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Against Gender Balance Vigilantism

Often when a conference of law professors is announced, a quick tweet complains that not enough women are participating. The person tweeting typically has neither researched the ratio of women to men in the field nor is privy to the invitations that have been issued and turned down. Instead, he or she just assumes that the conference would have been better or more legitimate with more women.

This approach strikes me as exemplary of progressive arrogance—the kind of conceit that top down ordering according to some principle—in this case gender balance—will always make a better world. I have recently experienced this kind of attack and it is useful to unpack all its bad assumptions.

First, there is the assumption that a lot of superb female law professors occupy a particular field or subfield right now. There are certainly a lot of superb female law professors, but they are not at all equally distributed among fields. Moreover, while the proportion of female law professors is rapidly growing, they are not yet very well represented in the mid-career and senior ranks where most law professors make their mark.

My conference concerned the specialized subject of originalist theory, and this field is one where not many women have as yet become important players. There are few female originalists and even fewer experienced in originalist theory, pro or con.

Of course, one could invite as a commentator a female constitutional law professor, but originalist theory is an increasingly technical field. The price of admission to it is reading many dense articles that build off other dense articles, and that requirement creates barriers to entry for anyone who is not a specialist. And the success of a small conference like mine is dependent on all participants being deeply conversant with the literature to be able to ask the most penetrating questions. And originalist theory is not unique. The ratio is probably even more lopsided in some other fields in which I would be qualified to organize a conference, like banking law.

And those complaining about the number of females also cannot know anything about the efforts that were made to recruit them. They assume, for instance, the women accept invitations at the same rate as men and drop out at the same rate. That has not been my experience. Rather than complaining about the compositions of conferences, perhaps law professors could focus on how their home institutions could make it easier for the their female colleagues to travel, perhaps by improving institutional childcare options.

Finally, those complaining about the imbalance do not consider other kinds of balance that may be in tension with a focus on gender balance. The most obvious is ideological balance. The academy is overwhelmingly left-liberal and according to published studies women are even more left-liberal than the men.

Thus, the gender imbalance vigilantes reflect some bad aspects of progressivism. They cannot wait for the natural progression of women in the profession. They ignore the local knowledge of conference organizers, including their professional judgments, and decree one-size-fits-all standards. And, they push a program—surprise, surprise—that will lead to even less ideological balance in at least some conferences. And note that I have not even discussed the question whether it is morally justified to consider scholars’ gender in issuing conference invitations. ​I leave that issue to a later post.

Reader Discussion

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on November 16, 2018 at 10:32:13 am

Why bother to dignify by analyzing the logical fallacies and irrational unreality of what are, after all, simply brash ideological demands for power put forth by Leftist ideologues seeking to rationalize their totalitarian quest for power and advance their militant political offensive under the disguise of a pseudo-moral demand for sexual and racial diversity and quota- based equality in virtually EVERY field of study, academic discipline, political institution and branch of government, business, profession and any other other organized human endeavor that is of economic, social or political consequence?

As a defensive measure for your "originalist conferences" I suggest that either a) you assiduously (and publicly) avoid Christian White Males, b) minimize your reliance on other White Males who are not Gay, Bisexual or Transgender and c) resort to the long accepted defensive tactic of Establishment Republicans, Fortune 500 companies and the Business Roundtable, the American Bar Association, the American Association of Professors, et al of insuring that approximately 45% of your speakers (employees, expenditures, et cetera) are LGBT, African American and female (regardless of whether they know anything about "originalism'') OR, as an alternative strategy d) you ignore and laugh off the Left's power demands, call them out for what they are, shame their advocates as being sexists and racists and go about your professional task of unduly complicating the theory and practice of constitutional originalism.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on November 16, 2018 at 10:47:20 am

. . .but originalist theory is an increasingly technical field. The price of admission to it is reading many dense articles that build off other dense articles, and that requirement creates barriers to entry for anyone who is not a specialist

There has to be an analogue here to the old joke that in a town with only one lawyer, the lawyer will starve, while in a town with two lawyers, the lawyers will own the town.

There are certainly a lot of superb female law professors

I arrived at HLS in the dust of the Clare Dalton dust-up, where what counted as "superb" was precisely the issue. I have no idea, of course, not being a member of the guild.

I also suspect that a great many of these superb women seek to re-center scholarship in the field on gender, making integration with the other panelists difficult. I further suspect that this re-centering has something to do with conferring of the coveted "superb" title.

Personally, I am inclined to a materialist interpretation of the increasing ramification into sub-sub-sub-sub-sub fields, each one its own glass-bead game with its own magistri ludi ensconced in a high-walled castle guarded by a corps of superbi . I see it as intellectually doubtful, and profitable. Law as a growth industry.

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QET
on November 16, 2018 at 10:49:21 am

Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out.

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QET
on November 16, 2018 at 14:08:57 pm

Your law school settled Clare Dalton's sex discrimination claim; mine never did absolve itself of hiring Bernadine Dohrn , a moral transgression which degraded the value of the brand and for which it should be forced to pay reparations to alumni. (But they didn't hire Bill Ayers. One terrorist per law school faculty, I always say.)

FYI: Clare Dalton has apparently separated from her husband (the effervescent ideologue, Robert Reich,) dropped law school teaching (hard to argue with either of those conclusions) and dedicated her time to what sounds to me like traditional acupuncture fused with horoscope fixation.

BTW, I'd say that the Left is largely comprised of what Clare Dalton might describe as "out-of-balance water persons." (haha!) Political philosopher Eric Hofer would call them "True Believers," while psychoanalyst Otto Rank would call them destructive failures of creativity trapped in their prevailing ideology.

http://archive.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2011/05/24/for_legal_scholar_clare_dalton_a_sharp_turn_from_academia_to_acupuncture_was_a_natural_fit/?page=full

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Pukka Luftmensch
on November 16, 2018 at 15:46:29 pm

Ha! Looks like Martha Minow owes David Rosenberg an apology! But yes, small beer next to your school's transgression.

And I describe them as Tarantulas, with Nietzsche.

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QET
on November 16, 2018 at 15:48:21 pm

Also as Soviet persons, with Solzhenitsyn.

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QET
on November 18, 2018 at 19:06:22 pm

I like the way you frame this as "progressive arrogance." That's exactly what it is. The left bias in academia has created a special kind of privilege whereby those on the left can safely assume that their assumptions are widely shared. And frankly, those assumptions are often simply wrong by the numbers.

As a lawyer myself, I've been caught off guard by how quickly fellow lawyers will dismiss a logical argument because of feelings. The ACLU's astonishing statements on title IX reforms earlier this week are a perfect example - we can no longer trust the legal industry to generally support due process rights because... feelings.

This problem begins much earlier than in college and in academia. The left bias in K-12 which has been increasing for years is starting to show results, and it's only getting more critical.

At this point, we're finding not only the implicit left bias of yesteryear, but overt left bias in the curriculum - focusing on left causes and social justice. I have no problem with these views, but I do have a problem when they are the only views presented, or when alternative views are presented as "wrong."

Dori
www.LittleLibertarians.com

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Dori

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.