What follows is a good report by the Gainesville Sun's on the kerfluffle at the Law School. I have a couple of comments to begin with that may make more sense after the article is read.
1. Any suggestion that since there is state money on one side it is OK for the Law School to weigh in makes no sense as a logical matter. What is the connection? In any case, the States' lawyers do what they are told -- they fight the battle even when they personally disagree. Law professors only weigh in when they agree. In short it's not based on righting wrongs (although it had that effect here) it's based on personal preference.
2. The UF policy of finacial support for a cause based on faculty prerogative strikes me as a policy that one would never adopt under a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. It is one that says whoever controls the school get to use its resources to promote his or her idea. I am confident that throughtout history the same policy has be used to oppress people. Why follow a policy that has that potential?
Gay adoption case sparks debate over UF's involvement
A UF law professor filed a brief in support of overturning the ban.
By Nathan Crabbe
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 7:48 p.m.
It all started innocently enough: An e-mail congratulating a University of Florida law professor for a brief in support of overturning the state's gay adoption ban.
But a systems administrator's criticism has spurred a heated debate among UF faculty on the role of law professors, how the college decides to lend its name to legal briefs and whether taxpayer money should be used to help overturn laws passed by elected officials.
Last week, the 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned Florida's ban on adoptions by gay people. The UF Levin College of Law's Center on Children and Families joined similar centers at other law schools in the state in filing a friend of the court brief, which are filed by entities not directly involved in the case.
The brief cited legal decisions that showed the ban violates a child's right to a secure and stable family relationship. Law professor Nancy Dowd, director of the UF center, said the brief fit within its mission to promote quality research on issues important to children and their families.
"One of the things that people at the university do is share their expertise," she said.
Dowd sent a message to several law school e-mail lists congratulating legal skills professor Joe Jackson, the main author of the brief, and others with the center for their involvement.
Micah Johnson, a systems administrator with the college, responded with a short e-mail saying the decision was at odds with his beliefs.
"Your elation stands in stark contrast to my disappointment on this decision," he wrote.
Law professor Steve Willis then sent an e-mail in support of Johnson, who is on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment. Willis said this week that he's one of the only registered Republicans on the law school faculty and believes the college only allows involvement in liberal causes.
"It's all political and unfair," he said. "I'll probably regret saying that, but that's what I believe."
College Dean Robert Jerry said academic freedom allows all faculty members to take positions or file briefs in a case in their personal capacity. For a UF center to be officially involved or university resources used, he said, the brief has to not just be a personal opinion but based on scholarly research.
He compared the situation to suggesting that a faculty member's opinion that global warming is not real should get the same support as research showing it is.
"If we buy into that, God save us," he said.
But law professor Jeffrey Harrison questioned whether a public university should be taking a position that might be at odds with public opinion in a court case. While he said he was happy with the decision, he said he was unhappy with the use of public money to promote positions that some taxpayers oppose.
"Our speech is essentially subsidized by the state, and other people don't have that privilege," he said.
But law professor Danaya Wright said that taxpayer money is also being used to support a law that violates the rights of gay citizens. It's the role of law professors to be as neutral as possible in researching such issues, she said, and then providing that information to judges who make the ultimate decisions.
"If we didn't weigh in, I would say we're shirking our duty," she said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.