Since I graduated from an unranked law school that has since closed, and I was taught by adjuncts with real-life experience, I have always been fascinated by contretemps in legal academia. For me, it’s like visiting Roswell, New Mexico. The world is alien to me. But what makes legal academia human, just like the rest of us, are the various pickles that professors get themselves into, and these are mostly at Ivy League law schools, not garden variety schools (sorry if that offends any peeps who are at or graduated from those schools).
Where to begin? … How about at Penn Law School where tenured professor Amy Wax thinks her opinions are worth something? What I’m not sure. Her latest foray is shocking and inappropriate. Wax thinks that this country needs “fewer Asians. and less Asian immigration.” Huh? Say what? Born in New York State, her credentials are all East Coast: Harvard Law, Columbia University Medical School. So, her knowledge of American history is probably limited to events east of the Mississippi, even if that far west.
She needs to educate herself on the history of Asians in this country, how they built the railroads, built businesses, how they suffered from exclusionary policies and laws, internment, and other racist events. If she ever visits California, and she should, her first visits should be to Manzanar, one of 10 Japanese relocation internment camps established during World War II, and then to Tule Lake, another California “destination.” To make matters worse, the Penn Law dean, while denouncing her comments, is mum about whether there will be any consequences.
This has not been Wax’s first rodeo of racist remarks. Four years ago, she was woodshedded for her comments about Blacks. So, what minority group will she target next? Anyone care to hazard a guess?
Next on the list of legal academic faux pas perpetrators is Jed Rubenfeld, the currently suspended Yale Law professor. He is now taking on vaccine mandates. I think most reasonable peeps would agree that while the available vaccines may not be perfect in terms of immunity from the delta and omicron varieties, they are a hell of a lot better than no vaccines. Stories abound about those who refused vaccines and wound up in ICUs, on vents, or dead. I didn’t know that Rubenfeld has any expertise in epidemiology, but then most anti-vaxxers don’t either.
Continuing our rogue’s gallery of law professors acting out, there’s the hissy fit thrown by University of San Diego (stipulated that it’s not an Ivy League law school) law professor Larry Alexander, who was unhappy with edits suggested by the Emory University Law journal editors to his article written supposedly in tribute to Emory Law professor Michael Perry. However, Alexander authored an article that could hardly be considered a tribute. What am I missing here? The concept of “tribute” is to write something complimentary, a testimonial about the honoree. (There’s a difference between a “roast” and a “tribute.”) Doesn’t Alexander know about the Golden Rule? What about “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” What about politely declining to contribute to the journal’s tribute rather than writing what he did? What was his point? What was he thinking? A diatribe is not a tribute.
Meanwhile, I don’t think that there is any lawyer practicing, inactive, retired, whatever the category, who hasn’t had an experience, or two or three, working for a jerk or having a jerk as opposing counsel. (If you haven’t, then you have never practiced, practiced with blinders on, or been able to ignore the jerk. If you are in the last category, then share your secrets. And if you are a law professor, you may well have ditched practice for assorted reasons, including jerkdom, which is not to say that you haven’t become a jerk in academia. See above.) Even though there are differences in working for a jerk or dealing with an opposing counsel jerk, today’s lawyers have way less tolerance for jerkdom than lawyers of my vintage had. Good for the ones who stand up and say, either by words or deeds or both, that they’re not going to take it anymore.
Do you know that there is a job called “professional jerk controller?” I didn’t, but I love the job title. A woman who is an executive coach screens job candidates during the interview process to decide whether there would be a fit between the candidate and the company. That candidate needs to be a team player and this process helps to suss out those who don’t fit. And as we all know from experience, it’s so much easier to hire than fire.
If you have a chance, read the article’s comments. With resignations topping 4 million last November, employees are talking with their feet, refusing to tolerate jerks, whether they are bosses or co-workers or, may I say, even clients?
And finally, what would happen if a company resembling Google and Facebook acquired a company resembling Amazon? (I shudder to think.) Read Dave Eggers’s latest novel, “The Every.” It’s both hilarious and horrifying and a glimpse into a world we may regret. Is it satire or is it reality? Or both? Are we there yet?
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.