Friday, April 02, 2021

Lawyers who should know better (San Diego edition)

Jason Mazzone

Via Paul Caron's blog, I saw this astonishing op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune, authored by presidents of three San Diego bar associations on the recent controversy at San Diego Law concerning a blog post by Professor Tom Smith on the origins of COVID-19. 

The three author-presidents, all lawyers themselves, write that they support San Diego Law students who have asserted Professor Smith's blog post, combined with other statements he has made in the past, creates a hostile learning environment. That's fine, I suppose. Individuals can express support on issues, even on issues as to which they might lack knowledge or expertise. 

But the op-ed very quickly takes some most un-lawyerly turns. 

First, the authors say, Professor Smith's post "echoes" certain "theories" about the origin of the virus that (unnamed) "people" hold because they are "seeking a culprit" for hardships. But, as the three authors surely know, other people holding theories have nothing to do with whether Professor Smith is creating a hostile learning environment or whether for other reasons a hostile environment exists at San Diego Law. 

Second, the three authors list recent acts of violence against Asian Americans in various parts of the country. These incidents, too, as the authors also must know, are not relevant to whether a hostile learning environment exists at San Diego Law. 

Third, the authors call on the law school to "conduct an open and transparent investigation, identifying those who are conducting it, what they are reviewing, and their conclusions and recommendations." Setting aside whether there really is anything to "investigate," that approach sounds fair enough. But then here are the very next sentences these three lawyers pen: "We urge the law school to accommodate students who find professor Smith’s views hostile by offering those currently enrolled in his classes alternative instructors or credits without penalty. Absent an apology for all of his statements and corrective action, we believe professor Smith should not teach compulsory classes and his statements should be disclosed to prospective students of the classes he does teach." In other words, we've already decided what the investigation must show so we can move right to punishment. 

Finally, don't miss the whopping distortion of hostile environment standards in the quoted sentences above: "... students who find Professor Smith's views hostile..." (emphases added). That's not remotely how it works.

Let's hope that the administrators at San Diego Law handling this matter can do much better. 



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