'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, April 27, 2012

Days in the Life of a UC Davis Law Professor 

If you are Alan Brownstein, the Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality at the University of California, Davis, School of Law, you serve on a Task Force that condemns the administrative failings of the Chancellor and the vice chancellors responsible for the use of pepper spray against protesting, non-violent UC Davis students while refusing to request their resignations, or disciplinary action of any kind. Indeed, it appears that you demonstrated your qualifications for the Task Force by, shortly after the incident, signing your name to a faculty letter expressing support for Chancellor Katehi, a letter that stated that she is well-qualified to lead our university through this difficult healing process and oppose the premature calls for her resignation. In this, you followed the lead of many of your law school colleagues, including the Dean, who decided that defending the Katehi administration took precedent over requiring accountability for those responsible for calling the riot police on campus that assaulted the students.

After performing such admirable service on the Task Force, you then, with another law school professor, Vikram Amar, publish a piece that contests the characterization of Occupy UC Davis protesters who picketed the US Bank branch on campus as engaging in constitutionally protected speech, which, while legally accurate, provides implicit support for their criminal prosecution by the Yolo County District Attorney at a time when UC Davis is being criticized for taking action against them. You specifically object to the request by the Davis Faculty Association that campus leaders seek dismissal of the charges. While doing so, you can't resist telling us that the membership of the association comprises a very small fraction of professors at UC Davis. In this instance, in marked contrast to your constitutional analysis, quantity matters.

While the rest of us believe that you reside in an intellectual glass house and should express yourself on these matters with care, you actually have the temerity to say the following in support of your position:

The argument that a public university should pick and choose whether obstruction should be permitted or not based on the political content of any particular blockade is also a dubious proposition. Treating one political topic or perspective more favorably than another constitutes subject-matter or viewpoint discrimination – which almost always violates the First Amendment. Moreover, a university engaging in such discrimination demonstrates that it is no longer committed to open inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. The university instead morphs into a political institution committed to particular perspectives – so much so that it excuses violations of law in support of its own political positions.

Of course, you might have been more persuasive if it weren't painfully obvious that you had just served on a Task Force that had done something similar by excusing administrative violations, and possible criminal ones as well, involving the Chancellor's Office and the UC Davis Police Department. You, along with the other Task Force members, displayed a remarkable incredulity in regard to these subjects. Fortunately for you, however, there is a happy convergence between your work on the Task Force and your subsequent legal article about the US Bank protesters, a convergence that allows you to continue to please the administrators that you had been selected to purportedly investigate.

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