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Respect My Authori-tah

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I wanted to say a couple things about Paul’s recent string of posts in order to emphasize why what’s happening here is, in fact, important. First of all, I was dismayed to see some of our regular commenters (as well as Jonathan Adler) portray this as some sort of personal feud in which Both Sides Are Doing It.  That’s certainly how Leiter would like to portray this. But is this High Broderite evaluation credible? Let’s summarize:

  • Leiter is credibly accused of harassing his detractors, including threats to out anonymous commenters and getting third parties to reveal the identities of anonymous commementers.
  • Campos is (quite accurately, it must be said) accused of publicly criticizing Brian Leiter.

You’ll forgive me if I’m not seeing the equivalence here.  It should be emphasized that for the non-tenured pseudonymity can often be a prerequisite for the ability to engage in valuable online discussions.  And we shouldn’t forget the behavior of the Faculty Lounge here — giving identities to a third party is a particularly egregious breach of trust.   The Leiter non-denial denial that Adler links to makes it even more safe to infer that Filer gave his co-blogger the information.

The other remarkable thing about this story is Leiter’s comment that the problem with the professionals who send him pointed, mildly critical questions is “stupidity and insolence.”  My question: why on earth would anyone think that demonstrating “insolence” towards Brian Leiter is the slightest bit problematic?  “Professor” is not a feudal title.  As I mentioned in my remembrance for one of my graduate advisors, I was very fortunate to be trained by extremely distinguished scholars who were nonetheless not obsessed with status, who expected arguments to be evaluated on their own merits, and not only by people of comparable titles or previous accomplishments.    Of course, the broader context of the discussion — the severe problems with the contemporary model of legal education — makes the inherent problems with Leiter’s arguments from status and authority even more stark.    If you’re committed to propositions like “it makes perfect sense for law school to cost 5 times as much as it did 25 years ago despite the declining value of a law degree” and “paying full sticker at a non-elite law school is a good investment for many students,” you’re certainly not going to win arguments on the merits.   Trying to stifle debate on the issue, however, is an attempt to ensure that prospective law students remain as ill-informed as they were 5 years ago.   It is fortunate that Leiter’s attacks on this important critical movement appear to be failing miserably, but the stakes make it very important to call out this kind of behavior.

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