As a writer and frequent campus lecturer, I am accustomed to encountering activist professors. Nevertheless, when I visited the University of New Mexico Law School recently, I was taken aback by the political fervor of the faculty.
Resident Scholar Christina Hoff Sommers
Well, the UNM Law School is no patriarchy. The dean is a woman and fifty-seven percent of this year's entering class is female. During orientation, new female students were warned by members of the Feminist Legal Caucus to avoid the Federalist Society or they would be "marked forever."
For the record, the Federalist Society is a highly respected national legal organization with chapters on campuses throughout the country. It champions conservative and libertarian ideas--as well as debate over them. But the University of New Mexico Law School is not a place for free and open debate.
A 2004 study by the New Mexico Federation of College Republicans found that 100 percent of the full-time professors at the law school were registered Democrats. The Federalists could not find a conservative to serve as their faculty adviser.
By contrast, the student body is politically diverse. Students complain that courses lack objectivity. Here is the catalogue description for a seminar called Environmental Global Warming: "Global climate change is the major environmental threat of our era. Its effects are felt by all species, but especially on those who are poor..." Another course called Gender and the Law explores "how the Law created categories that support subordination based on gender."
All of the students in the Clinical Law Program recently had to attend a lengthy lecture on immigration given by an ACLU member and watch a video of a weeping woman facing deportation. For "balance" the students were shown a 30-second anti-immigration television commercial from an Alabama political candidate.
The day I visited campus UNM faculty members were organizing a teach-in on Guantanamo and manning tables to protest military recruiters on campus. Last year the faculty achieved a prized, long-term goal: it terminated a hugely popular "DA Law Clinic" where students worked with the local District Attorney's Office. The professors were uncomfortable with a program that prosecuted--rather than defended--accused criminals.
The dean of the law school, Suellyn Scarnecchia, professes a commitment to diversity--but that does not include changing the school's strict "liberals only" hiring policy. She and her faculty seem not to question the ethics of running a public, taxpayer-supported law school as if it were a re-education camp for the political left.
The dean recently did make an attempt to respond to student pleas for change. She introduced a new course called "Difficult Dialogues." Her idea was to provide a forum where students across the political spectrum could have civil and rational discussions.
Students say the classes are "ridiculous" and include a lot of confronting, screaming and accusing. In a recent session students "debated" whether or not the law school should offer more evening and part-time courses. One male student suggested that it might lower the school's already modest ranking. An outraged female student burst into tears and accused him of not caring about the needs of mothers with young children.
The dean's new course is not a solution to the law school's problems, but another example of its chronic intolerance. It is true, of course, that most of the nation's law schools have predominantly liberal faculties, but under responsible leadership they do not stifle dissent.
After speaking at UNM I next lectured at the University of Colorado. Far from being under siege, the Federalists say they are treated respectfully by most faculty and students. With a few notable exceptions, the professors do not pummel students with their politics. The school administration is focused like a laser on the economic development of Colorado.
The state of New Mexico has only one law school. Each year it accepts only about 100 students. Under constructive leadership, it could easily be on par with Colorado, which ranks 43rd compared to New Mexico's 77th place on the list of best law schools--and Colorado is moving up all the time.
Sixties-style activism and political fervor have their place, but at the UNM Law School these are practiced at the expense of the intellectual, economic and civic mission that a state law school is expected to fulfill.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at AEI.