The spawn of this cantankerous hissy fit was a resolution-type document outlining several “problematic” details surrounding the name change and offers them, I presume, as grounds for the Senate’s decision.
First, the Faculty Senate members take issue with Justice Scalia’s alleged “offensive comments about various groups — including people of color, women, and LGBT individuals.” Not only are such accusations unfair, but they also are largely baseless (as, in the context of race, Mason law professor Michael Krauss explained in Forbes last December). In any event, even Justice Scalia’s “worst” remarks pale in comparison to the prejudices of other namesakes of academic institutions, including, for example, George Washington (who knew of “no black person about the house that is to be trusted”), William Brennan (who refused to hire female law clerks), Thomas Jefferson (who described blacks’ imaginations as “dull, tasteless, and anomalous”) and Louis Brandeis (who cautioned against “the overwork of future mothers”).
Second, the Faculty Senate views Justice Scalia as a “significant contributor to the polarized climate in this country.” Frankly, I have no idea what this means, and, unfortunately, the faculty provided no substantive reasoning as to how they reached this conclusion.
Third, the faculty members fear the new name will reinforce the “external branding of the institution as a conservative institution rather than an unaligned body that is a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.” Overlooking the faculty’s shameless attempt to politicize law and the offensive implication that conservatism necessarily excludes a “variety of viewpoints,” this objection is particularly difficult to take seriously — especially when liberals’ stranglehold on higher education has never been tighter. Not only do liberal professors outnumber conservative professors 5-to-1 nationwide, but the legal profession itself also leans to the left, according to this 2015 study conducted by researchers from Stanford, Chicago and Harvard. A tiny nudge to the right (if it’s even that) can hardly be described as forsaking impartiality.
Finally, the Faculty Senate condemns the law school’s “failure” to disclose the donors’ request that part of the $30 million be used for “12 new faculty, additional staff, and support for two new Centers.” They also fear the university lacks the resources to support additional faculty once the donated funds expire. As to the former, I do not see why omitting this from the initial announcement was such an egregious offense. As for the latter, this seems like a poor reason to refuse $30 million, which happens to be the largest contribution in the school’s history.
I hope George Mason’s faculty members are experiencing only a temporary lapse in judgment. If not, and such sentiments prove to be firm convictions, their qualifications to engage in university governance affecting the law school — and perhaps even their credibility as academics — should be seriously questioned. As fanatical witch-hunts threaten free speech on college campuses across the nation, the most educated and scholarly of our society become the ultimate guardians of reasoned discourse. If they fail, a law school named after Justice Scalia will be the least of their concerns.
The writer is a law student at the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington.