March 3, 2007

IN TODAY’S NEW YORK TIMES, Ann Althouse has a column on PC hypersensitivity and legal education. It’s behind the damnable Times Select paywall, but here’s a key bit:

Ironically, you have to care enough about engaging energetically with issues of race to run into this sort of trouble. It’s so much easier to skip the subject altogether, to embrace a theory of colorblindness or to scoop out gobs of politically correct pabulum. It’s only when you challenge the students and confront them with something that can be experienced as ugly — even if you’re only trying to highlight your law firm’s illustrious fight against racism — that you create the risk that someone may take offense. . . .

It would have been so much easier to teach using simple, straightforward lecturing, with every sentence carefully composed, with a sharp eye on the goal of never giving anyone any reason to question the purity of your beliefs and the beneficence of your heart.

Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they’ll be rethinking this idea — heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s — that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses.

Publicly, the school goes into damage-control mode. After all, it has worked so hard to bring together a diverse student body and to convey a feeling of welcome to everyone. How can we bear to hear a student say, as one Wisconsin student did on Thursday, that ”unless we have a safe learning environment,” the school’s commitment to diversity ”doesn’t mean anything”?

But this is madness! Our question should not be about what we can do to make you comfortable or how we can make your life pleasant again.

The problem is that law school administrators, like administrators everywhere, tend to care more about having things run smoothly than about fairness, or the quality of classroom discourse. And that tends to be exploited by people with agendas.

UPDATE: Visit Ann’s blog for more on this. Just keep scrolling.

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