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