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George W. Dent: Toward Improved Intellectual Diversity in Law Schools

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by Publius
Posted February 19, 2014, 11:06 AM

In April 2013, the Harvard Federalist Society and the Milbank Tweed Conference Fund hosted a conference on “Intellectual Diversity and the Legal Academy.” (You can find video of the event here.) The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy recently published the remarks of several participants, including George W. Dent, Jr., professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. In a paper (PDF here) adapted from his presentation, Dent writes:

The organizers and supporters of the conference on “Intellectual Diversity and the Legal Academy”—the Federalist Society,  Harvard Law School, and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP—deserve great credit. Law school faculties tilt heavily to the political left, and there is no plausible explanation for this tilt other than discrimination against scholars who are politically incorrect. This is a serious problem for students, who do not get the full range of views in important current debates. The problem is of special concern because advocates must understand the positions of their opponents, beginning with their fundamental premises.

Some participants in the Harvard Federalist Society’s conference argued that the views of the instructor are unimportant because good teachers explain both sides of each case. No doubt many teachers try to do so, but, as Professor Robert George has observed, opponents usually cannot justify a viewpoint as well as its supporters can. Moreover, the experience of students suggests that many instructors do not even try to give both sides. Many students say that they rarely hear conservative or libertarian viewpoints from their instructors and that, indeed, those viewpoints are often ridiculed in class.

The ideological imbalance of law faculties is also a problem for legal education and legal scholarship. Our adversarial judicial system is built on the premise that the truth is best discovered through a structured contest between parties to a dispute, and the free speech commitment of the First Amendment rests in part on the belief that the truth best emerges through competition in the marketplace of ideas. In law faculties, however, views are largely limited to a fairly narrow range on the left of our national political spectrum. The ideological imbalance produces a kind of partisan chain reaction or echo chamber. . . .

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