Thursday, September 23, 2010

Letter to UF Law Faculty

When University funds are used to support a political position, who gets to decide which position the funds should be used to support? Would the Dean or someone step in if the family law department had decided to oppose gay adoption or CGR decided that development of the Everglades by condo builders was a great idea? (After writing this a colleague informed me that when he was asked to write in support of a position he was told he needed permission and he would have to pay the costs.)

While I am very happy with this decision since the connection between sexual preference and adoption is completely lost on me, I am less happy that we use taxpayer money to promote positions that may be disagreeable to many taxpayers. (Of course, in the spirit of how our decisions are usually made, I fully support a system that allows me to decide how the money should be spent.) Back when I knew something about the First Amendment implications of involuntary speech I would have said this is analogous to that. I'd probably be wrong but, as I said, I am not sure I understand the logic by which one side is supported as opposed to another. (And, Pleeeze don't say this is not a political issue but a case of finding the truth because that is non falsifiable.)

The problem with addressing that issue is that it does not stop with things like this. Much of what we do is use University funds to advocate one position or another in our writing and in the class room. And, not coincidentally these are uniformly positions we personally hold whether based on faith, political inklings (very very small inks), having had a particular life experience from which we generalize or possibly because we did actual research on the issue. That may be fine for a private school but I am not as sure about a public schools. Not many law review articles are written by authors who start out with a clean intellectual slate and set out to find the answer to a question by use of the scientific method or any other version of intellectual neutrality. In other words, we seem to work in an environment in which anti intellectualism is accepted and possibly the norm. This is why the term "legal scholarship" has always struck me as odd. I think what we write should probably not be called scholarship but service because we are, in effect, often writing papers that advocate one side of an issue or another. In doing this service it may be important to note that the author is not expressing the views of the University or of those who pay the bills.

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