Monday, February 23, 2009

Where is the ACLU When You Need It?

Mukasey is law school speaker
By Rachel Coleman
Daily Tar Heel
February 20, 2009

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has been chosen as the UNC School of Law’s 2009 commencement speaker, a decision that is already sparking controversy. …

Both law students and professors have spoken against the pick, saying his political views do not match those of many students.

“I am concerned that his refusal to investigate and prosecute the use of waterboarding was a failure to execute responsibilities of attorney general and resulted in the United States’ violation of domestic and international law,” said law professor Tamar Birckhead.

In 2008, Mukasey was chosen as commencement speaker at Boston College’s School of Law, creating similar opposition and protests from students and faculty.

Some at UNC were aware of last year’s controversy. They also said they were surprised by the decision to have him as speaker.

Law student Liz Troutman said in a written statement that choosing Mukasey as the commencement speaker “gives validation to Mukasey’s egregious point of view, which is contrary to the professional and educational ideals of this University.” …

Controversy reigns over the selection of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey as commencement speaker at UNC School of Law. The selection of Mukasey was by the UNC Student Bar Association. Now students and professors are arguing that his political views "do not match those of many students." Of course, as an institution of higher learning, one would expect to encounter people of varied views spanning the entire political spectrum.

It would be an interesting project to study recent commencement speakers throughout the UNC system and across the nation in order to number the liberals and conservatives who were selected to give addresses at our universities. It seems likely there would not be a strong contest for which views are represented most often. Yet how many times do we hear stories of conservative students and faculty up in arms about the selection of a commencement speaker?

We must answer the question in our university communities: Do we value free speech or not? Are we serious about upholding the values of tolerance and diversity or it all just high minded lip-service designed to apply only to the people with whom we agree? Free speech has costs. It means that conservatives have to learn to sit through commencement addresses given by liberal speakers who represent views we are doing everything we can to oppose. It also means that liberal students and professors need to stop their protesting long enough to consider whether the First Amendment is worth the cost of admission.

Who knows? If we quiet the protests long enough to listen, we might actually learn something. At our institutions of higher education, wouldn't that be the point?