May 12, 2021

JOSH BLACKMAN: Deans Should Not Solicit Signatures For Statements On Matters Of Public Concern.

For professors, a deanship can be the capstone of a successful career. But in many regards, becoming a Dean is constricting. Professors have wide latitude to write and speak about their scholarly agenda. Moreover, professors–especially law professors–can engage in advocacy to promote their ideas. But Deans lose much of that autonomy. Of course, Deans are still allowed to engage in scholarly pursuits. But their primary goal should be promoting their institution’s interests. And when a Dean’s scholarly pursuits conflicts with the mission of the institution, the latter will usually prevail. Often, this conflict will limit a Dean’s ability to engage in public advocacy. Or at least this conflict is supposed to limit a Dean’s ability to engage in public advocacy.

Over the past year, law school Deans have often departed from this traditional role. Deans have issued a never-ending series of statements about “systemic racism,” criminal justice, and so on. Some of these Deans have a background in writing about these issues. Most of them do not. Many of these deans are writing about topics for which they lack any expertise. Additionally, these statements are often issued on behalf of the law school. Of course, these statements were never put up for a faculty vote. But the lack of any consensus is besides the point. Deans should not take official positions on contested matters of public concern. A university is designed to allow scholars to seek truth and knowledge. When the Dean adopts an official position, the College has established an orthodoxy.

Well, empty virtue-signaling is the order of the day in our decaying civil society, both as a symptom, and as a cause of further decay.

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