Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bravo, Mayor (well, former mayor) Bloomberg--well done!

This whole idea of students protesting commencement speakers because they don't like the proposed speakers' politics bothers me, which is why I appreciated Mayor Bloomberg's commencement address so much.  I've experienced commencement speaker protests myself.  (Sarah Weddington was our commencement speaker during my first year of dean at the University of Houston Law Center, and I invited her because she was someone who was effective as a lawyer, in the Texas Legislature, and in the Carter Administration--and I consider her a friend.)

Law graduates who didn't appreciate her work as the lawyer in Roe v. Wade protested.  She had to worry about death threats at graduation.  (So did I.)  Even though she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, she came through and did a superb job at graduation.  The protesting students limited themselves to wearing gold lapel pins symbolizing baby feet, which was a perfectly legitimate and respectful form of protest.  I was proud of them.

Another commencement speaker at UHLC triggered a one-person protest by a student who believed that the speaker had insulted his family at a trial.  That particularlized protest, based on a personal interaction and not on a difference of philosophy, was different in kind.  We excused the student from commencement and gave him his diploma in a separate ceremony.

I know that there is a limit to the idea that students' protests shouldn't be taken into account when a university invites a controversial speaker--there are some speakers who are so reprehensible that giving them a public forum just seems wrong.  But for the life of me, I can't come up with the line-drawing that would make it clear when a speaker should be disinvited. Although I would likely know it when I saw it ("it" being the case for disinviting someone), my instincts aren't so superior that I would be comfortable using my own judgment as the appropriate benchmark.

Overall, though, universities can't be places where students learn to listen to others' viewpoints and learn to debate ideas respectfully, then where will they learn how to do that?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Airline inconvenience insurance? Count me in.

The Wall Street Journal gave me the heads-up on this new insurance (here). I can't find the insurance on the company's website yet, but I'm intrigued.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I can't decide if this story is more ridiculous or horrifying.

I was going to make some flip remark about the events reported in this story, like how I'm too busy controlling the banks and Hollywood to control academia as well, but frankly I'm just tired of the coded anti-Semitism that so few people are condemning.

Life lessons for all of us--from the Navy SEALS and TaxProf Blog.

See here.  Worth reading all the way through.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear Mr. Whelan of the National Review:

Wow.  Our faculty letter and our Dean's letter must have really struck a nerve with you.  (See also here and here.)

Before I respond to you, here's some background on me:  I'm a moderate--not liberal, not conservative.  Moderate.  I married into a military family (husband/father-in-law/brother-in-law are former Marines; sister-in-law was career Air Force; late mother-in-law was Army).  I interviewed for a Rehnquist clerkship.  I'm probably not what you envision when you think about liberal faculty members in law schools. 

I signed the faculty letter because I believe that it's important to remind the profession that we can have meaningful conversations about controversial issues--issues about which good-hearted and smart people can disagree--in a civil manner. Here's what our letter said:

As members of the faculty and staff of UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law, we were dismayed to read the May 2014 Nevada Lawyer column by Alan J. Lefebvre, written in his capacity as President of the State Bar of Nevada. We fear that the tone of Mr. Lefebvre’s undignified column brings disrespect on the Bar and undermines principles of professionalism that we endeavor to instill in our students.

Mr. Lefebvre’s ostensible subject was Nevada’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. He disparaged the conclusion by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and endorsed by Governor Brian Sandoval that the ban cannot be defended in federal court. There are reasonable debates to be had about how our state’s officials should respond to a rapidly shifting legal landscape. But such debates require a climate of mutual respect. The mission of the State Bar of Nevada is, in part, to “elevate the standard of honor, integrity, and courtesy in the legal profession” and “to promote a spirit of cordiality” among lawyers. In our roles as faculty and staff at Nevada’s only law school, we want to pass these values on to our graduates. It is thus regrettable that Mr. Lefebvre’s essay consists largely of insults, ad hominem attacks, sarcasm, and sectarian references that are simply inappropriate for the leader of an important institution in a vibrant and diverse state.

We recognize that issues like marriage equality naturally inspire passionate responses. But in the legal profession passion must be expressed with dignity and thoughtful analysis. Mr. Lefebvre’s column was lacking in the civility that should guide the behavior of every Nevada attorney. It is a serious disappointment for such indignity to emanate from the leader of the state bar.
What we were trying to convey in the letter is that it is perfectly legitimate to express disagreement--passionately but still politely--with our attorney general's position, but that we wanted to keep the discourse civil.  Our dean's letter, too, was respectful in its approach.  Your column?  Not so much, frankly, with its sneer about us being a "fourth-tier school" (not true, and also not very nice of you).

I'm not a "delicate flower," as your column suggests.  I'm happy to engage with you on this issue, publicly or privately.  Maybe we could come away from a conversation with a better appreciation of each other's point of view.

Oh, and your reference to "one well-informed source [who conveyed to you that]: 'Even by the standards of the modern American law school, the Boyd School of Law’s faculty is remarkably intolerant of dissent. Opponents to the Orthodoxy are either evil or ignorant, take your pick'"?  That's not been my experience.  I've found my colleagues to be exceptionally civil in their discourse, even when they disagree with each other (and including when they disagree with me).  So we have your anonymous person who blasted our school, and we have me, with a completely different take on Boyd's atmosphere.  That's an n of two, which is too small a sample size for an outsider to form an opinion. 

Let's see if you and I can engage in a sincere conversation that rests on a basic assumption:  you've thought long and hard about your views, and you have good reasons for holding them, and I've thought long and hard about mine, and I have good reasons for holding them, too.  Maybe a conversation might give each of us more fodder for thought.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Cox Cable Customer Service--sigh....

So far today, I've spent almost two hours on the phone, on the web, and in live chat with Cox.  Things that went wrong today:
  1. The "plug-and-play" new wireless router didn't plug.  Or play.  At least not until I bounced my complaint up to a manager.  That took 40 minutes.
  2. The Cox salesperson who sold me the router said, "You can talk with Netgear and rename your router and change the password."  Netgear, on the other hand, said that I should talk with Cox.  Cox said that I should talk with Netgear.  Maybe the two of them have some sort of bet going as to which one can drive me crazy first.  Hint:  It's a tie.
  3. We're switching to Contour on Wednesday.  We were planning to watch the old DVR'ed shows before Wednesday, when suddenly the DVR said that we didn't have a DVR plan.  (Oh, and we don't have any cable channels, either, right now.)  We've rebooted, to no avail.  Ah, but I've been listening to beautiful classical music for, oh, 16:35 so far.
So all of the other services about which I've complained over the years?  I think that Cox has all of you beat cold.