Conservative Students Threaten UI Law School Accreditation

UPDATED 2/16 BELOW

Several days ago I received reports of a flap brewing on the University of Idaho College of Law campus about conservative students outraged at the mandatory attendance requirement for a diversity training seminar. Diversity training is often required by employers and schools to help avoid liability in discrimination litigation, such as happened to the law school in George v. University of Idaho. Thereafter I received a copy of a letter dated February 3, 2012 addressed to Dean Burnett, a former Idaho appellate judge, signed by 21 Idaho lawmakers, including, Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney, House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. The scolding letter acknowledges the importance of diversity training but takes issue with the mandatory attendance requirement and the consequences of failing to attend, a memo noting lack of attendance to be placed in the student's permanent file. The letter is silent with regard to the the underlying reasons for the training or the attendance requirement, only that the consequence of failure implies that the student might be characterized as a bigot which is "unacceptable".

On February 6, Dean Burnett responded acknowledging that the legislators lacked the underlying information regarding the necessity of the training. Burnett cited to the rules applicable to law schools one of which requires, through "concrete action", that the school provide an opportunity for education for all, particularly for those underrepresented. For accreditation, the law school must promote a diverse legal profession representative of the population. Moreover the rules of professional conduct preclude attorneys from manifesting through words and conduct bias or prejudice towards people on the basis of race, sex, religion and the classes of people historically disadvantaged and protected by law. Then Burnett proceeds to diplomatically inform the legislators that these rules were violated.

In October, 2011, a joint team from the ABA and AALS visited the UI College of Law as part of a review process that occurs every seven years. The team included lawyers as well as academics; three of its members were or had been law school deans. Several of them had conducted site review visits at up to ten or more law schools. During a four-day visit to Moscow and Boise, they had many scheduled and casual interactions with students, staff, and faculty. During their exit briefings with me and with University administrators, the team referred to these interactions and stated emphatically that the College of Law needed to focus additional attention upon professionalism and diversity.

Emphasis mine. I've conversed with two students who confirm that the "interactions with students" included one who expressed the opinion that women should not be enrolled in law school. At one of the meetings, when the suggestion of diversity training came up, several 'conservative' students objected to having that "diversity shit" shoved down their throats.

Dean Burnett continued his schooling of the legislators with information about the "training" he had scheduled:

In January, 2012, as part of the implementation of the College’s diversity plan, and in light of the ABA/AALS visitors’ observations, the College of Law arranged for Dean Blake Morant of Wake Forest University (see attached biographical summary) to visit the College in February and to conduct a program entitled “Dialogues on Professionalism and Diversity.” The program will consist of one 75-minute session with each class of students (first-year, second-year, third-year in Moscow, and third-year in Boise), plus sessions with staff and faculty at Moscow and Boise. The sessions will complement our required professionalism program on the first day of law school, and the Professional Responsibility course taken by all students.

The sessions, convened and facilitated by Dean Morant, will be closed, “safe” conversations in
which participants are free and encouraged to express candid views. Participants will be invited to raise questions, including criticisms regarding professionalism or diversity itself. These will not be “talk at” sessions with a “politically correct” orthodoxy. Dean Morant has invited students to submit questions or comments in advance, anonymously if they wish, and he will include them in the dialogues as time permits.

Dean Burnett then explained the privacy of student's permanent files and their opportunity to provide supplemental information explaining items placed in the file. Burnett also filled the void of legislator's ignorance with regard to objective standards available for students who had a hardship in attending. The Dean also acknowledged apologizing to students for his "harsh tone" in emphasizing the mandatory attendance requirement, which from hindsight seems entirely reasonable, considering that accreditation occurs once every seven years, and losing accreditation would mean Idaho would be without an accredited law school. Moreover, losing accreditation meant that Idaho law graduates' careers would be jeopardized since they would no longer automatically be allowed to take the bar exam in any state they choose. Dean Burnett incongruously, but understandably, emphasized the pride he had in his students.

Dean Burnett's response letter is a model of diplomacy providing a rational and informative response to powerful and vindictive law makers with control over funding for Idaho's only College of Law. Unfortunately the lazy media reports have a totally different characterization, that Dean Burnett was justifiably called on the carpet for heavy handed tactics designed to impugn the reputation of the students, when just the opposite is true. Dean Burnett was endeavoring to save the school the embarrassment of losing accreditation because a few students made discriminatory, prejudicial or comments evincing bias, to the accreditation committee.

The signatories on the 'scolding letter' are all representative of the right wing of Idaho Republican party most of whom enthusiastically embraced Governor Otter's plan for shutting down Idaho's Human Rights Commission, the State Independent Living Council, the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, and the Hispanic Commission. At best, these legislators chose to utilize heavy handed tactics to support law students,with whom they have an ideologically sympathetic relationship, based solely upon the information those students chose to supply them. At worst these legislators are willing participants in using threats and intimidation to further an ideological agenda to dismantle legal standards which promote fairness and equality for the disadvantaged. In either event, they owe Dean Burnett a huge apology for jeopardizing his efforts in saving the University of Idaho College of Law's accreditation and for doing his best to prevent even more information in the public sphere enhancing Idaho's reputation as a haven for bigotry.
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UPDATED 2/16: The Idaho Statesman wrote an editorial calling out the 21 legislators for micromanaging the law school. But they were sorely remiss in getting to the bottom of the story and identifying the underlying reasons for the diversity training and the consequences of failure. This Lewiston Morning Tribune article gets much closer to the mark but fails to rebuke the scolding letter. Certainly they're trying hard not to inflame the delicate situation, but if Idaho loses accreditation, they will be examples of not taking this seriously enough.

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The more I think about it,

The more I think about it, the more I think those legislators better do some damage control before the committee gets wind that those unprofessional attitudes among the students might be an institutional one. That scolding letter might just convince the accreditation committee to pull it.

I'm still surprised

Dean Burnett didn't get a WTF phone call. Any one of these legislators could easily have called Dean Burnett to get his side of the story, before addressing the matter on legislative stationary suitable for publication and subject to FOIA requests. Horribly unprofessional.

I Fear for the Future

The following was posted on our community list serve today by the esteemed Chuck Kovis (an excellent attorney and public defender). The formatting won't come through, so what's referenced as bolded in red will be indicated by *** on each side of the student's original emphasis; Chuck's comments are before & after and posted here with permission. [Ed.note: formatting has been corrected.]

_____

[Chuck's introduction to Aaron Tracy's email]

The following is an E-Mail sent to U of Idaho law students from a fellow student who opposes the diversity training. The E-Mail was a response to a letter in support of the diversity training being sent to a State Legislator in response to 20 plus legislators objecting to Dean Burnett's handling of the matter.

Bold (red) supplied by writer [end of Chuck's intro commentary].

"Dear Collogues:

I have grown increasingly disappointed in some of the rhetoric that is being discussed about the diversity session.

In the letter by Ms. Hasse and the Letter of Support I noticed what appeared to be hypocrisy by the authors. Take a look at the letter and read it carefully.

“We find it regrettable that such an enlightening, beneficial, and worthwhile event has been tainted with controversy, derision, and negative attention.” The bolded words not positive, they indicate that those with opposing views have tainted the meetings bringing only derisive and negative attention. Additionally, it indicates that those who are not inclined to attend are not enlightened.

“Many of us were surprised and disappointed to learn that our colleagues contacted the state legislature to share their views about this issue.” Disappointment in ones colleagues further subtly indicates that the opposing view is wrong.

“While we encourage everyone to form an educated opinion and exercise their rights of expression, it is important for you to know that the dissatisfaction you encountered from our colleagues, with whom we respectfully disagree, was representative of the minority view at Idaho Law.” The educated opinion portion is a pointed insult that infers that any other than that of support is somehow uneducated. Ironically, the minority view is pointed out in a negative fashion when the diversity meeting is supposed to be exactly about understanding the minority rather than discounting them with ad hominem fallacies.

“Indeed, the majority of students are supportive of both the Dean and the “Dialogues on Professionalism and Diversity.” Once again it is the minority that should also be considered, not only the majority opinion.

“Furthermore, we suggest that most students found the tone of Dean Burnett’s communication pertaining to this event conveyed urgency and importance, rather than disrespect” It is irrelevant what most students thought. If everyone at work thought it was acceptable to make racial or sexist jokes, the one person who disagreed would be the view that should be considered most closely. Those voices of opposition should be heard and considered, even if their message is unsavory.

“Unfortunately, the negative response to the diversity dialogues may have tainted the reputation of our school and our state.” Alluding the opinion from another group somehow taints the reputation is nothing less than a veiled insult. Disagreement on an issue, no matter how sensitive can never taint a reputation. Suggesting it does is suggesting opposing opinion should be silenced.

The letter then talks about tolerance and how everyone is welcomed, valued and accepted. It unfortunately left off the clause “Unless you disagree.”

I am sure that many may discount me as a raging bigoted white man who hates gays, women and Jews. Of that I am unconcerned; but the opinions of others, especially in a law school, should ALWAYS be heard and considered. The letter of non-attendance should not be placed in someone’s record if they make the adult decision not to attend.

I put on my big boy pants when I came to law school, and I am mature enough to make decisions about what I would like to attend or not attend.

I do however want to make it clear I do not have favorable opinions of the American Bar Association or their political stance. Their political stance is opposite to mine on almost every issue. I do have concerns that it will be a meeting about political correctness that excludes my viewpoint. The letters sent by those who support the meeting indicate that may be the case here also.

It has been my experience in the past the diversity training meetings all arrive at the same end, the white straight Christian male is the Cro-Magnon bad guy.

For that reason alone I am not very interested in attending.

Sincerely,
Aaron A. Tracy
(White Straight Christian Cro-Magnon Male)"

Any doubts that the University of Idaho School of Law needs diversity training?
Chuck Kovis
___

Oh, dear. I could have a lot of fun with poor 1L Aaron's limited thinking above, but for some reason I feel sorry for the little "homeless" (I sh*t you not -- that's straight from the UI's public online directory) guy talking about putting on the "big boy pants" he clearly has no hope of filling, at least at this point in his life.

As for the self-adopted "Cro-Magnon" description -- I'm tempted to say that if the shoe fits, he should be allowed to wear it; however, I find it relatively insulting to the earliest modern humans. To borrow from Maya Angelou, "When we know better, we do better," and I find it beyond pathetic that poor Master Tracy is stuck in time 35,000 years ago.

As pathetic as Master Tracy's whine is, it's not nearly as . . . disappointing as the legislators who chose to jump the shark to champion this sad little cause while neglecting the true challenges this state faces. God forbid they should do the real work they were elected to do rather than stick up for some whiny spoiled brats who find it appropriate to flex their newly discovered muscle, muscle that they didn't earn through hard work, physical or otherwise. These budding turd blossoms could think of nothing better to apply their apparently limited intellects to than whining about being required to attend a required seminar -- with law classes rescheduled, no less -- about professionalism and diversity.

My fervent hope is that these pathetic whiners wash out of law school or fail to pass the bar exam; otherwise, they will be sure to add tons of fodder to those bad lawyer jokes so popular in some crowds. And, God help any clients who unwittingly seek competent legal help only to wind up paying for entitled "Cro-Magnon" types arrogant enough to think they are exempt from the necessity of professionalism and diversity.

But, hey -- this is Idaho, right? We don't need no stinkin' professionalism or diversity anywhere in the state, do we?! It's entitled white bread Cro-Magnon types 'til the bitter end!

Or . . . until the rest wake up and realize that those "Cro-Magnon" types have consistently driven the entire state into the ground.

Why thank you darlin

And I didn't get you anything.

not news

Sadly, Mr. Tracy's type is already well represented among the state bar already, and Mr. Kovis' not nearly enough.

More information

on Mr. Aaron Tracy. A closed mind is a good thing to waste.

It's a water rights issue

It doesn't matter how emaciated, dehydrated, and delusional your old nag is, nor how clear and pure that babbling brook you've brought it to may be....

Well, ok, you could intubate the thing, but you can't make it "voluntarily" drink.

I had already inferred before reading Mr. Tracy's email that the persons motivating the mandatory diversity training almost surely did need it, and would resist. Can they survive the note pinned in their file that says "by the way, this person is an intractable bigot who either (a) thinks his privilege is well-deserved, or (b) is too stupid to recognize the possibility that he enjoys special privileges he did not earn" (or however it might actually be worded)?

Yes, I suppose that might happen.

Like

As my momma always said: You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think.