Here's another old post on the AALS, which I'm bringing to the front in celebration of the 2012 annual meeting, which I'm not attending. This one's from 2010:
Anticipating the forthcoming annual meeting of the Association of American law schools at the end of this week, Trey Drury poses the following question: When Did the AALS Become an Issue Advocacy Organization, or Does the AALS Really Think New Orleans Health Care Workers are Bigots?
The short answer is that the AALS is a typical example of the modern academic organization: It's not a learned society. instead, it's basically an association of left-liberal busybodies who care mostly about two things; to wit, (1) maintaining their cartel and (2) politically correct, multicultural identity politics.
Some of us have been around long enough to have gone down this road at least once before. As recently as 2008, for example, there was an enormous controversy within the AALS because, as David Bernsteinrecounts, "because the owner of one of the hotels [at which the conference was being held], Doug Manchester, donated $125,000 to to support an initiative banning same-sex marriage in California." Other highlights of the AALS' ideological crusades include:
- The 1990 decision to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in its member law schools, which had the effect of requiring law schools to ban military recruiters and also complicated life for some religiously-affiliated law schools
- The AALS' continuing refusals to allow the National Association of Scholars, the Federalist Society, or the Christian Law Professors Fellowship to hold their functions at annual meeting hotels or to advertise them in the program
- The AALS' opposition to the Solomon Amendment
- The AALS' opposition to Proposition 209 and similar litigation and referendum challenges to affirmative action
- The AALS' insistence on racial and gender diversity in selecting speaker panels, while ignoring intellectual diversity
- The AALS' hostility to institutional pluralism, which has sometimes resulted in heavy handed enforcement of certain accreditation standards on religiously-affiliated law schools
I'm not the only curmudgeon who thinks the AALS is driven by left-liberal ideology. In a January 3, 2000, Washington Post op-ed, Charles Fried wrote that:
The central theme of the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), which begins this week in Washington, is "A Recommitment to Diversity." The only plenary panel consists of the head of Bill Clinton's civil rights division, a gay rights and disability rights activist, a former lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and a critical race theorist.
All estimable people, and in a sense quite diverse, but in case you didn't get the point the program announces, "In the last several years, an assault has been launched against diversity efforts. Court decisions . . . as well as statewide referenda . . . have limited affirmative action and diversity efforts. These actions go to the very heart of the diversity goals of the AALS."
Of course the term "affirmative action" means racial preferences, and "diversity" means diversity as defined by the racist census categories enshrined in much of our preferential and set-aside legislation and programs. As the roster of speakers and topic announcement make clear, diversity certainly does not mean -- though this is supposed to be a meeting of scholars and intellectuals -- diversity of ideas or points of view, unless your idea of diversity is the full gamut of opinions from left to far left.
The AALS approach is striking because meeting at the same time in the same city, the law teachers sections of the Federalist Society and the National Association of Scholars -- both routinely dismissed as "right-wing" and "conservative" -- have mounted discussions of related topics that are genuinely and studiedly diverse in the only sense relevant to academic discourse: diverse in the points of view presented.
But these groups are prohibited from meeting in the same hotel as the AALS or publicizing their panels in its literature (as is the Christian Law Society). On the other hand the avowedly leftist Society of American Law Teachers is welcomed to the party with full courtesies.
A decade later, those groups are still banned and the AALS idea of diversity still runs only from "left to far left."
In his essay Legal Education's "Learned Society," Professor Erik Jensen "discusses the politicization of the Association of American Law Schools as evidenced by two events: the 2000 Annual Meeting of the Association and a fracas that occurred during the author's tenure as an editor of the Journal of Legal Education, published by AALS."
I wish I had ideas about how AALS could be reestablished as an apolitical organization, but I don’t. The positions that AALS takes reflect generally popular ideas in the legal academy; they’ve been institutionalized within American law schools one-by-one (with a few exceptions) and within the organization that represents nearly all of those schools.
But I can suggest a starting point for moving in the right direction: trying to appear fair. AALS meetings should be open to all organizations dealing with legal education, and AALS should be willing to publicize the programs of alternative organizations. If AALS is going to continue its current exclusionary policy for Annual Meetings, it should be forced to defend that policy publicly in a substantive way. And AALS officials shouldn’t accept charges of racism without at least pretending to afford procedural protections to the accused parties.
None of those suggestions should be controversial. That each would be resisted unfortunately says a great deal about the Association of American Law Schools today.
That none of these proposals have been implemented a decade later says even more. After all, as Fried concluded:
Intellectuals have influence only if they have fresh ideas to respond to fresh realities, and the fortress mentality reflected in this pathetic performance of the AALS cannot possibly produce anything new. Those who highhandedly would design a program such as this and propose it as a serious academic exercise hope somehow to exert influence. Instead they discredit themselves and condemn their voices to irrelevance.
Update: At some point, the AALS started letting the Federalist Society participate in the Program. The rest of the critique still stands, however.