Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Follow up On Rent Boys and Adoption

What follows is a good report by the Gainesville Sun's on the kerfluffle at the Law School. I have a couple of comments to begin with that may make more sense after the article is read.


1. Any suggestion that since there is state money on one side it is OK for the Law School to weigh in makes no sense as a logical matter. What is the connection? In any case, the States' lawyers do what they are told -- they fight the battle even when they personally disagree. Law professors only weigh in when they agree. In short it's not based on righting wrongs (although it had that effect here) it's based on personal preference.

2. The UF policy of finacial support for a cause based on faculty prerogative strikes me as a policy that one would never adopt under a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It is one that says whoever controls the school get to use its resources to promote his or her idea. I am confident that throughtout history the same policy has be used to oppress people. Why follow a policy that has that potential?

Gay adoption case sparks debate over UF's involvement
A UF law professor filed a brief in support of overturning the ban.
By Nathan Crabbe

Staff writer

Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.
It all started innocently enough: An e-mail congratulating a University of Florida law professor for a brief in support of overturning the state's gay adoption ban.

But a systems administrator's criticism has spurred a heated debate among UF faculty on the role of law professors, how the college decides to lend its name to legal briefs and whether taxpayer money should be used to help overturn laws passed by elected officials.

Last week, the 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned Florida's ban on adoptions by gay people. The UF Levin College of Law's Center on Children and Families joined similar centers at other law schools in the state in filing a friend of the court brief, which are filed by entities not directly involved in the case.

The brief cited legal decisions that showed the ban violates a child's right to a secure and stable family relationship. Law professor Nancy Dowd, director of the UF center, said the brief fit within its mission to promote quality research on issues important to children and their families.

"One of the things that people at the university do is share their expertise," she said.

Dowd sent a message to several law school e-mail lists congratulating legal skills professor Joe Jackson, the main author of the brief, and others with the center for their involvement.

Micah Johnson, a systems administrator with the college, responded with a short e-mail saying the decision was at odds with his beliefs.

"Your elation stands in stark contrast to my disappointment on this decision," he wrote.

Law professor Steve Willis then sent an e-mail in support of Johnson, who is on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. Willis said this week that he's one of the only registered Republicans on the law school faculty and believes the college only allows involvement in liberal causes.

"It's all political and unfair," he said. "I'll probably regret saying that, but that's what I believe."

College Dean Robert Jerry said academic freedom allows all faculty members to take positions or file briefs in a case in their personal capacity. For a UF center to be officially involved or university resources used, he said, the brief has to not just be a personal opinion but based on scholarly research.

He compared the situation to suggesting that a faculty member's opinion that global warming is not real should get the same support as research showing it is.

"If we buy into that, God save us," he said.

But law professor Jeffrey Harrison questioned whether a public university should be taking a position that might be at odds with public opinion in a court case. While he said he was happy with the decision, he said he was unhappy with the use of public money to promote positions that some taxpayers oppose.

"Our speech is essentially subsidized by the state, and other people don't have that privilege," he said.

But law professor Danaya Wright said that taxpayer money is also being used to support a law that violates the rights of gay citizens. It's the role of law professors to be as neutral as possible in researching such issues, she said, and then providing that information to judges who make the ultimate decisions.

"If we didn't weigh in, I would say we're shirking our duty," she said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or


Alfred Brophy said...

You say "The UF policy of finacial support for a cause based on faculty prerogative strikes me as a policy that one would never adopt under a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It is one that says whoever controls the school get to use its resources to promote his or her idea." First, I think you mean whoever's employed by the school, not who controls the school. Second, it seems as though you are saying that UF faculty should not be permitted to argue against a state statute. So aren't you saying that people who "control" the school -- the state legislature -- can stop people from arguing against them?

Are you drawing any distinction here between scholarship that criticizes legislation and advocacy against that legislation? Is there any distinction between advocacy that takes place on a faculty member's own time and that done on "company time"?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing Al. It's Jeff. I cannot post under my name because I seemed to have forgotten my password.

I will try to answer what I think are four questions or at least address them although I cannot say I have this all figured out.

1. I view law schools as being controlled by the faculty. They decide who to hire, who to tenure, what scholarship is valued, what courses are in the curriculum, what programs are offered and whether a dean stays or goes. We probably disagree on this. My position is consistent with my arguments that law schools are, in effect, captured by faculty. I wrote about this several years ago.

Sure, I guess a legislature could vote to close a law school (I doubt it could ban the expression of a particular person) but I do not think that is realistic.

2. On whether the legislature "can" stop someone from arguing against them I am not sure I follow. It seems like a legislature cannot stop anyone -- faculty or not -- from arguing against them.

3. I view scholarship and advocacy as quite different. To me scholarship occurs when an open minded person who is not out to prove a point, tests an idea by doing research. The product is a report that presents both sides of the issue and carefully explains the scholar's conclusion, if one. Advocacy is an effort to represent one side of an issue or a client. It means putting forth only the information that supports one's side and distinguishing adverse evidence. Advocacy and scholarship both appear in law reviews.

4. The last question is hard because you have framed it in terms of time. I don't think many of us make a sharp distinction. I do think a more useful distinction can be made between company resources and personal resources and the use of the company's institutional authority and an indication that the institution is unrelated to the view expressed.

Two final points that may not be responsive but may be useful as background. I personally would prefer more scholarship but I know there will be advocacy and it's fine. I would not stop it. I just cannot make the connection between being a law professor and, consequently, having a right to have his or her expression of political views subsidized unless others are offered a similar opportunity. This is especially true since I believe, as reflected in my last post, that the selection of the these speakers is basically a function of class and status.

Finally, I am told that at my school some outside political effort have been discouraged. Don't know if it's true but if it is I do not think we have a procedure for deciding what is in or out of bounds.