“Even if the outcome is painful,” said the school’s president, Ángel Cabrera, “what’s at stake is very, very important for the integrity of the university.”
As an alumnus of George Mason’s law school, I could not have said it better myself.
In fairness, the students’ concerns, although misplaced, were somewhat understandable. Throughout an arduous confirmation to the high court last fall, Kavanaugh — rightly or wrongly — became public enemy No. 1 at the culmination of the #MeToo movement. Writers, thinkers and leaders foisted on him several decades’ worth of rage at white male hegemony. To his detractors, Kavanaugh represented a world in which a white male, by virtue of his race and gender and simply as a matter of course, could commit a violent crime, attend an Ivy League school, lead a distinguished career in law and then be handed the keys to remarkable power — no questions asked. The system existed to favor him, and dismantling this system was and remains the highest of all priorities, no matter the casualties or collateral damage. Or so the argument goes.
If that is the prism through which many of George Mason’s students filter the world, as it seems they do, their response to Kavanaugh’s hiring is predictable. But having such a visceral reaction to Kavanaugh’s employment says more about a distorted worldview than it does about George Mason’s alleged insensitivity.
Let’s start with the facts. In all, Kavanaugh will teach for a grand total of a few weeks over several summers. His class will be entirely elective, available only to advanced law students and, for the most part, won’t even be held in the continental United States. Barring any change in circumstances, it is unlikely Kavanaugh will ever set foot on a physical campus owned by George Mason anywhere.
Then there are the merits of the allegations against him — or lack thereof. By no actionable legal standard is it clear Kavanaugh committed a sexual assault. Kavanaugh faced an investigation by the FBI, due diligence by the university and the full resources of a witheringly hostile national media, in addition to having undergone multiple background checks throughout his long career. But Christine Blasey Ford’s claims could not be corroborated; indeed, they were disputed by all four named eyewitnesses to the alleged assault.
Yet, on this spectral factual basis, the world is supposed to believe that prudence requires depriving promising law students of access to and instruction from a leading (and likely innocent) jurist, solely because a group of students and academics — virtually none of whom have any reason to fear they’ll ever be exposed to Kavanaugh — cannot entertain a reality in which a white male of a different political persuasion did not rape someone.
This is the deadly, thought-corroding acid at the center of identity politics. The students’ opposition to Kavanaugh’s hiring presupposes a conclusion based exclusively on an accusation that no reasonable person can say was sufficiently proved. What’s worse, the students don’t appear to be simply glossing over this gap in their reasoning but seem to have absolutely no awareness there’s a gap at all. The students demand redress not because they can actually show Kavanaugh is guilty of something but solely because they belong to a particular sympathetic demographic — as if shouting forcefully enough about the terribleness of sexual assault will somehow fill the glaring paucity of evidence against Kavanaugh and win the day.
With great respect to survivors of sexual assault, that’s not enough to reasonably expect the school to pass on having a sitting Supreme Court justice join its faculty. Although it’s seemingly been forgotten in the past decade, institutions of higher learning exist to force students to grapple with grand, challenging and often distressing ideas. This is frequently an uncomfortable process that, if done correctly, has the power to upend deeply held convictions. To be sure, schools should strive to accommodate survivors to the extent doing so is appropriate. But what a profound loss it would be if higher education jettisoned its noble commitment to exchanging ideas and pursuing truth purely to knead the emotional scar tissue of its pupils.
George Mason has struck the right balance. It has adopted meaningful initiative to help prevent sexual assault while being commendably wary of letting intersectional chauvinism eclipse intellectual independence. For that, George Mason and Cabrera deserve a strong showing of support.