Freedom of Thought

The Freedom of Thought Update

The Freedom of Thought Update May 2023

Focus: The University of North Carolina

Pro Bono Boycott: The University of North Carolina School of Law annually offers coveted winter break pro bono opportunities for its students. One opportunity out of fifty-five this year prompted some students to attempt a boycott of the winter pro bono opportunities when sign-ups began. The project in question, sponsored by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sponsored Opportunity #52, involved legal research on the prevalence on preferred pronoun mandates.

Student Pro Bono board member, Meghan Rankins (they, them), objected to FIRE’s sponsorship of the pronoun project and claimed that FIRE had “partnered” with Alliance Defending Freedom on these issues. (Neither FIRE nor ADF is aware of any such partnership.) Several members of the Pro Bono Board shared (part 1 and part 2) Meghan’s objections to FIRE’s inclusion in the Pro Bono program and asked the law school to remove FIRE’s project. The school did not remove the FIRE project, and the Director of Pro Bono Initiatives and Adjunct Professor of Law, Allison Standard Constance, explained it would have violated their current guidelines on viewpoint discrimination. However, Allison said she was working to create an “inclusive environment,” which might result in fewer pro bono opportunities in the future. In response, Meghan resigned from the Pro Bono board, stating that Meghan would hold the board accountable by working with OUTlaw and the National Lawyers Guild to promote a boycott of the school’s Pro Bono Winter Break Project. In their individual capacities, the remaining members of the Pro Bono Board wrote (part 1 and part 2) to say that while they could not remove the FIRE project, students should not volunteer for the project and should publicly object to the inclusion of an organization with “known ties” to ADF (an SPLC hate group). These members argued that the boycott could be a powerful statement to the school, though it would come at the cost of reduced legal services for those who need it most, and that students should therefore do whatever “will best serve their relationship to pro bono.”

Update: Stanford Law School

Since our prior email on the events at Stanford Law, there have been a couple of key developments. The House Committee on Education and Workforce sent a letter to the Counsel of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar at the ABA to urge the investigation of Stanford’s compliance with the ABA’s accreditation standards. Judge Ho and Branch expanded their boycott of Yale Law to include future Stanford Law students.

The Freedom of Thought Podcast

Open Minds: Thinking like a Conservative Plaintiff’s Lawyer – Corporations’ Rights and Corporate Power

Judge Gregory Katsas and Ashley Keller sit down for a wide-ranging discussion of his career as a conservative plaintiff’s lawyer, how he thinks about corporate rights and corporate power, and what Citizens United might say about competing First Amendment interests of corporations and human citizens.

What We’re Reading

Links offered to spark thought and discussion, not to endorse any viewpoint.

The Anatomy of Cancel Culture

By: Franciska Coleman

In this paper, I undertake a qualitative exploration of how social regulation of speech works in practice on university campuses, and of the extent to which social regulation in practice affirms or undermines the stereotypes and caricatures that characterize the cancel-culture wars. I first summarize the two narratives that anchor public debates over the social regulation of speech—consequence culture and cancel culture. I then describe the social regulation of speech and its five phases: dissemination, accusation, pillory, sanction and direct action. I explain how these five phases were reflected in the speech events under study and the extent to which their real-world features challenge or support the cancel-culture and consequence-culture narratives. I end by suggesting further research on the implications of this phases framework for efforts to balance universities’ dual commitments to free speech and inclusive community on their campuses.

Leo Strauss and The Closed Society

By: Matthew Rose

In the spring of 1941, as Hitler was laying plans for his invasion of the Soviet Union, Leo Strauss gave a lecture at the New School for Social Research as part of a seminar on “Experiences of the Second World War.” The lecture, which was not published until five decades later, marked one of the rare occasions on which the philosopher discussed current events in the classroom. Strauss had arrived in the United States five years earlier, and at the New School he was part of a faculty filled with academic refugees, few of whom shared his conservative politics. But his lecture was not primarily about the war. He instead had in view a problem that he feared was obscured by the conflict and the ideological mindset it encouraged. Strauss’s theme was education, and the place of liberal education in societies engaged in an existential struggle to preserve their way of life.

Link to referenced Strauss speech, “German Nihilism

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