All the Right's Moves, continued
Professor Charles Fried, who serves as faculty adviser to the Federalist Society and was solicitor general for President Reagan, says the uptick in conservative interest is hardly surprising. "The whole country has moved in this direction, and our students are more representative of the whole country than is the faculty," he said. "The faculty votes overwhelmingly Democrat, but the country doesn't. It's not surprising that our students should reflect the currents within the country as a whole. . . . The notion that a conservative perspective could continue to be treated as an aberration . . . is really unthinkable, considering that for 20 years this is what has been dominant in the law."
But despite their increasing number, some conservatives at HLS say they don't think their peers--or their professors--give them the treatment they deserve.
"I've had one professor that I feel like really sort of handled things in a kind of intolerant fashion," said Jeremy Fielding '03. "By and large, most of my professors have been very fair and disagreed with me. Some have been incredulous that I advocated a position that I did. But sometimes students have been quite rude, in the form of anonymous e-mails after class. I've had booing and hissing take place when I said certain things. But I do think it's a small minority of the class."
Jonathan Skrmetti '04, who writes a conservative-minded column for The Record and is an officer in the Federalist Society, agreed that liberals at HLS often resort to vilifying their political foes on campus: "In some classes with student participation, it is hard not to feel ostracized. My interest in the discussion drops off pretty abruptly once people start calling me racist. As soon as the argument gets difficult, chances are someone on the Left will call me a fascist or a Nazi. That sort of suppression of dissent has no place at any law school purporting to be a center of legal thought."
Often, students say, conservative "silencing" is a sign of simple resignation--after a few volleys of booing and hissing, many students don't feel like bothering to make their points. "I think it's a de facto silencing, where you want to choose your battles or get tired of sounding like the 'crazy conservative freak,'" said Carrie Campbell '04, vice president of HLS's 10-year-old Society for Law, Life and Religion, a group that opposes abortion rights. "It's the underlying assumptions going on that are not worth making a topic of discussion."
This fall, the student-run Committee on Multi-Cultural Unity decided to study the problem. Despite its liberal-sounding name, the CMCU claims no ideological position: The group encourages students to talk about diversity-related issues without taking political stands itself. When the group surveyed the student body on its attitudes about diversity in the fall, it found that many responses focused more on concerns over the treatment of students based on their politics than on their skin colors.
"Harvard is horribly liberal, and the orthodoxy is enforced with a vengeance," one anonymous respondent wrote. Another opined: "The greatest problem with diversity at HLS is a lack of ideological diversity. All the professors--with a few exceptions--are strongly liberal. The vast majority of students are too. This creates an environment in which the few conservative students are reluctant to speak their views. . . . HLS's first priority should be hiring more conservative professors and admitting more conservative students."
Most students who have those feelings seem to be keeping quiet. At a December forum held by the committee--attended by members and the leadership of most of the major conservative organizations on campus and a smattering of liberals--conservatives said they had no trouble speaking out. Still, Biber said that while she and other conservative leaders feel comfortable in their political skins, a larger problem pervades the classroom. "I think conservative students feel silenced because nobody takes their views seriously," she told the audience.
At least one student gave the impression that things may be changing, perhaps starting with this year's 1L class. "I think the student body is extremely ideologically diverse," said Ryan Hecker '05, who estimated that about 30 of the 80 students in his section were moderate to conservative. But, he added, "While the student body is changing, I don't think the faculty is changing with it."
Some conservatives said they even enjoyed the prospect of sparring with their liberal professors. "I'm a social conservative," Brock Taylor '05 told the forum. "I love Duncan Kennedy's class. I think if anyone is complaining, it should be liberals--that they don't have more conservative professors to sharpen their views." Other students argued that it would be inconsistent for conservative students to favor "affirmative action" for conservative faculty while rejecting it on racial and other grounds.
Nonetheless, as libertarian or conservative-leaning legal thought continues to be a factor in the classroom, some students question the dearth of conservative faculty members.
"I think that my intellectual development has been stunted in some way because of that," said Fielding. "It's good to have a mentor who thinks like you. [Professor Jon] Hanson, for example, is a mentor to many liberal students. We don't really have a professor like that at the law school--a conservative or libertarian luminary that students can coalesce around. . . . It's impossible to convince me that there's only one professor in America--Fried--that's a conservative and is qualified to teach at Harvard. If that's not true, then the next question is, How come they're not hiring them?"
Fried, a self-described "19th-century liberal" who is routinely identified as one of the few "conservative" faculty members (although he rejects the label), said the dominance of liberals doesn't matter: "The faculty is overwhelmingly liberal, but it is also overwhelmingly excellent. People are capable of seeing and expressing both sides of a situation. There are some preachers on the left here . . . but a lot of the faculty aren't preachers at all."
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