On Stereotypes and the University of Michigan Law School Graduation

On December 22, Jordan graduated from the University of Michigan law school (see picture in his post below). I was fortunate enough to attend. I found it interesting that the University of Michigan lived up to its stereotypes of being a “liberal” school, even in the graduation addresses.

In one single graduation ceremony we heard an anti-Mormon epithet, an anti-Scalia rant (quite a long and partisan one), an anti-Bush-nominee rant, and an anti-large-law-firm criticism (although Professor Cooper, of Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure fame, did also present a good counter-argument to that particular criticism).

What I find amazing is the intolerance of liberals as expressed in these speeches given by supposedly liberal people. The remarks about Latter-day Saints were particularly offensive. Didn’t the speaker realize that there were numerous Latter-day Saints in the audience? She must have known that at least three of the other students in her (admittedly small) December graduating class were LDS and that their families were likely to be there. On a human level, not a political or religious level, where is the politeness that would, it seems to me, naturally disuade someone from slurring a particular religion in a graduation speech? Mere courtesy demands a softening of one’s views in such a speech to a general audience. I suppose that the callousness and intolerance exhibited by such behavior stems from the same “liberal” ideas that bring University of Michigan law students e.g. to spit on those who decide to interview with the Air Force JAG on campus. Very open-minded and tolerant, indeed.

Aside from these peculiarities (resulting, it seems, from the existential identity of the University of Michigan), it was a very enjoyable occasion and one of which Jordan should definitely be proud. After all, discourteous and intolerant or not, it is a top-ten law school with a very highly esteemed reputation and the mere name of which on a resume will open doors that remain perpetually shut to graduates of other law schools not so high on the list of rankings.

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32 Responses to On Stereotypes and the University of Michigan Law School Graduation

  1. Anonymous says:

    You left out the best part! What did she say? 

    Posted by Chad Too

  2. Anonymous says:

    She grew up in Salt Lake City and so she said, and I paraphrase, that we shouldn’t become like the “theocracy” where she grew up, “of which [she] was not a part,” and which oppresses minorities.  

    Posted by john fowles

  3. Anonymous says:

    As paraphrased, I’m not sure that I agree that that’s an anti-Mormon epithet. If she’s saying that theocracies that oppress minorities are bad, well, I’m in agreement. One can think that the relatively close church-state relationship in Utah is a bad thing, without being anti-Mormon.

    Of course, I wasn’t there, and all I have to go by is your paraphrase. But as you’ve given it here, it doesn’t sound anti-Mormon to me. 

    Posted by Kaimi

  4. Anonymous says:

    Also, I’m curious. Are there documented instances of people actually spitting on law students interviewing with the JAG corps? That sounds urban-legend-y to me. (I’m also curious as to how that would happen. Most interviews at law schools that I know of are done in hotel suites — were they standing outside the suites, spit at the ready? If so, weren’t they blowing their own chances for any interviews? — most interviews take place on a single day or two.) 

    Posted by Kaimi

  5. Anonymous says:

    Kaimi,

    I personally would not go so far as my brother to characterize what was said as an anti-mormon “epithet”. However, it was in poor taste, in my opinion.

    The JAG thing is not an urban legend, unfortunately. During my first year of law school, everyone got so worked up about the law school allowing JAG on campus instead of having the courage to stand up and risk losing federal funding that people protested and picketed in front of the rooms where JAG was interviewing. The picketers were disgusting in the lengths they went to in harassing anyone unfortunate enough to actually want a career with the military after law school, and anyone who wanted to interview JAG had to pass through a gauntlet of swearing, jeering, and yes, spitting peers.

    The career services office just stood by and when asked to intervene, just said that they didn’t want JAG either so people would have to interview at their own peril (not in those words, but that was the gist of it).

    And most employers DO interview at a hotel, if they show up during interview week. But the military is on its own timetable, I guess, so it always conducts interviews at the law school campus.

    We’ll see if that changes now after the 10th circuit ruling against the Solomon Amendment… 

    Posted by Jordan

  6. Anonymous says:

    Kaimi, your words on her remarks regarding the Church are completely irrelevant. It is the context of her speech that made a derisive comment about a particular religion inappropriate. She could have made some point or other about the separation of church and state without declaring to an audience in which were seating Latter-day Saints from Salt Lake City and elsewhere that the Church is running an oppressive theocracy out there in SLC. 

    Posted by john fowles

  7. Anonymous says:

    What I mean, Kaimi, is that whether you personally agree with her opinion that the Church oppresses minorities or that a theocracy is bad is not the point. The point is as Jordan put it, the very bad taste of singling out a religion in a graduation speech and using it as an example of everything you find bad with your country. 

    Posted by john fowles

  8. Anonymous says:

    Okay, Kaimi and Jordan, good point with the hyperbole–let’s call it a derisive comment rather than an “epithet.” I just found it highly insensitive on a human level. I’m not talking the law, politics, or religion here, just mere humanity. 

    Posted by john fowles

  9. Anonymous says:

    What I think is fascinating is how she’s still carrying this with her. While I agree that LDS people in Utah sometimes have a hard time making non-LDS people feel welcome, I hardly think it’s something that should merit comment over the stand at a graduation. I suppose she felt differently.

    Personally, I think it’s just a part of a continuing attack on religion in general, and Christianity in particular.  

    Posted by Zach

  10. Anonymous says:

    That’s too bad. I am a little surprised that someone at Michigan would think that Utah and Mormons merited a mention. A lot of similarly “tolerant”-minded folks are on the faculty at the U of Utah law school but that I just took that as just reactionary. It’s easy to be tolerant with those who think like you do. 

    Posted by David H. Sundwall

  11. Anonymous says:

    John,

    A lot depends on the circumstances of the speaker. But there are a lot of cases where LDS people can be very intolerant and harass others. And if this person’s experiences in overcoming that harassment contributed to her growth, then it’s fair game to mention it in a grad talk.

    For example, she might have been a businessperson who tried to open a (perfectly legitimate) frowned-upon business in Utah — a brewery, for example — and been harassed by LDS neighbors and local leaders. Or she may have been someone who came out of the closet in high school, and was continually harassed by LDS students. (Or, perhaps, teachers as well).

    It’s fair game for Thurgood Marshall in a grad talk to discuss fighting against laws in the South — despite the fact that some in attendance may be in favor of those laws. It’s fair game for Matt Evans to discuss protesting legalized abortion — despite the fact that audience members may disagree with him. And it’s fair game to discuss one’s experiences overcoming oppression in Salt Lake City.  

    Posted by Kaimi

  12. Anonymous says:

    And it’s fair game to disparage all Muslims in a graduation speech? 

    Posted by john fowles

  13. Anonymous says:

    Kaimi, she didn’t say some (or even many) Latter-day Saints were intolerant toward her or unaccepting or inviting to her but rather made a blanket statement that singled out an entire religion and made it an example of oppression of minorities. It doesn’t matter to me if you personally think that she had a valid argument with that point. What I find interesting is that you seem to think it is an appropriate comment to make in a graduation speech on a human level. It is completely inconsiderate of the idea that some in the audience might be Latter-day Saints who do not think their religion by nature oppresses people. My point was that it was highly insensitive and far from politically correct. In fact, I would even have less of a problem with it if it had been a graduation speech at a private university. But it was a graduation speech at a public university and thus should be subjected to the constraints of political correctness that are enjoyed by the politically approved minority groups. But you are drawing me into law, politics, and religion, and my original point was to the insensitivity and callousness that engender such a remark in that context and forum. 

    Posted by john fowles

  14. Anonymous says:

    John,

    Again, I don’t think that the statement disparages Mormons. You heard the statement, not I, but as you’re describing it, it doesn’t sound anti-Mormon.

    You ask, what if she had talked about Muslims? Well, let’s transpose:

    “I grew up in a theocracy in Saudi Arabia. I wasn’t a part of that theocracy, and minorities were not accepted. I’m glad to be at Fowles University now and out of that environment.”

    Does that statement disparage all Muslims? Or is it merely a critique of the close government-religious ties in one particular political environment, and the unfortunate effect of those ties on excluded minorities? 

    Posted by Kaimi

  15. Anonymous says:

    Kaimi, Saudi Arabia really is a theocracy. You will have a difficult time convincing me that Utah is in any way a theocracy. There is no official tie between church and state in Utah. In fact the Utah constitution more radically separates church and state than most state constitutions. So her assertion that just because many people in Utah belong to the Church makes Utah a theocracy is a loaded and derisive statement about the Church itself. I have a hard time believing that you really can’t see this and chalk it up to an eagerness to jump to the defense of someone with views critical of the Church. She is fully entitled to have any views she wishes towards the Church. Maybe you are even right that she has a right to voice those (negative) views in a graduation speech. (I am not convinced of that seeing as I believe political correctness should apply both ways if we are to yoke ourselves under it at all.) But you have yet to speak to my real concern: if she is “liberal” doesn’t that mean she is supposed to be “sensitive”? Or does that only mean she is sensitive to the favored social causes and minorities and intolerant towards others? Do the feelings of Latter-day Saints in the audience–family of her LDS classmates who have befriended her and shown her good will throughout three years of law school–matter at all on a human level to a liberal? Or just the feelings of lesbians and blacks and single mothers or young women who have aborted?

    Are you saying that a Latter-day Saint who does not think it is a fair or accurate or polite statement to say that Utah is a theocracy or that the Church by its nature oppresses minorities cannot legitimately feel offended by a graduation speech at a public university in which the speaker takes as a starting and undebated premise (merely assumes as a fact that should be as obvious to everyone in her audience as it is to her) that the Church is an oppressor and that Utah is a theocracy merely because of the fact that many people in Utah state leadership happen to belong to the Church (and very many do not)?

    By her logic, the University of Michigan is a theocracy that is just as or more oppressive of non-favored minorities (if you are to believe recent NY Times, Economist, and CNN articles that report an overwhelming liberal bias among university professors). That is, the fact that many professors and students at the U of M adhere to a faith in atheism (it is, to be sure, merely faith that there is no God, much the same as a religious person has faith that there is a God) must mean that the University is a theocracy (because the individuals espouse the belief, nevermind the complete absence of a theocratic structure, much as in the Utah example). I assume she believes that the United States is a “theocracy” now just because Bush happens to be a religious man. Separation of church and state does not mean that individuals in government cannot hold to a religious faith or even that the principles of such faith cannot influence the individual’s public policy choices. Such a social or personal separation is truly impossible and undesirable, even if a complete institutional separation is possible and/or desirable.

    But you have me talking law, politics, and religion again. I want to ask about the humanity of such insensitivity and why does it come from liberals? I thought they had progressed past such (isn’t that one reason they decry conservatives, because they claim conservatives are insensitive to such things?), but the loaded statement at the graduation speech (come on, can you really deny the implications of such a statement?) and the attitude of e.g. U of M law students towards those interviewing for jobs with the JAG seems to suggest otherwise. 

    Posted by john fowles

  16. Anonymous says:

    There is a rhetorical practice that is quite common in American politics but is still frustrating when I see it. First you stereotype your opponent and charicature his views. Then when he doesn’t live up to your stereotype you call him a hypocrite or inconsistent. One day liberals are so “tolerant” that they’ll let anything pass, even things which are positively wicked. The next day the same liberals get browbeat because they actually do stand up against something, e.g. political views they see as poisonous to democratic culture or undue influence of church leaders in policy making.

    I don’t know the exact text of the comments you allude to. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that you first reported that the speaker claimed that minorites are oppressed in Utah, then that she said Mormonism is by its very nature oppressive. There is a big difference there. Also, the charge of theocracy is clearly false, but it’s a standard hyperbole for undue religious influence in politics. The speaker may even be wrong about any undue influence, but I’d hardly say that this makes her comment an anti-Mormonism epithet. Some Mormons don’t like the relation between the church and political leaders in Utah, and many of these don’t even fault the church for this problem (myself included). Saudi Arabia is *not* strictly a theocracy (unless you mean, like the speaker, by theocracy not that ecclesiastical offices and political offices are held by the same people, but that there is undue influence), but your mistaking it for one doesn’t make you necessarily anti-Muslim, as Kaimi points out.

    As for your last comment. Numerous studies have shown that liberals outnumber conservatives in college faculties by a lot. But this is not the same thing as bias. Some people have been quick to assume that because the numbers are so slanted, there must be some kind of systematic exclusion. But the proof of that is lacking, and other explanations, like self-selection, are much more plausible. As most academics will tell you it is often quite hard to tell the political party of a job candidate by his or her scholarly work. This is especially true of the humanities (try writing a Republican dissertation on Milton), where the liberal predominance is the strongest. I fully admit that there are dogmatic, narrow-minded ways of thinking in academia, but having worked and lived in DC, I know that there (as well as in the media, the business world) it’s as bad or worse. And simply adding more Republicans isn’t going to help matters much in the case of academia, since even in my fields, comparative politics and political theory, the main dogmas are not primarily leftist dogmas.

    It may be true that the speaker you allude to assumes that America is a theocracy just because Bush is apparently religious. I don’t know that and you probably don’t either. But it’s sloppy just to assume this, because there are indeed many other ways in which undue influence can happen. And while I agree that “religion” can plausibly include non-theistic systems and even secular systems of belief, it surely doesn’t include just any belief, and the establishment clause even less refers to just any belief. Observing that everyone has beliefs isn’t nearly enough to destroy the legitimate distinction between appropriate and undue religious influence in political deliberation. By and large I don’t buy the charge of undue religious influence in the Bush White House, but for example on the Israel policy you have significant influence of Christian Zionists, and a policy that has so far fit their programme pretty faithfully.

     

    Posted by Jeremiah J.

  17. Anonymous says:

    where is the line of free speech vs. racism/”x”ism? then again, i don’t think government should enforce anti-discrimination laws. maybe kaimi feels differently?  

    Posted by lyle

  18. Anonymous says:

    So Jeremiah, do you agree with Kaimi that her comments were not rude and discourteous given the context of her speech? 

    Posted by john fowles

  19. Anonymous says:

    Yes, rude, in the sense that it is a wild claim which some of those in the audience could interpret as being directed at them. In addition to stupid, as if she were trying out for a job as a pundit on cable news. If that’s the thrust of your point, then I agree with you and I have mistakenly spent a long comment discussing side issues.

    Legitimate charges of discimination and injustice can come from all over the place, so I don’t want to disqualify any group from logding a complaint. But we have to figure out what we mean by “anti-Mormon”. There are plenty of Christians who are against Mormonism and yet are no more bigoted than “anti-apostasy” Mormons are. Some LDS leaders have spoken out against secularism. But some other people in America like secularism just fine. It is possible for these disagreements to go on without charges of bigotry being exchanged. We need to find a way to be able to talk about the good and bad effects of religions while at the same time condemning the demogoguery which uses the stranger aspects of a religion as a weapon against one’s political opponents. 

    Posted by Jeremiah J.

  20. Anonymous says:

    John,

    I’ve posted some follow up comments to your question about tolerance at T & S. They’re at:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/wp/index.php?p=1790 

    Posted by Kaimi

  21. Anonymous says:

    Jeremiah, don’t worry about the long comment–very informative and educational for me personally. But my point was indeed focused on the rudeness and insensitivity on a human level of the statement, even though our discussion of side issues has been interesting. I have followed up a little on it in a new post regarding social separation of church and state. 

    Posted by john fowles

  22. Anonymous says:

    Lyle, please explain. . . . 

    Posted by john fowles

  23. Anonymous says:

    Most Mormons can’t handle criticisms of Mormon culture. Criticizing the political culture which prevails in Utah isn’t a criticism of our belief system. It’s a criticism of our application of those beliefs. While I didn’t hear the speech, that’s the feeling I get from your post and the posts sympathetic with your viewpoint. We are unable to separate the criticism of the actions of the members of our church with comments critical of our church. If you think it was rude of her to make a criticism of our actions, think about all of the comments and awkward situations that she was involved in where members of the Church were less than kind to her. I say that because I have been in many situations where I was embarassed by the behavior of other members towards non-members. She should be no more considerate to you because of your membership in the Church than members of the Church are to her as a non-member.
    Her comment is particularly relevant today because of the political atmosphere and I can understand why she would have made it. The religious right has developed a great degree of influence in recent campaign seasons. Despite what you may think, Utah has strong resemblances of a theocracy. The laws in Utah are greatly influenced by the Church. Even though our ecclesiastical leaders do not have positions in the government, they still have influence over our voting patterns(I refer you to official statements regarding the constitutional amendment concerning same sex marriage). Minorities(of the political and religious sort- not the racial sort) have very little sway in Utah politics. It seems to me that what this speaker made was a warning inspired by her experience with Utah political culture- and if she wanted to warn people because she feels that the bad aspects of Utah politics is infecting the rest of the nation, I say go ahead and do it.  

    Posted by R Blades

  24. Anonymous says:

    R. Blades: Over at Times and Seasons a commentor named JCP has spoken directly to the point your are trying to make in comment 34 and comment 43. He/she has put it so nicely, I will just refer you there. I will also just ask that if NOW or NARAL (which are, like the Church, special interest groups when it comes to politics) had the same institutional integrity of the Church so that people that belonged to those groups simply acted according to the party line without any specific directive from the institution, then would you similarly support criticisms of those groups as creating a theocracy or dictatorship by their very institutional nature (that is, absent any single characteristic of a true theocracy)? 

    Posted by john fowles

  25. Anonymous says:

    I read the comments, and the impression I got was that she believed that a ‘true theocracy’ means that you kill people if they don’t agree with you religiously. That isn’t the case. A theocracy is a state subject to religious authority. I would argue that Utah is subject to religious authority to a degree greater than is good for it. As an example: the liquor laws in Utah are stricter than in other states because of the Church’s position on drinking. This infringes on Utah citizens’ right to believe that drinking isn’t morally bad. There are other examples. Point being: members of a special interest group should not take contrary opinions as personal attacks and call the person who made the comment rude.  

    Posted by r blades

  26. Anonymous says:

    So, r. blades, you have something against people voting their values if there are too many people with the same or similar values concentrated in one place? 

    Posted by john fowles

  27. Anonymous says:

    i have a problem with legislating religion…even if its just your belief about alcohol or marriage or whatever. We have the right to believe what we will and our government should defend that right, not infringe upon it. Further, if someone feels that the political culture in Utah isn’t conducive to good government, it’s not a personal attack on the members of the church. It’s an opportunity for you to consider that maybe Utah politics are a little whack and we need to consider the possibility that we need to change the state laws a little to respect non-members’ right to act according to their beliefs and not ours. One of the values that we believe in in the church is the right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. 

    Posted by r blades

  28. Anonymous says:

    What got said at T&S as justification for the cheap shot at Mormons by the Michigan speaker was:

    (a) The church is an organization comprised of voluntary membership, and is intolerant towards racial minorities;
    (b) Racial status is immutable; therefore
    (c) My belief system requires me to prioritize tolerance towards minorities over tolerance towards church members; thus, I should criticize the church’s treatment of minorities.
    The important part of that justification for taking cheap shots based on stereotypes is that it really translates into a creed of:

    (A) I believe in tolerance for anything I agree with.
    (B)If I disagree with you, then my priorities require me to be intolerant to you, and make your life a living hell, given the chance.
    (C)That is perfectly ok, as I am in the majority and you are in the minority and I can get away with it as a matter of casual spite.
    (C) And no, my claims of espousing “tolerance” are not a matter of hypocracy.
    I know, I’ve been blunt, but the justification logic ignores the metalogic pattern behind it.

    Most simplified prioritizing really devolves into “I am justified in seeking tolerance only for things I agree with.” That is the application that comes about.

    Once you get to that point, you have a better line on why there is an intuitive feeling that the speaker is being hypocritical in claiming to be part of a group that repeats the tolerance mantra routinely, but seems to be shunning it when it comes to the LDS groups they snidely disdain.

    As for “legislating religion” — little things like legislating against theft, murder, adultry, incest and the sexual abuse of children are all legislating of religious norms. It begs the question to claim that Utah is a theocracy for legislating on those and similar points, but California or New York are not theocracies.
     

    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

  29. Anonymous says:

    The problem these critics have is with a large number of people voting their values when those values also happen to track the doctrines and teachings of a major religious group in the area. Democracy, it seems, isn’t fully valid anymore at this point. Nevermind the both the Utah state constitution and the federal Constitution mandate and provide for the protection of minorities’ rights against such cohesive value-voting. If it happens at all (and if those making up the cohesive voting block are religious rather than some other cohesive definer) then it is decried as theocracy, despite the democratic rights of those in the majority to vote according to their own beliefs. 

    Posted by john fowles

  30. Anonymous says:

    Excuse me while I differentiate attack on certain policies in a particular state or in a particular branch of a church with an attack on the people of that church. I’m not an anti-Semite, in fact I’m Jewish, but I would find Israel too theocratic — I would not want to move there. There is no such thing as civil marriage, if you want to get married you have to find a rabbi (or minister or imam) to officiate, which means no intermarriage. many cities have fairly strict blue laws. In fact, the theocratic nature of the country is getting worse due to the disproportionate power that religious parties have. IIf criticizing these facts about Israel makes me a self-hating Jew than so be it, but I don’t think it does. I’ve only been to a small corner of Utah (camped out at Dinosaur Nat’l Monument, really cool by the way), so I’m not qualified to speak of the accuracy of the speaker’s comments, but to say that this these accusations are prejudice per se is disingenuous.
    As far as the racial issues are concerned, I am not tolerant of intolerance or prejudice. I don’t think that hatred of the KKK makes me a bigot, and I don’t think that disgust with the pre-1977(?) LDS church’s teachings on the matter (and with the multiple fundamentalist LDS churches that Krakauer writes about) which preach/ed racial prejudice, makes me an intolerant person. I don’t have to be a self-hating Jew to say that Meir Kahane was an evil man. All faiths have had people who preached racial hatred, and while I applaud the decision of the LDS to allow black priests, the LDS, like members of all faiths, need to critically examine the unsavory aspects of their history. 

    Posted by Larry

  31. Anonymous says:

    To me, the problem with the original graduation statement is simply that it is overtly about tolerating minorities, and yet the statement itself is intolerant of a particular minority. 

    Posted by Batch

  32. john fowles says:

    Yes, Batch, that is the point! Stated much more succinctly than my iteration. . . .

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