates for a host of pecadillos, such as referring to a very young woman as a "girl," or, worse yet, arguing in Contracts class that Williams v. Walker Thomas Furniture was wrong*), was almost unbelievable.

So here I am visiting at another elite Law School, the University of Michigan, fourteen years later. A student walks into my class proudly wearing a JAG t-shirt, which would have gotten him virtually tarred and feathered at Yale (because of the military's anti-gay policies); the student newsletter has a photo spread of the Law School Senate's Halloween party featuring, among other things that I'm sure I never would have seen at Yale Law, five women dressed up as "St. Pauli's girls", and one woman dressed as a Playboy bunny; several men dressed as women; and two students dressed as Michael Jackson and Prince, respectively. Meanwhile, to top it off, the executive editor asks elsewhere in the issue, "Why don't undergrad girls wear clothes anymore?.... Do these girls own pants that fit?"

So, I'm wondering: has political correctness at elite law schools declined across the board, or is [was?] Yale just a "special place?"

*[Update: This is a slight exaggeration, but a classmate of mine told me [only recently] that a significant number of my Yale classmates shunned me [first semester] because of "what you said in [first semester] Contracts class." I responded that I don't remember saying anything all that controversial--after all, we didn't discuss abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, or any other especially hot button issues in Contracts class, and my views on such issues were not especially out of the mainstream at Yale, anyway. My classmate responded, and I swear he seemed at least 80% serious, "yes, but you kept saying that contracts should be enforced." By contrast, a friend of mine who attended University of Chicago at the same time told me that his classmates gave a student a bit of a hard time for arguing that Walker was correctly decided, which suggests individual school differed greatly then, and perhaps I shouldn't generalize from my Yale experience.]

FURTHER UPDATE: I'm glad to see from some of the commenters that the atmosphere at YLS has apparently changed for the better, though I'm not sure why they seem to believe that this means that my account of the atmosphere a decade earlier is false. Also, I'm only referring to the student atmosphere; the faculty, led especially the dean, Guido Calabresi, were scrupulously fair and open to students of all political persuasions, in my experience; they, and good friends, made my time there very happy.

Justin (mail):
Your preconceptions of Yale Law School in the past are most likely incorrect.

I'm not sure the place you describe as Yale exists or existed anywhere, at least amongst the vast majority of any student body with any importance whatsoever.
11.1.2005 2:25pm
A Blogger:
Justin,

Would you care to explain why you think that? Or is the fact that an anonymous commenter "says so" supposed to be enough?
11.1.2005 2:28pm
Steve:
I attended Michigan in the early 90's, and while it was a liberal environment, in no way did it resemble the caricature you describe Yale as.
11.1.2005 2:28pm
Boaltie:
political correctness at boalt is definitely less than i expected... while there are still very leftist people for the most part people are pretty toned down.

for example, the other day a bunch of protesters stormed into my conlaw class taught by john yoo dressed in guantanamo bay prison guard costumes and hoods and started screaming at prof. yoo, calling him a torturer and a nazi etc. etc. most of the class was quite disturbed by the whole ordeal (many likely because they stormed into our class, rather than they disagreed) but people were defending his right to teach here.

im not sure i've seen JAG people or anything, but the political correctness isn't overwhelming. (tho there are still plenty of posters for programs on justice in palestine and the like).
11.1.2005 2:29pm
Dillon Kuehn (mail):
Perhaps, Michigan is the "special place." In either case, we're glad to have you here.
11.1.2005 2:35pm
DNL (mail):
As someone who worked in the speech codes industry as recently as four years ago, I can say with confidence that what you remember has stemmed a lot everywhere in academia, not just the elite law schools.
11.1.2005 2:37pm
frankcross (mail):
Yale is indeed a special place, beyond the rainbow.

But times have changed. I'd recommend Maureen Dowd's piece in the NYT Mag on Sunday. I find it pretty well reflects changing mores.
11.1.2005 2:38pm
Law Student Kate (mail):
It depends what type of political correctness you're talking about. Anything that might even remotely be construed as insenstive to racial minorities or the GLBT community is still an absolute taboo.

On the other hand, in the past decade or so, "sex-positive" feminism won out over the "victim feminism" that was more popular in the 80s and early 90s. Women now feel free to flaunt themselves as sex objects a la Maxim magazine, and men feel free to view them the same way. This isn't limited to university campuses; see the new book "Female Chauvinist Pigs".

I find your description of early-90s Yale law intriguing if true...it would be sad if the most prestigious law school in the country was in fact so closed off to free inquiry.
11.1.2005 2:39pm
Cornellian (mail):
It's all pretty laid back at Cornell. The left leaning National Lawyers Guild holds its events, the Federalist Society holds its events, and no one seems particularly keen on preventing anyone else from doing their own thing. Many (probably the majority) of the profs have a pretty liberal outlook, but I haven't met any (well maybe one) who's interested in stifling or shouting down opposing viewpoints. A huge number of students turned up for a session with the Dean on Cornell's position on the Solomon amendment litigation, but no one's wandering the halls with placards shouting "hey hey ho ho fill-in-the blank has go to go."
11.1.2005 2:40pm
DNL (mail):
Oh, and I got some backlash for taking issue with Walker as well.
11.1.2005 2:42pm
Abdul:
Don't you realize that Playboy and St. Pauli girl costumes are empowering women? You nazi.

Actually, I think a lot of the gender-oriented political correctness died down with a raft of feminists claiming skimpy dressing is empowering, or expressing womyn's claims to ownershipping their story, or whatever.

Also, homosexual rights groups' big agenda now is same sex marriage, and they seemed to have backed up off of military discrimination. Kind of a lose-lose situation because if they win on marriage or the army, it's going to lead to more homosexuals fighting.
11.1.2005 2:43pm
TRG:
I think the difference is that Michigan rules.

You may have gotten a different impression, however, had you visited while the Grutter case was still pending. I remember a few members of the administration extolling the importance of having/presenting a "unified" view of the issue.
11.1.2005 2:44pm
HC (mail):
Kate nailed it on your first example.

Otherwise, things at HLS aren't quite so bad as you describe, but there are still protests when JAG comes around, and still a clear orthodoxy which does lead to shunning by a 'significant set'. There are other sets, thankfully, if smaller ones.

Justin - what? Preconceptions of Yale Law School in the past? Having attended it, he's surely entitled to form direct perceptions. Is this satire?
11.1.2005 2:45pm
tdsj:
i was at YLS '00-'02. it was still a predominantly lefty place, but didn't resemble the PC charicature you describe.

see, e.g., any class taught by Bob Ellickson.
11.1.2005 2:46pm
Anon7:
I've been at 5 college campuses from 1989 to the present, first as a student, then a professor.

The whole PC thing was largely manufactured. Talking heads like Rush Limbaugh would take one ridiculous example from a single school (and probably the only example the entire year at that school) and claim all colleges were like that every day.

It existed more in the minds of the punditry than in reality.
11.1.2005 2:47pm
AK (mail):
Don't read too much into female law students dressing up in provocative costumes for a Halloween party. Feminists are split on whether stripping, posing for Playboy, etc., is degrading or empowering (or whatever). You probably just found some women who believe that expressions of women's sexuality somehow promotes the cause of feminism.

In fact, back in the mid-90s a Yale Law student (Jesselyn Radack, neé Brown) POSED FOR PLAYBOY and discussed that she was taking Feminist Legal Theory. I kid you not. I have the two issues she appeared in. Smokin'!
11.1.2005 2:50pm
Attila (Pillage Idiot) (mail) (www):
In fact, back in the mid-90s a Yale Law student (Jesselyn Radack, neé Brown) POSED FOR PLAYBOY and discussed that she was taking Feminist Legal Theory. I kid you not. I have the two issues she appeared in. Smokin'!

I thought you read Playboy for the articles.
11.1.2005 2:59pm
Justin (mail):
If a guy who appeared like a drunk walked up and told me he saw an alien in Wyoming, I also would not believe he was correct. I would believe that he BELIEVES he was correct, but I would not believe that this actually happened.

Likewise, and with less derision, I believe that the fact that Prof. Bernstein was in the minority position at Yale Law School and was highly politically active in an antagonistic way may have colored his recollection of his own past. I still find it, however, highly unlikley that in 1989-1991, that his perception is correct, and that Yale Law School as defined as the 180 or so people in each year who applied to, was accepted, and matriculated into the law school, was somehow so massively different than:

1 - Intelligent people as a whole in 1989-1991

or

2 - Yale Law Students (many of who I know) today.

That Prof. Bernstein's historical recollection is hopelessly biased seems to be the best explanation of:

could get socially ostracized by a significant segment of your classmates for a host of pecadillos, such as referring to a very young woman as a "girl," or, worse yet, arguing in Contracts class that Walker v. Williams Thomas Furniture was wrong

unless by "socially ostracized" Professor Bernstein means one (or more) people will passionately vocalize an objection (which I take it to be possible at Michigan, today).

I mean, does ANYONE here seem it plausible that if they refer to the senior undergrad at the party as a "chick" (much less a "girl"), they would be OSTRACIZED on that ground from ANY collection of 20-25 year olds in America, unless one went out of the way to socialize with radical feminists?
11.1.2005 3:08pm
GMUSL 2L (mail):
Justin, when I was visiting Wesleyan during high school, I was exposed by my very generous hosts to a variety of intoxicating beverages.

One of the girls disappeared for a while, and not being entirely sober, I asked where "that chick" went, since I forgot her name.

Then we had about 3 minutes of very awkward silence before one of the the other guys piped up, "you called her a CHICK?". Things got very chilly very quickly.

This was 1997, btw.
11.1.2005 3:14pm
William Baude (mail) (www):
Without meaning to take a stance on the debate raging in comments, I do wish to point out to Justin that the social norms among "senior undergrad(s)" at any university in the country are very different than the social norms among 1, 2, and 3 Ls at Yale Law School
11.1.2005 3:18pm
tdsj:
A slightly more detailed answer about my more-recent YLS experience:

1. I vaguely remember discussing Walker-Thomas in Jim Whitman's contract class. It was what you would expect -- should we have a (substantive) unconscionability doctrine at all, where do you draw the line, how do we protect (poor) people from rank unfairness, hard cases make bad law, etc. I think anyone was ostracized for disagreeing with it.

2. In Reva Siegel's con law class, I once offered a critique of New Deal economic legislation. Along libertarian lines. People disagreed, but I don't recall feeling ostracized.

3. If you would have done something like run around school saying how gay people are icky, you probably wouldn't have made any friends. And I wouldn't be surprised if some or many members of the Federalist Society felt they were ostracized from the mainstream law school community as a result of their beliefs.

(I would suggest that there were also some non-political reasons for those social splits. But that's another story.)

But note that these things cut multiple directions. There were two extremely radical leftists in our class who, among other things, were outspoken critics of Israel's policy with respect to Palestine. Their views were also punished via social sanctions, and they were constantly accused of being anti-semetic.

I don't have much of an opinion about whether those accusations were accurate. But I do imagine that they, like you, sincerely believed that their views were routinely silenced by the dominant YLS culture. Just from a different direction.
11.1.2005 3:20pm
KF:
Oh, like many law students, just maybe you exaggerated the significance of your comments in class, and the effect they had on other people. I'll bet nobody else from that class has the slightest recollection of your impact.
11.1.2005 3:21pm
Freezer Burn:
Justin -- is this supposed to be satire? If it is, it's not very good. If not, you're not making much sense.
11.1.2005 3:21pm
tdsj:
Edit -- in point 1. above, I meant to say "I don't think anyone was ostracized for disagreeing with it."

fairly important omission -- apologies.
11.1.2005 3:21pm
Illinois Law student:
Like the cassette tape and 99 cents a gallon for gas, the whole humorlessness about gender and PC speech is a thing of the past. We play with gender stereotypes now, and explore the medium not through restriction but humor and ironic juxtapositioning.
11.1.2005 3:23pm
dbernstein (mail):
Justin, I would have loved to seen you go through Yale Law School circa 1990 consistently referring to 22 year old women as "chicks." I can't imagine even the least feminist-sensitive, most fratboyesque member of my class doing so.

And as for my historical recollection, perhaps because of a lack of social radar, or more likely because I spent most weekends first semester of law school visiting my mom in the hospital (she's fine now, thanks), I was blissfully unaware of the Contracts class example until my classmate told me about five years ago.
11.1.2005 3:25pm
michigander:
Michigan students did protest JAG recruitment, by handing out information on the Solomon Amendment and giving out cookies with "Do Ask" and "Do Tell" on them. Rather than filling up the signup sheet with unhireable students, they determined that having reasonable people who had heard their message taking jobs with JAG would actually help the matter by creating a more tolerant military in general. Hence, no one is going to be harassed for wearing a JAG t-shirt; a homophobic one, however, is another story.
Also, when the business law association had a club fair booth adorned with scantily clad women, many groups sent them a formal complaint asking them to be more respectful, etc.
I guess the point is, play nice. Do what you want with yourself (work for JAG, dress as a playboy bunny), but don't step over the line into racism or homophobia. I think it's a pretty reasonable line to draw...
11.1.2005 3:27pm
SP (www):
I definitely recall getting a bit of a PCish hiss for questioning the blatant paternalism of the Walker-Thomas decision. And this was 4 years ago. At Minnesota. I wasn't directly ostracized, but several people resigned from my study group because they thought I was 'mean'...
11.1.2005 3:45pm
BW:
I was at YLS from 1998-01. My experience was far more in line with tdsj's than with Bernstein's rather hysterical sketch. In fact, my Contracts professor (Alan Schwartz) spent an entire class assailing and systematically picking apart Skelly Wright's opinion in Williams. Though many in the class disagreed, neither Schwartz nor those who took his side were ostracized, denounced, or otherwise harassed. (B/t/w: Perhaps Professor Bernstein was too distracted by his own social ostracism to actually get the name of the case right; it's Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co.)
11.1.2005 3:50pm
Yale Grad (mail):
I also had Schwartz for Contracts, and but whenever he said anything that he knew the class would find abhorrent, he always prefaced with a self-deprecating line like "of course, I'm an evil, rapacious capitalist, but..." Why'd he have to do that if the students were so open-minded?
11.1.2005 4:07pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"does ANYONE here seem it plausible that if they refer to the senior undergrad at the party as a "chick" (much less a "girl"), they would be OSTRACIZED on that ground from ANY collection of 20-25 year olds in America,"

Yep. I know these people, in fact. They're decent people, fun to be with, friends of mine, but if I started talking about chicks, phhtt! So I don't.

Not that I would anyway.
11.1.2005 4:21pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I don't know how it is at those so-called elite law schools since I go to a second tier school that most of the liberal elties think nothing of. Here, however, there is no intellectual diversity amongst the students or Professors. Put it this way: My running joke here is that "as a white, Christian, heterosexual Conservative male," I am the only unprotected minority at the law school.

Here, you are sexist if you think that Mommy should actually stay home for a few years when the baby comes, a racist if you think that affirmative action is unneccessary yet also a racist if you think that any minority in the law school did not get in on merit. (I always love that pretzel-twisting amongst liberals: If we didn;t have AA, all law schools would be white; but no one here is an affirmative action admit), and a homophobe if you do anything less that fawn over the gay lifestyle.

Here's my favorite example: There was a class discussion on why the government refuses to provide translators to be available 24/7 at hospitals, and how that is "national origin discrimination." I said, "how about we instead have English immersion programs so that newcomers can assimilate quicker and be independent?" You'd have thought I used ever racial slur imaginable by the response. Of course, I was immediately branded a racist. I asked them to name me one law student, one Professor who could be a law student or Professor here without speaking English. Of course they couldn't. I just love how they have no trouble identifying an issue rooted in "racism," but will not actually address it when it does not confirm that it is an issue rooted in racism.

Thank God for Liberals. (Sorry if I offended any ACLU members.) Without them, I'd have nothing to laugh at here.
11.1.2005 4:39pm
Bruce:
It's true that some conservative students have felt frustrated at YLS, specifically over what they perceived as a somewhat stifling atmosphere for their opinions, but without minimizing that issue, David's comments strike me as vastly overblown. He states that the atmosphere was "unbelievable," but this is hard to evaluate without knowing what he finds "believable." The two specific examples he provides are not very helpful; the "very young woman" example is devoid of any context ("very young" means 20 or 5? 1 person took offense or 100? How was offense manifested?). His evidence for the Williams case is a joke someone made 5 years later. Neither seems particularly stifling. And the hypothetical examples that follow don't jibe with my own experience just a few years later.
11.1.2005 4:42pm
Julie Martin-Korb (mail):
Well do I remember the discussion of Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Co. in first-year contracts at CUA's law school in Washington, D.C. in 1990. It was a real eye-opener. I remember distinctly the students who argued that the plaintiff "should have hired a lawyer if she didn't understand what the contract meant." Not coincidentally, these were the students who had gone straight from undergraduate school (where they majored in such useful areas as "political 'science'" and English) through law school (completely paid for by their daddies and mommies) while having never done a day's work of manual labor, retail, or work for tips. Not surprisingly, these students admitted that they had never even read through probably the most important contracts they had signed up to that point in their sheltered lives: their apartment leases.

In short, the "elitist" viewpoint at my law school was conservative. In my opinion, this had nothing to do with "political correctness" (or counter-reaction thereto), but rather resulted from a pronounced lack of real-life experience.
11.1.2005 4:43pm
Bulldog:
I graduated from Yale Law School this spring. Professor Bernstein, I understand your criticism, but I think you have it slightly off. It's true that YLS is a lefty place, but it's a narrow band of establishmentarian leftism. The prevailing orthodoxy is liberal on abstract social issues, moderate-to-conservative on economic issues, and highly conservative on personal nonconformity of all stripes. (The faculty has lots of law-and-econ types, but not a single Marxist or critical race theorist.)

I had conservative friends at the law school who endured (mild) social sanction for expressing certain views in class. But I also knew of students who were penalized for leftist views -- particularly if that leftism seemed at all angry, emotional, or "personal." (Readings by Patricia Williams were highly unpopular in small group.) The same went for unusually naked gunnerism. Or for dressing in ways that others judged to be inappropriate. Or for pronounced idiosyncrasy or eccentricity. Etc. YLS was a social minefield, though a lovable one.

Finally, there appeared to be "right" and "wrong" ways to express politically fringe views, whether on the right or the left. The YLS culture, from the faculty on down, puts a premium on collegiality, even temperament, and blandness. I found that you could state pretty much any position in class provided you did so in the generally approved, genteel style. Conversely -- with due respect, and noting that I'm speculating here -- the negative reaction to your comments in Contracts may have been exacerbated by a perception of your personal style rather than your ideology.
11.1.2005 4:43pm
Bruce:
Brian G, I'm not sure you're advancing the case for why conservatives should be more popular.
11.1.2005 4:45pm
Justin (mail):
I should clarify (and I thought I noted) that I do not believe it to be unbelievable that one might result a negative attitude to doing the various things Bernstien mentioned. But one guy says that HIS FRIENDS would not enjoy the use of that word. By DEFINITION, that means (assuming he's talking from experience), that he was NOT ostracized for making such a faux pas.

And like all social constructs, of COURSE it depends on who you are referring to. Around my friend X, a black cuban male, there are different idiosynchracies that piss him off than my friend Y, a white athiest woman. Around my friend Z, a white (highly conservative) jewish male, I can say pretty much ANYTHING without upsetting him.

Yet this is neither here nor there, and if I ever cross one of their lines, I hardly feel like the result is ostracization from even THEIR OWN friendship, much less the friendship of others.

So yes, call a girl a chick to some woman you hardly know, you do risk some level of reproachment. Ostracization, though? And most of my friends, including my ex-girlfriend, would hardly have batted an eye (and my friends were the liberal portion of one of the more liberal elite law schools in the country).

Also, ostracization for expressing political or legal arguments, unless they themselves are obnoxious (one guy at my school was ostracized, but his arguments often asserted as undeniable fact that anyone in a teacher's union is only in that union to protect pediopheliacs, which might bother people whose parents or friends are in teachers unions.)
11.1.2005 4:51pm
DanielH (mail):
"Political correctness," much like the "greatest generation" and "supply-side Economics" is more myth than reality.
11.1.2005 5:13pm
Nik:
Brian G,

Wow, what a funny "running joke." You must keep everyone rolling in the aisles every time you tell it.
11.1.2005 5:28pm
tdsj:
"I'm not sure why they seem to believe that this means that my account of the atmosphere a decade earlier is false."

I don't know whether your account is false or not.

I believe that some folks end up lacking social standing at YLS and elsewhere for non-political reasons. Sometimes, as a defense mechanism, those people prefer to attribute their standing to politics. That way, they get to be a martyr.

Let me put it more pointedly: there were some great guys in the Federalist Society, and there were also some arrogant, self-important, dorky assholes. I would sometimes hear people in the latter group complain about how they were ostracized for their political beliefs, how their voices were silenced and marginalized.

My silent response would be: well, maybe if you weren't such a dick...

I don't at all think that Prof Bernstein fits in that category. It's just that I've just heard those sorts of complaints so many times that at some point, I kinda stop listening.
11.1.2005 5:56pm
law gal (mail):
I'm sorry David, but I think your remembrances of Yale are just a total crock. I was there at the same time as you (86-89) and there were plenty of conservative students -- the most memorable of which was a real, dues paying member of the "moral majority" with a Jerry Falwell mug on his mantel to prove it. The only reason that I even knew about the mug is that he would point it out to get conversations rolling. He had plenty of conservative company although, admittedly, I can't recall any other students who were actual Falwell acolytes. But none of the conservative students I knew were "ostracized." Indeed, as I recall the Federalist Society was pretty active even then. Certainly George Priest and Bob Ellickson count as conservative professors. And it strikes me that the conservative students from that era did pretty well in terms of clerkships (requiring prof. recommendations) and significant posts in the Bush administration so the experience didn't seem to hamper their success. As for the women, well, give me a break. No, most of us didn't dress up as St. Pauli's Girls on a regular basis. But I do remember plenty of us running around in miniskirts (and one future prof who ALWAYS wore tight sweaters and tight short skirts). Given that so large a portion of my class married eachother, my sense is that the guys were hardly walking around on eggshells. I also don't recall anyone, in the entire time I was at the school, suggesting that military service was anything other than honorable. The idea that someone wearing a JAG Corp t-shirt at Yale would have been accosted is ridiculous.
11.1.2005 6:12pm
Aaron:
Maybe this just goes to prove what generations of Harvardians have always known:

Yale sucks.

And you can quote me.
11.1.2005 6:44pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Lawgal:

(1) I never said anyone was completely ostracized. I said a certain segment of the class would shun them.

(2) I distinctly remember one of your classmates, in the dining hall, making a nasty joke about Scalia. One of my classmates objected. Your classmate angrily banged on the table and said, "what the hell is wrong with your class? you can't even make fun of Scalia without someone complaining?"

I have no complaints about the faculty at Yale, but I do think its amusing that you think that two professors out of sixty or seventy (actually, adding in Schwartz and Romano, maybe four) constitutes some sort of balance (and also that maybe six or so members of the Federalist Society in the class of '89, out of 180 students, constitutes "plenty".)

I agree with the posters who note that personal style makes a difference, but I think it was less a question of being nice or not nice, and more a question of did one know what words and phrases to avoid because they would set off certain students as "unpc", even if they were perfectly acceptable in the rest of society, and also one's willingness to be deferential to the fact that one's views were in the minority, and thus express one's views in a sufficiently meek way so as not to cause offense.

This is not unique to Yale Law. I think evolutionary theory explains why deference to group norms is expected (otherwise, in primitive times, the group dies), but one still hopes for more from a leading institution of higher learning. But really, my post wasn't a complaint about my time at Yale, but about my shock at how much norms seem to have changed.
11.1.2005 7:28pm
tdsj:
one last thought:

just as the Federalist Society at YLS is, for many students, a coping response to their alienation from Ivy League cosmopolitanism, the dominant banal liberalism at YLS is, for many students, a coping response to the guilt-ridden realization that they will spend most of their lives as big law firm drones.
11.1.2005 8:37pm
Law Student Kate (mail):
To those that don't believe that an oppressive PC culture exists on university campuses, perhaps you just don't realize how often students bite their tongues and keep silent because they know that certain opinions are unacceptable. I suppose that if you didn't having the same internal experience day in and day out, the whole PC-complaint might seem like a "myth".

Even my most liberal classmates will talk in private about all the things they can't or won't say in class because of the unspoken PC speech code.

And people are in fact ostracized for their politics. We have a new transfer student that no one even knows. He seems perfectly nice. However, he has a pro-Bush sticker on his laptop, and that alone is enough reason for most of my classmates to hate him and make fun of him behind his back. (Note: I don't go to Yale - I attend a non-elite institution in a very conservative state).
11.1.2005 8:50pm
ajf (mail) (www):
In fact, back in the mid-90s a Yale Law student (Jesselyn Radack, neé Brown) POSED FOR PLAYBOY and discussed that she was taking Feminist Legal Theory. I kid you not. I have the two issues she appeared in. Smokin'!

yeah, and look where she wound up. blacklisted in DC for cutting ethical corners and poor judgment. w00t.
11.1.2005 9:03pm
DanielH (mail):
If you lack the courage of your convictions, blaming a perceived PC-code seems a little lame.
11.1.2005 9:14pm
Law Student Kate (mail):
I don't think anyone is "blaming" university culture for anything - they're simply describing it.

And while it might be courageous to voice opinions that will make one disliked and unpopular in a professional community, it's also imprudent. Not many people are going to sacrifice relationships, references, and job prospects just for a political opinion.
11.1.2005 9:28pm
law gal (mail):
1. Sorry David, but the distinction between "ostracized" and "shunned" is pretty much lost on me.

2. Your Scalia anecdote strikes me as funny, not telling. I mean even liberals can have a sense of humor -- sure you didn't miss the joke?

3. I was just using two professors as an example -- there were certainly others. Michael Graetz was a Republican appointee after all. And I don't think anyone ever referred to Ralph Winter as a lefty. I'm sure if I could remember all the professors from the era I could come up with more. The point is that there was certainly not a monolithic culture; conservative professors were well-respected and had plenty of clout.

4. Sorry again, but there were A LOT more than 6 conservatives in my class. There are probably 6 classmates alone who have served in the Bush administration, but there were plenty of other conservative classmates who didn't go into government and/or politics. The truth is, I have no idea what the conservative/liberal ratio was because I didn't spend a whole lot of time pegging most people by their political beliefs. Like a lot of YLS students, I divided the student body into those who made asses of themselves in class and those who didn't and that didn't have anything to do with political orientation.
11.1.2005 9:54pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Bruce said

Brian G, I'm not sure you're advancing the case for why conservatives should be more popular.


Frankly, I am not out to advance why conservatives should be more popular. If I wanted to be popualr, I'd be a liberal. However, ironically, through all my troublemaking I am quite popular at school.

Nik,

Sorry you didn't find my running joke funny. Guess I can't make everyone laugh. How about this one, from last week's First Amendment Rights class:

Me: Piss Christ isn't art. It doesn't take any talent to come up with that.

Classmate: That's your opinion. I think it is compelling art.

Me: Really? I'll bring in one of my daughter's diapers tomorrow. I'm sure you'll think it's a real masterpiece.

C'mon, Nik. Admit it. You're chuckling as you read it.
11.1.2005 9:58pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Lawgal, the difference is not between ostracize and shun, but between "completely" and "a significant segment," which is the phrase I used in my post.
11.1.2005 10:17pm
Sisyphus:
Even at UCLAW only a few years ago ('00-'03), there was plenty of political correctness in Contracts, Civil Procedure, and especially Constitutional Law. I would not say I was ostracized for my basically libertarian beliefs or my strict constructionist approach to Constitutional interpretation, though there were people I didn't talk to much because of our differing political views (perhaps this is similar to what Professor Bernstein is referring to).

However, I was one of only a few outspoken right wing people in my section. There were definitely others, several of whom would agree with me after class, but would stay quiet during class discussions, and who would not share their opinions with others in our class even privately. They were too afraid to share any opinion that might not be in line with the liberal orthodoxy.

My sense of it is that the establishment liberals were not the main cause of this environment. Rather, it was the "victims' rights"/critical theory people who tended to get emotional, angry, and hurt during sensitive discussions, and this lead to a lot of reticence among my classmates, as most people don't like to cause that kind of conflict. This kept a significant number of people I know quiet about their views on law and politics.

I recall one Constitutional law class that got particularly heated, in which a casual friend of mine (who was definitely on the liberal side of the spectrum) actually cried as a result of the treatment that some people were giving me and my side of the argument. She was that shocked by the desire of some people in the class to stifle any dissenting viewpoints, even reasonable ones. That was an unusual event, since the PC norms were usually more subtle, but things like that did occasionally happen.

PC attitudes definitely existed at UCLAW only a few years ago. Some of the norms, like sexualization, may be different than the '90's, but the radical left is still willing to try to pressure those opposed to their views. I don't find it at all unreasonable to think that they were much stronger at YLS at the height of the PC movement.
11.1.2005 11:02pm
Samuel:
What I found most odd about this post is the underlying idea that it is crazed, hyper-PC liberals who would object to women dressing in revealing clothing for Halloween. Last time I checked, it was *conservatives* who spend their time wailing and moaning about the coarsening of the culture. To use a blogosphere example, it was Michelle Malkin and Kathryn Lopez who threw a hissyfit last spring over too-revealing prom dresses, not some hypothetical overly-sensitive liberals. But David makes it sound like its liberals who just can't wait to suck the fun out of sexy Halloween costumes (and anything else they perceive as un-PC) as opposed to religious conservatives and their prudishness.
11.2.2005 12:00am
DMG:
As a law student in his late 20s who went to Michigan undergrad in the late 90s, I can attest to the increasing libertarian nature of institutions such as universities due to the coming of age of the later Gen Xers and early Gen-Yers.

Example: In my first year con law class at the second-tier, east coast law school I attend (I won't say which one), the prof asked the class to decide upon the best rationale for the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment. He informed us of the competing theories: marketplace of ideas, the protection of speech that would foster social and political good, etc. When the class took a vote, 95% of these 20-something law students felt that the main value of the First Amendment was that it created a free-market mess of ideas in this country and the best ones would rise to the top. Almost no one felt that the First Amendment should be viewed through the prism of advancing only certain types of speech that achieve a social good.

My socially libertarian generation offends both the Old Left and the Theocons; yet the former is largely comprised of aging socialists who are marching towards retirement. I too am concerned about the rise of the New Social Right, which seems bent on imposing its values on society in a manner similar to the loudest lefties of the '70s. Still —- and relating this all back to current events —- the fact that our Republican president nominated two mainstream conservatives to the Supreme Court instead of going with a theocon nutcase shows that the busybodies on the right may have a bark that's far worse than their bite. Thankfully, the GOP establishment is still largely ignoring them. Hopefully, my generation will be able to take the reins of power before any new type of far-right political correctness is born.
11.2.2005 12:30am
UM Law Grad:
I was at Michigan from 1990 - 1992, about the same timeframe as Prof. Bernstein was at Yale, and... oh, it could be weird and wacky (recall, that's when Catharine MacKinnon was recruited to UM Law), but students were very open about their political ideologies. I will grant that this was only a few years after Ann Coulter attended, and she likes to whine about how hard law school is for conservatives, but I personally think that her accounts (like her columns) are more self-serving than honest.

I only recall one professor who, possibly while sincerely believing that it was on the basis of merit, systematically marked down students on the basis of the political slant they presented on their exams. (I recall a classmate, arguably the most conservative student in the class, chucking about what he wrote on the exam - it sounded so much like a parody of the professor I thought he had really overdone it. He got the only A+, but was declined the book award on the basis of his "participation in class"... despite being perhaps the most active participant in class discussions. Ah, memories....) There were other professors who were overtly political and probably did consider your politics on exams, and several (mostly younger) professors who had no apparent interest in or aptitude for teaching.

I recall being disappointed by that newer generation of professors, whether on the political left or right, as my initiation into law school was an initiation by fire - Professor J.J. White (Lt. Col, USAF, Ret.) for an 8:00 AM Contracts class. Meticulously prepared, and following an incisive Socratic method, it was shocking to have that followed by the slipshod, underprepared, lackadaisical approach of some of the other professors. And although his politics were obvious, they did not in any way factor into his testing. He actually wanted to know that we understood contract law, if you can believe it. (At risk of missing somebody and within the confines of my own experience, I would also place Prof. Thomas Kauper, Prof. Doug Kahn, Prof. Jerold Israel, Prof. Sam Gross, Prof. Ed Cooper, Prof. Joseph Vining, and Prof. Theodore St. Antoine as those who, although in some cases obvious in their politics, seemed devoted to imparting and testing your actual knowledge.)

I had a classmate who missed a semester after being called to duty for Desert Storm. I had another classmate who was on leave from the Air Force to attend law school, and frequently wore his "USAF ROTC" T-shirt, or football jerseys which read "MARINERS"... which everybody instinctively misread as "MARINES". (He looked the part.) The only time his ROTC t-shirt seemingly drew stares was when he stuck his head into an all-campus meeting sponsored by the LGB law student association - yet no catcalls were heard. A third, politically liberal, accepted a summer position with Navy JAG. (And yes, military recruitment on campus was a very hot issue at the time.) Our class included the openly Christian and openly conservative Brad Smith.

There were many open discussions of the merits of such policies as affirmative action. There were many students who were open and proud adherents of conservative politics. We had an active (and somewhat eclectic) Federalist Society - rumor is, a federal judge invervened in the group's election results one year so a student who was slated to be his clerk would be able to serve as President. (Aren't rumors fun?)
11.2.2005 11:07am
Recent YLS grad:
Let me put it more pointedly: there were some great guys in the Federalist Society, and there were also some arrogant, self-important, dorky assholes. I would sometimes hear people in the latter group complain about how they were ostracized for their political beliefs, how their voices were silenced and marginalized.

My silent response would be: well, maybe if you weren't such a dick...


Exactly. As a right-leaning person, I used to cringe at the cluelessness of some of my conservative classmates. Generally, I think, people were ostracized for being insufferable weenies, not for the substance of comments they made in class.

My advice to non-liberal YLSers: Don't arrive at the school with a massive chip on your shoulder, and don't spend three years interpreting every left-wing sentiment as an outrageous personal affront. If you're friendly and have decent social skills, you'll be fine.

The Federalist Society chapter seemed to become less dork-infested while I was at the school. I hope that trend has continued.
11.2.2005 11:15am
Jim Copland:
David,

I'd say that times have changed somewhat, based on my experiences at Yale, though there's also likely a difference between Yale and Michigan, given that one is an elite Northeastern school and the other, though elite, is a big public university.

I was at Yale between 1995 and 1999, so I followed you by seven years. I'd say that conservative or libertarian leanings wouldn't necessarily lead one to be socially ostracized in general -- I was and am friends with a large number of my classmates, of a wide range of political stripes. The 1998 and 1999 editors in chief of the Yale Law Journal were conservative-leaning (the 1998 editor now works in the White House; the 1999 editor is part-time at Wachtell and part-time a mom, while her Class of 99 husband works in the political arm of the Justice Department).

In general, expressing economically conservative viewpoints (on, e.g., torts, contracts, or property -- real leftists tended not to take any other commerce-oriented classes) didn't lead to the type of social sanction you describe. I think that the slight shift in generation led to a significantly greater comfort with free markets. Indeed, there was genuine dissension when then-Dean Kronman decided that professors could hold their classes inside the law school, notwithstanding that students who didn't live there would have to cross picket lines to attend; but left-leaning students weren't universally against the dean, and a student who dramatically exited the premises after a heated discussion in criminal law class got a lot more negative reaction, as I recall, than any of us who opposed the strike.

Of course, if someone was provocative -- as I was, say, in the orientation session introducing the clinics, when I asked if the "Landlord-Tenant" clinic, being so named, permitted one to represent landlords -- you could earn the enmity of the left-wing purists (and lead even the more moderate students to think you're a bit of a nut, at least until they got to know you).

I'd say that there was some social stigma for those involved in the Federalist Society, at least among some, and at least for people of a certain profile (e.g., women or minorities). I knew a number of right-leaning women who wouldn't attend Federalist events, whereas some left-leaning men were active members.

When individuals were provocative on the "conservative" side of "social hot button issues" -- race, gender, sexual orientation, abortion, religion -- they would face some social sanction. But I'd say it was mild, as long as one wasn't making claims that might reasonably offend those on the other side. (E.g., arguing that homosexuality was wrong, that variations in racial intelligence test performance was genetic, or the like might have led some students to be ostracized, but that's not really shocking to me -- and yes, students did make these claims, which itself says something about the free speech environment. When Charles Murray came to talk about The Bell Curve, students did stage a protest outside, wearing "KKK" hoods, but the protest was silent and he was allowed to speak without interruption. That's pretty healthy free speech, I'd say.)

Jed Rubenfeld began our constitutional law small group asking who thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and though I was one of only two students who raised my hand -- and argued fairly forcefully for my position -- I didn't face any noticeable social sanction from classmates, with perhaps one exception. Even when I responded to a large display on the "free speech wall" that showed the pictures of all faculty members and pointed to the dearth of women, minorities, and open homosexuals with a counter-poster, "Diversity Is More Than Skin Deep" (which pointed to the similar lack of ideological diversity on the faculty), I got some very strong reactions, but I'd say that only the most extreme students changed their opinion of me. Once people know each other on a personal basis -- and share drinks at the graduate student union and area bars -- variations in political views tend to be more tolerated.

In sum, I don't think there was that much social sanction for speaking one's views at YLS when I was there, and most of those who wouldn't associate with me based on my beliefs weren't folks I'd really care to interact with in the first place.

But I can't see folks dressing as St. Pauli's Girls, either... Having attended a big public school in my undergrad days (UNC-Chapel Hill), I'd guess that it's more a function of variations in the student body than anything.

[Side note: I do recall a close friend of mine who was a libertarian female -- and a member with me on the Yale Skeet and Trap shooting team -- jumping on a Yale undergrad teammate from Georgia when he referred to a young woman on another team as a "girl" at the national championships. He was a senior, and the young woman looked to be about 18. So some things don't change. But their rift wasn't lasting, either.]
11.2.2005 11:51am