In a recent WSJ essay, conservative-minded legal academic Ilya Shapiro made an important and cautionary assertion concerning the way our nation’s law schools are increasingly subject to a formal, institutional, largely government-based influence involving an ideology that could be characterized as extra-legal, technically unconstitutional, and dangerous to American democratic principles; and that this phenomenon could bring America down. I agree.
But I disagree on how, and the larger implications of this problem. DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) at law schools isn't going to directly bring America down, but it may add to the distractions to her critical problems and opportunities including national security and national competitiveness, and bring her down ultimately from strategic, geopolitical, and foreign policy neglect. China, for example, isn't indulging in such immature and divisive matters, but is rather focused on its collective role in world affairs, and in science, technology, space exploration, finance, and its military.
Shapiro isn’t otherwise getting at what is actually “wrong” with American law schools: they keep students in college too long. American lawyers need two degrees; most other countries require one. The U.S. J.D. degree requires at least seven years of study (undergrad and graduate degree programs) versus their counterparts in most of the rest of the world that train lawyers in a three-year undergraduate program (the LL.B, which is what the U.S. originally taught).
This prolonged exposure to academia gives students and professors way too much time to sit around and contemplate a number of theoretical and ideological issues while running up the tuition meter when law students should be out working, earning, and tackling real, practical problems.
The best part of law school isn't getting in but getting out -- as quickly and efficiently as you can. There will be plenty of time to ponder social issues throughout life: --sitting in law school with law professors isn't the way to make progress in society, business, or government.
Shapiro has shown some important leadership by testifying to Congress about DEI in law schools. As American educator John Dewey argued decades ago, however, we are all vulnerable to the influence of other “isms” which can wind up controlling the dialogue, and our thinking. This may lead us to having more reactions than solutions; moreover, you can’t “legislate” your way to a different law academy culture.
What you can do is attend another law school (or start a new one) including going to law school in another country. There are currently over 200 to choose from in the U.S. alone. While somewhat a monolith due to the American Bar Association’s control (which is highly politicized itself), many other law schools have meaningful cultural and technical differences. It is also important to appreciate that Shapiro’s perspective is shaped by the “elite” sector which makes up a very small part of the total, and operates in an especially closed and self-referential manner: it obsesses about its own preferences, ideations, and political preoccupations in ways that most of America simply does not.
Why law schools are among the institutional targets of the radical Left’s agenda isn’t hard to understand. The political Left is largely an academic phenomenon (Thomas Sowell describes this in his excellent Intellectuals and Society), so they turn to the world they know best: the idealistic, utopian, and often highly naive culture of academia. This is also a culture with a general contempt for classical American libertarianism: they don’t actually know why they feel this way, or what vision might even replace it; it is an indulgence in personal wish fulfillment, often resembling the thought patterns of adolescents. In that regard the modern university is its natural home.
Matthew G. Andersson is the author of the upcoming book Legally Blind, concerning how ideology affects law schools. He attended the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin. He has testified to the U.S. Senate and the Connecticut General Assembly concerning higher education.
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