The 2022 MTC Lysenko Award: And the Winner Is…

Fall is in the air, which means it’s time to award the annual Minding the Campus Trofim Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech (a Lysenko Award, for short).

As detailed in the inaugural award announcement, the Lysenko Award is named after Stalinist agronomist Trofim Lysenko. Like so many in today’s woke colleges and universities, Lysenko discarded the scientific method in favor of his own politicized theories (which happened to coincide with the Marxist concept of materialism). While his agricultural theories were neo-Lamarckian pseudoscience and, predictably, failed (causing millions to die from induced famines), Lysenko compounded matters by denouncing as an enemy of the state anyone who even questioned the veracity of his claims. With dissenters executed, sent to the gulags, or, at best, ruined, no one could point out the obvious: Lysenko’s theories were simply bunk. As a result, Lysenkoism remained official Soviet policy well into the 1960s, and Soviet biological science was set back decades.

As I wrote last year:

The moral of Lysenko is that suppressing academic debate and dissent for political reasons yields bad science, bad scholarship, and inevitably bad results. It can even lead to the collapse of nations. The genius of the scientific method and Western academic culture is that you get closer to the truth by subjecting all theories and ideas to rigorous testing and debate. When you frustrate this process because you are afraid the results might prove politically inconvenient, uncomfortable, or “triggering,” the ghost of Lysenko smiles.

Last year’s winner was Williams College Professor Phoebe Cohen, who was one of the keyboard warriors who helped cow MIT into disinviting University of Chicago climatologist and professor Dorian Abbot from giving the endowed Carlson Lecture. Professor Abbot’s crime, you may recall, was that he believes individuals in higher education should be evaluated based on their individual merit rather than their membership in an identity group. (Professor Abbot had the last laugh after Princeton hosted his lecture online for thousands of viewers, while the MIT administration is still reeling from alumni and faculty blowback over its cowardly behavior.) When asked by the New York Times about the effect of such cancellation on academic debate and free speech, our first award winner justified herself thusly: “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated.”

Predictably, when faced with the loads of derision that were heaped upon her, Professor Cohen played the victim card. Interestingly, she did acknowledge that she had won the MTC Lysenko Award!

Dishonorable Mentions

As cancel culture remains omnipresent on campuses today, there is no shortage of candidates for this year’s award. There are too many to list, but Dishonorable Mentions go to:

Theodore Ruger (Dean, University of Pennsylvania Law School). Despite initially acknowledging that Amy Wax, a tenured and noteworthy law professor, had academic freedom that protected her from official retaliation for her speech and articles, Ruger subsequently knuckled under to the activists and is now leading the lynch mob trying to revoke her tenure.

William Treanor (Dean, Georgetown Law School). His treatment of Ilya Shapiro was cowardly at best. But given that he would fire a professor for lamenting that many black students aren’t doing well at Georgetown Law, was anyone really surprised? (If the Supreme Court overrules Grutter, I won’t be shocked if Treanor fires someone for teaching the new decision as anything other than the second coming of Scott v. Sandford.)

[Related: “Introducing the Minding the Campus Lysenko Award”]

University of North Texas. Whether it is literally standing by and doing nothing while Antifa thugs physically assault invited speakers and event organizers on campus, firing a professor for a joking response to a hyperbolic flier on “microaggressions,” or canceling a tenured music professor for publishing a symposium piece that debunked a poorly reasoned article by a woke music theorist, all I can say is that there must be something in the Denton water these days. The good news is that the courts have not been particularly impressed with UNT’s behavior—nor, I daresay, will be the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature when it is back in session next month.

Princeton University. On the one hand, it did host Dorian Abbot. On the other hand, two words: Joshua Katz.

Saint Vincent College. After Hillsdale College professor and research fellow David Azerrad presented a piece entitled “Black Privilege and Racial Hysteria in Contemporary America” as part of a program at Saint Vincent College, the administration responded by instituting a new policy requiring all speakers on campus to be preapproved by the college president and top leadership. But they assure everyone that they won’t censor speakers. Yeah, right.

Danielle Kerker Goldstein & Shawn Ren (Emory Law Journal). Invite a noted constitutional scholar to submit a Festschrift piece. After first review, send an editor’s memo, explicitly stating that “our comments are merely suggestions and you should feel free to incorporate or dismiss these suggestions as you see fit” and expressing enthusiasm for the essay. After the author declines a “suggestion” to delete a particular section of the article, suddenly decide that the entire piece is “hurtful” and “divisive,” and refuse to publish it. Even left-of-center legal scholars were appalled at the virtue-signaling of these wet-behind-the-ears law students, and yanked their contributions to the Festschrift in protest (and other scholars required their Festschrift pieces to be published with a note of protest). Nice job, kids.

And the Winner Is…

In my view, our winner exemplifies the spirit of Lysenko. Lysenko was illiterate until he was thirteen, and his inability to grasp basic scientific principles led him to be regarded as a bad joke by actual scientists. (Lysenko’s sociopathic persecution of those who dared disagree with him may well have been because he knew he did not have the chops to defend his positions under traditional academic metrics.) Similarly, our winner is not a law professor or a legal scholar, and, from what I can see, she does not appear to have had any noteworthy accomplishments as a practicing attorney. Instead, she is the “Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs” at the University of Kansas School of Law (KU Law) and the functionary for the school’s “Faculty/Staff Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee.”

Recently, KU Law’s Federalist Society chapter invited Jordan Lorence, senior counsel and director of strategic engagement at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), to speak at a luncheon seminar on establishment clause law. Whether you agree or disagree with their positions, it is undeniable that ADF is a major player in the religious liberty space, and Lorence has successfully argued notable First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court. He and other ADF attorneys routinely speak at legal functions and law schools, including those at Harvard, Cornell, Duke, and many others.

However, because the ADF takes positions (often quite successfully) that the LGBT community disagrees with, it is not uncommon for activists to try and cancel or disrupt such presentations. When the Lorence seminar was announced at KU Law, the usual cadre of activists went nuts, shrilly asserting that the ADF was a “hate group,” and that the seminar would promote “hate speech.” Aware of the tactics such activists have employed elsewhere, the Federalist Society chapter prudently asked the law school’s administration to provide event security.

[Related: “The Perils of University Indigenization”]

Now, one might expect the “Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs” to be the adult in the room and to deal with this situation accordingly: arrange for security and remind protesters that there are rules against disrupting school events (and actually enforce such rules against violators). She might counsel law students upset with the ADF that dealing with positions (or people) you disagree with is a critical skill every lawyer must develop, that listening to such positions might better equip you to become an effective advocate for the opposing position, or even that free speech and debate is an essential part of higher education. (UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh has some excellent thoughts on how law school administrators should handle situations like this.)

But no. Instead, the entire student board of the Federalist Society chapter was summoned to a meeting with the administration. According to a now-former faculty member (more on him later):

At that meeting, [our winner and a professor] pressured the students to cancel the event. The administration representatives warned the student leaders that they needed to consider and understand the impact the event could have on them. The administration mentioned that at least five law professors had written to object. The students were told that even though it was their right to host the speaker, they needed to be warned about the impact of their choices. The student leaders were told several times to consider what this would do to their reputation.

To their credit, the students stood their ground, and the seminar went forward as scheduled. In response, shortly before the event our winner sent an e-mail to the entire law school (students, administration, and faculty), proclaiming that the ADF’s positions “do not align with the values of the law school” (query: who anointed this associate dean to determine and announce the “values of the law school”?) and labeling the presentation “hate speech.” (As others have pointed out, our winner’s e-mail could conceivably be a deliberate effort to “incite hatred” toward anyone who agrees with the ADF’s positions, and would thereby be “hate speech” under the university’s definition.)

Jordan Lorence’s response to this e-mail says it well:

“It is incredibly concerning that the dean of a prominent law school, which should be training future lawyers to persuade others through logic and legal principles, is instead actively working to suppress free expression on campus,” Lorence said in an email statement. “This is contrary to everything a law school should be teaching. We must restore a culture of free speech and civil discourse at KU and other law schools, or the future of the legal profession will remain in dire straits.”

Lorence was not alone in his criticism. Kansas Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall had been an adjunct professor at KU Law for years, where he taught appellate advocacy. This incident appears to have been the last straw for him, as he has now resigned in disgust. In a blistering six-page letter to the dean of the law school, Judge Stegall excoriated the administration for its abandonment of free speech and inquiry, to say nothing of its obligation to properly train law students to be lawyers:

Educated citizens of such a society have a minimum obligation to listen to opposing viewpoints and engage in reasoned dialogue. Lawyers have a heightened duty to do so — and are supposed to be receiving training and expertise in the skill set necessary to accomplish that difficult task. KU Law is not serving its students well — nor is it preparing them to take their place as lawyers in the great conversation (or Kansas courtrooms) — when it engages in bullying and censoring tactics, fosters a spirit of fear, drives dissent into a guerrilla posture, and gives institutional backing and support to overwrought grievances which can and do cripple a persons’ ability to critically engage with ideas or people with whom they disagree.

Bravo, Justice Stegall! Perhaps Judge James Ho and other like-minded judges should consider giving KU Law the Yale treatment.

So congratulations, Kansas University School of Law Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Leah Terranovayou are the second recipient of the Minding the Campus Lysenko Award for the Suppression of Academic Speech.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain


  • Louis K. Bonham

    Louis K. Bonham is an intellectual property litigator. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (BA ’83, JD ’86), was an Articles Editor on the Texas Law Review, and served as a law clerk to the Hon. Edith H. Jones of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

14 thoughts on “The 2022 MTC Lysenko Award: And the Winner Is…

  1. Excellemment dit et écrit.
    Notons les pronoms she/her/hers pour lui remettre le prix sans faire de faux pas…

  2. Agree with above comment that Lysenko awardee should have been identified at the outset of essay.
    Am not clear why Terranova’s profile removed from the KU website. Voluntarily on her part (eg., to escape ridicule) or consequent to KU Law School administrative decision (out of, it is hoped, embarrassment)?

    1. Her e-mail and photo on her KU Law webpage were there at the time I started working on the article (last Thursday). However, later that day it had been scrubbed, which coincided with the AP running a story on Justice Stegall’s resignation. My suspicion is that she started to get lots of negative mail, and so she just removed it.

      Other than a mushmouth statement from the actual dean after Justice Stegall’s resignation letter went viral, KU Law has been totally silent about this incident. I suspect KU Law has decided to just ignore it and hope it all blows over.

      Hopefully, someone at the Kansas legislature is paying attention, and will invite the dean to explain herself before KU get any further state appropriations.

  3. This is an excellent award to give out and to publicize. It would make it more impactful if you put the name of this year’s winner in the title of the article and in the opening paragraph. Readers will not read the entire article to only find out who it is in the last sentence.Thank you.

  4. Dean Terranova’s picture and contact information have been removed from her profile on the KU Law site.
    I wanted to congratulate her on the outstanding achievement but am not able now to do so.

  5. ” no one could point out the obvious: Lysenko’s theories were simply bunk. As a result, Lysenkoism remained official Soviet policy well into the 1960s, and Soviet biological science was set back decades.”

    I’m reminded of “Global Cooling”, aka “Global Warming”, aka now merely “Climate Change.” The basic myth that evil humans are messing up the planet is not unlike Lysenkoism — with the consequences likely to be the same as well…

  6. I’ll go further — “University of North Texas. Whether it is literally standing by and doing nothing while Antifa thugs physically assault invited speakers and event organizers on campus…”

    If campus authorities are not going to address physical assault, why can’t/won’t Texas state authorities do so? (I presume that Texas has laws against assault and such…)

    But the real risk here is that of victims responding in kind — or with lethal force. The left is under some delusion that they hold a monopoly on the use of violence — and I’ve been around young people far too long to believe that…

    1. As far as what Texas authorities are doing in response, watch the skies . . . .

      I had dinner last night with some folks with very credible inside intel (100% consistent with other reports I have received). Let’s just say a legislative beat down of wokeism in Texas (including on campus) is in the works for the upcoming legislative session. A number of powerful Texas politicians apparently believe the time is right to say, a-la the old Bill Cosby routine, “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH! THE BEATINGS WILL NOW BEGIN!”

      When I get a copy of the proposed legislation (and consent from the folks behind it to take it public), I’ll be writing it up for MTC. We’ll see if it includes aspects of my “modest proposal,” such as granting taxpayers standing to challenge illegal activities (e.g., racially discriminatory DEI hiring practices) on public college campuses, personal liability of college administrators for violations of the law, provisions allowing suits against public colleges to be brought in venues other than the college’s home turf, etc.

      If they pull this off (the Texas GOP has supermajorities in both houses and all statewide offices are held by GOP members, but by design it is hard to pass anything through the state legislature) it could be open season on the wokesters at UNT, UT, and many state schools in Texas, and the bill could be model legislation for other red states. This very well could be a game changer.

  7. ” (If the Supreme Court overrules Grutter, I won’t be shocked if Treanor fires someone for teaching the new decision as anything other than the second [incarnation] of Scott v. Sandford.)”

    Let’s take the consequence of such a decision being taught as the second incarnation of the Dredd Scott decision, which it inevitably will be. And what the left fails to understand is that while you can force racist bigots into the closet, it doesn’t make them any less racist.

    You will then have young lawyers believing that what they were taught, i.e. a second incarnation of Dredd Scott, is what the law is — and that it is a good thing. And they will then provide such legal advice to equally racist clients. Throw in a rationally learned belief that political violence works, as Antafa has shown us, and the future of civil rights in this country could be quite dim, indeed.

    And the real issue is what will we — as a society, as taxpayers (and our state legislators) do when the professors inevitably riot in response to what appears to be a pretty-much inevitable SCOTUS decision. Worse, Texas is a “constitutional carry” state with those who get a concealed permit able to carry on college campi. What is going to happen when another Kyle Rittenhouse uses a Glock to defend himself against an Antifa horde — at close range, there will be fatalities.

    Ronald Reagan put it best — the problem is that those who are old enough to know better, i.e. the faculty & admin, let young people chose the laws they would obey as long as they were doing it in the name of social protest. See:

  8. Please don’t refer to the “LGBT community.” 1) There is no such thing. 2) Not all gay people are lockstep Wokesters. Thanks.

    1. Very fair point. I should have worded it as “‘woke’ LGBT activists” rather than “the LGBT community.”

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