Thursday, April 14, 2011

Michigan Law School's anti-gay graduation speaker

This guy.

Above the Law has an accurate and sympathetic account of what's brewing at the law school as we third-years close in on graduation. The administration has invited Ohio freshman Senator Rob Portman to speak at our ceremony. As if it were not bad enough that he hails from Ohio, Portman also boasts a less-than-stellar record on LGBT rights, voting against extending marriage rights to same-sex couples and in favor of banning gay adoptions.

I understand that the Senator is entitled to his viewpoint, and I understand that his viewpoint is a popular one across the country. But on a day when we, as a class, celebrate together the time we've shared--in study, in summer internships, in class, in the library, in moot court, journals, pro bono hours, drinks at Ashley's--we have to hear from a guy who has a demonstrable political record of campaigning and voting to treat a significant portion of our classmates as second-class citizens. "Congratulations on becoming lawyers; good luck with that full citizenship thing."

ATL characterizes it thusly:
Sadly, the fact that Michigan invited a guy who has taken a strong stance against the civil rights of gay people probably isn’t that out of the ordinary. Sure, at some point these anti-gay-marriage people will look as tolerant as pre-conversion George Wallace in front of a desegregated schoolhouse. But right now these enemies of love get to walk among us as regular people...

But some students at Michigan Law are trying to make it a big deal. And that’s pretty exciting…

Maybe the kids at Michigan are not desensitized to the kind of normal discrimination gays must face, at least not in the way that most of the country seems to just accept that “mainstream” people can spout off totally nonsensical views about gay people. Maybe they’re more aware of this stuff because that’s what happens when a student on your campus is hounded and harassed by a state official (Ed.'s note: Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, in case anyone's forgotten) while you are in school. Maybe getting an up close and personal view of what happens when these homophobes are allowed to go unchecked has given Michigan Law students a reason to act.
The blog also printed the letter over ninety of us signed and sent to the dean. This afternoon, a few student leaders met with Dean Caminker to discuss the issues raised in our letter. Afterward, the student body received a missive from the dean that ended like this:
We are deeply invested in the principle of diversity where a wide spectrum of perspectives is included. The Law School remains steadfast in its commitment to create a supportive environment for our LGBT community, and also to create an educational environment in which diverse viewpoints can be represented. Anything less would undermine the Law School’s core values.
Talk about a lawyerly kiss-off. In the email, Dean Caminker also suggests he cannot tell the difference between the views of Senator Portman and those of, for instance, last year's speaker Valerie Jarrett, who has sought in her career to categorically deny civil rights to none of my fellow classmates.

Still, the student body perseveres. More updates as events warrant.


  1. Like Erika and Ben, I started law school in 2008, and would have graduated this May if not for my dual degree. Luckily for me, because as a member of Outlaws I would have been quite unhappy to have this man as my graduation speaker.

    I'm saddened by this choice of speaker, and disheartened at Dean Caminker's response, which assumes that the protesting students don't understand the value of diverse viewpoints. For me, the question is one of degree, and one of reputation. Mr. Portman has achieved his prominence as a legislator; we most directly assess our legislators based on their voting records. It's hard not to take this choice of speaker as a tacit approval of his record, and that's something I would hope the Law School wouldn't do.

  2. What's the scuttlebutt on this? How did the first law school to graduate an African American and the second to admit a woman come to invite a champion of bigotry to be its graduation speaker?

    1) Was the dean unaware of Portman's voting record?

    2) Did the dean not think people would mind?

    3) Did the dean think that the benefits of reinforcing Portman's association with Michigan Law outweighed the negative impacts?

    4) Was there outside pressure to bring in Portman? (or a conservative speaker?)

    5) Is there something else going on?

    6) Why did this seem like "a good idea?"

  3. Perhaps your assumption that this decision marks a departure for UML needs to be checked.

  4. Apparently they always ask sitting congresspeople. Which is weird, because at University Commencement they *only* ask governors of MI or presidents and specifically DON'T ask other politicos.

  5. Perhaps some student group could invite David Duke or Farrakhan to speak. I - as a Jew - vote for Farrakhan. That should get the point across to Caminker, at least from the sound of his last name.

    Disclaimer: I did not attend Michigan Law.