Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Legal educators tussle over politics in faculty honors

For persons interested in the ongoing tumult at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law School over the renaming of a professorship after President Bill Clinton (e.g., TaxProf Blog, Wash. Times, Ark. Dem.-Gaz. (subscription)), apparently without faculty approval and with dubious official imprimatur, an August 19 legislative hearing on the matter is online on video.  On the Agenda tab, cue item F, at 2:06:39.

Citing, inter alia, named professorships awarded upon "cronyism" rather than merit, a police officer-student barred from open-carrying on campus in uniform until the legislature enacted a remedial statute, and refusal to permit a political conservative to teach constitutional law, Professor Robert Steinbuch concluded:

It saddens me to say but the law school is no longer an environment for unbiased legal education.  It's a hot bed of crypto leftist wokism unwittingly funded by the great people of this state being used by a select few who pocket a drastically disproportionate share of the resources to pursue their political agendas.

Dean Theresa Beiner testified that the law school decided after 20 years to honor the wishes of the donor who funded the professorship, and then, apparently, did so erroneously.  When a newspaper columnist asked for pertinent records under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law school discovered that Clinton had "withdrawn" permission amid the investigation of his conduct in the Lewinsky affair.

Three cheers for the Arkansas FOIA.  Full disclosure: I was a co-author with Professor Steinbuch and University of Arkansas Law School Professor Emeritus John J. Watkins of the sixth edition of the treatise, The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. 

A cheer more for the legislator in the hearing who probed the process for awarding named professorships and compelled the dean's admission that the selection occurs substantially in secret under the statutory personnel exemption.  My recollection of the selection process for named professorships at that law school many years ago accords with Professor Steinbuch's more recent experience.  When I worked there, one professor—the same one who raised a red flag over the "Clinton" name—was stripped of his named professorship when he fell out of favor.  A past dean represented that the professorship here at issue had to be awarded to one professor—the one who kicked off the present controversy by using the "Clinton" name—because of the donor's intent, rather than merit, a contention unsupported by the donor.

At the same time, my experience as a law professor suggests that very little in the American workplace works on merit anyway, legal education and the work experiences of my law students informing my conclusion.  The dean's insistence to the contrary is quaint and typical of persons in power, whatever their politics.

The fireworks show (item F) runs about 48 minutes.  The referenced exhibit, a letter from the university chancellor to the committee, is available online.

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