The three most prestigious law schools in the United States-Yale, Stanford, and Harvard-all have reputations as places uncongenial for Christians, but also places where (given their influence) it's important for Christians to be.
Two bits of evidence concerning Harvard Law alone: One-fifth of all 112 U.S. Supreme Court justices in history have graduated from there. Four of the nine sitting justices (Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Breyer) are Harvard Law grads.
William Stuntz is a professor at Harvard Law School who for the past two decades has belonged to evangelical churches and worked in secular universities. He wrote recently at the www.techcentralstation.com website, "A lot of my church friends think universities represent the forces of darkness," and then quoted a faculty colleague who said, "You know, I think you're the first Christian I've ever met who isn't stupid."
But Mr. Stuntz insists the two worlds have one thing in common: "Churches and universities are the two 21st-century American enterprises that care most about ideas."
WORLD: Many Christian professors report that deviations from political correctness bring out a professorial lynch mob. What has been your experience with Christophobia?
STUNTZ: I can honestly say that I've never been the target of any professional nastiness because of my faith. Maybe that means I'm not living a Christian life; I'm not sure. I am sure that there have been times when I've been cowardly, times when I've avoided identifying with my Redeemer for fear that someone would think I was crazy or dumb. But I think that was cowardice, not rational fear.
As for political correctness, I think that's a problem in all sectors of our culture-very much including churches. One of the great underrated problems of our time is the tendency to talk only with those who share one's views. That's a terrible disease, and it goes on everywhere. I think it goes on less in universities than in most places.
WORLD: You ask, "Who should be more committed to fighting fascist Middle Eastern dictators, conservatives or liberals?" Why do most professors oppose the war in Iraq?
STUNTZ: I think the left is in the grip of Bush hatred-just as the right was gripped by Clinton hatred a half-dozen years ago. But I also think a lot of minds are likely to be changed if Iraq emerges as a stable democracy and if, as seems possible now, democracy and freedom spread throughout the region.
WORLD: Tenured professors don't have to pay much attention to market forces, and professors generally derive benefits from government growth, either directly at state universities or through governmental grants and programs. Doesn't all that suggest an economic reason to stay with liberalism?
STUNTZ: It's an interesting observation. A century ago, academics were probably a good deal more conservative than the general population. Today, we're much more liberal. I suspect the difference has more to do with changes in elite culture than with incentives. And conservatives should recognize that some of the cultural change has been very good: For example, today, voters in rich suburbs are amazingly willing, even eager, to raise their own taxes. That strikes me as evidence of an admirable unselfishness.
WORLD: You have said that "talking humbly should be second nature" in both church and academic circles, and that humility often is genuine in church. Why is there so little of it in academia? Does intellectual pride give professors a greater-than-average propensity to be atheists?
STUNTZ: There is no doubt about it: Pride and academic life are very closely intertwined. By and large, universities are arrogant places. Even so, I think humility is actually a sizeable advantage for those who can exercise it. Universities are about the business of seeking truth and wisdom, and wisdom begins with the understanding that we know less than we think. Professors who have that understanding are likely to write better scholarship and teach better classes than those who don't.
WORLD: Do the current travails of Larry Summers, your university's president, suggest that only some ideas get a hearing on leading campuses?
STUNTZ: Current Harvard fights have more to do with university governance than with anything else. As for the supposed impossibility of getting a hearing for some ideas on campuses, I note that one of the largest and most important student organizations at Harvard Law School is the local chapter of the Federalist Society-a conservative group that has considerable power and influence in the legal profession. One of the things I like about Harvard is that you can find people from almost any point on the political spectrum. The truth is, I think Harvard-at least the law school-is more politically diverse than some churches I know.
WORLD: What have you done as a Christian professor that you would not have done if you were a conventional academic?
STUNTZ: Honestly, I'm not sure. I guess in most ways, I am "a conventional academic." At the same time, I assume I would be a different (and, bad as I am, much worse) human being if I weren't a Christian. I'm sure everything would be different. But I don't pretend to know what all the differences are. God's ways are too subtle and surprising for that.
WORLD: What have you not done as a Christian professor that you would have done otherwise?
STUNTZ: I can say what I try to do, and not to do. Take teaching. One great temptation in my line of work is to treat one's classes as an interruption from one's real job, which is researching and writing. The better the university, the more powerful that temptation is. That leads to minimizing time and effort devoted to teaching, both in the classroom and in office conversations.
I'm not a very good teacher; I stumble a lot in class. But I do try hard to fight that temptation, to be as effective as I can be. Just as I try hard to read drafts my colleagues give me-especially untenured colleagues. More and more, it seems to me that's the key to living a Christian professional life in universities: Invest in those (students, junior professors trying to get tenure) who are on lower rungs of the professional ladder; try to treat them at least as well as I treat people who are on higher rungs.
WORLD: Is student interest in Christianity on the rise at Harvard?
STUNTZ: My impression is that the answer is yes. These young men and women are extraordinarily talented, and their whole lives they've been placed on ladders and told to climb. They're very, very good at it. But at some point, the tendency is to look around you and ask: What is all the ladder-climbing for? What am I doing with my life? When that moment comes, people often think about who their creator is, and who they were made to be.
WORLD: Concerning the possibility of a meeting of many university and church minds, aren't liberal academic presuppositions so opposed to Christian basics (such as original sin) that such a meeting is very difficult?
STUNTZ: The defining feature of the secular academic world today is the absence of orthodoxy. There is no fixed, universally accepted conventional wisdom-and no clear, agreed-on method of reasoning or argument. Which makes this a great time to be a Christian in a secular university. It's a wide-open intellectual environment where people are willing to listen and interested in different ideas.
The People v. Harvard Law
Harvard Law School graduate Andrew Peyton Thomas presents a different view of the influential school in his just-published The People v. Harvard Law (Encounter, 2005). Mr. Thomas, author of Crime and the Sacking of America: The Roots of Chaos and Clarence Thomas: A Biography, was a legal assistant for the Boston NAACP and lives in Phoenix, Ariz.
WORLD: Please tell our readers about Critical Legal Studies and the importance of that mode of analysis at Harvard Law.
THOMAS: Critical Legal Studies, an offshoot of Marxism, is a legal philosophy that has become highly influential in American law schools. The "Crits," as supporters of this philosophy are known, argue that the wealthy and powerful have used the law to promote white-male-dominated capitalism at the expense of the poor. They urge attorneys to use their influence-as litigators, judges, law professors-to redistribute rights and property to certain minority groups they view as victims.
WORLD: What happened to Professor David Rosenberg?
THOMAS: A single ill-phrased comment by Professor Rosenberg during a classroom discussion crippled his career at Harvard Law. A brilliant if crotchety scholar (and traditional liberal), Mr. Rosenberg once criticized Critical Legal Studies and its related theories by telling his students, "Feminists, Marxists, and the blacks have contributed nothing to torts." He later tried to explain his statement better but would not retract the substance of it.
The Black Law Students Association protested to the law school administration, which announced that henceforth students would no longer be required to attend his classes. They could watch them instead on videotape. In doing this, Harvard Law effectively repealed for Mr. Rosenberg's class the "Socratic method." This teaching method had been a Harvard innovation and trademark for over a century. Mr. Rosenberg's reputation has never recovered from this unprecedented humiliation.
WORLD: Readers who are familiar with the film and TV series The Paper Chase, which highlighted the rigorous in-class examinations of students that Harvard once was famous for, will be surprised to hear about the "difficult conversations" program. What is it?
THOMAS: The law school administration instituted in 2002 a "difficult conversations" program for first-year students, in response to a series of race-related controversies and protests earlier in the year (including those surrounding Professor Rosenberg). The program was intended to help students learn how to smooth over differences arising from race, religion, and gender. The course materials instructed students not to "argue about who's right." When confronted with evil, they were taught, students should first question their own attitudes and values.
Fortunately, Martin Luther King Jr. did not read from the same relativistic script when he denounced the segregation of his time. One graduate of Harvard Law noted that by creating this program, the school seemed to be stigmatizing conflict. He noted that this was certainly not very good training for future lawyers, whose profession inevitably entails a certain amount of conflict.
WORLD: What are the views of Elena Kagan, the current dean?
THOMAS: When Elena Kagan became dean in April 2003, most students and professors cheered the selection of the first female dean in the school's history. But she had a questionable political past. She had worked in the Clinton White House-first as Associate Counsel to the President, then in a policy role-during the period when President Clinton was embroiled in Filegate, Travelgate, and a succession of scandals involving official abuse of power (Clinton also began his relationship with Monica Lewinsky during this time). Ms. Kagan remained in the Clinton administration throughout the subsequent impeachment and Senate trial of the president.
Largely because of this record, Senate Republicans refused to vote on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit when President Clinton nominated her in 1999. She has governed as a typical Harvard liberal since becoming dean. For example, she opposes allowing military recruiters to interview students at Harvard Law because of the military's ban on open homosexuals serving in the ranks.
WORLD: Should conservative students go to Harvard Law?
THOMAS: Yes, assuming they know what they are in for. Harvard Law remains America's most famous law school, and because of this status, future lawyers seeking to make a difference cannot afford to shun the school. Yet it also remains a law school in which conservatives are routinely hissed at in class (hissing being the Ivy League substitute for booing) and made to suffer other social persecutions.
Conservative viewpoints are almost completely absent from the Harvard Law faculty. But by the same token, conservatives who graduate from Harvard Law emerge with no intellectual flabbiness, having spent three years repeatedly defending their most basic beliefs in class and out. Put another way, what Frank Sinatra sang of New York is true of conservatives at Harvard Law: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.