Law School statement on free speech

Free speech has been topical issue in New Zealand, with controversies at Massey and Auckland universities in past months. lso internationally.

From a statement on free speech from the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, USA ahead of a speaking engagement by William Barr, Attorney General of the United States:

Freedom of speech matters. As Frederick Douglass once said, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker”.

Just as speakers are free to speech, protesters are free to protest. They must do so in a place and manner that respects the rights of speakers to speak and listeners to listen…

Notre Dame Law School will neither endorse nor condemn invited speakers. An institution of higher education must be place where controversial ideas and points of view are expressed, heard and discussed.

This is such a place.

The full announcement:

But where politics (and political appointees) are involved it provoked the ‘only free speech that I like’ brigade. Tweets in response condemned both Barr and Notre Dame Law School. Like:

Winston Smith @2plus2isSTILL4

The invitation brings shame to your institution. It is a statement that you do actually accord respect to a man who has disgraced himself and his office.

Tessa Sainz  @tessasainz

So being a traitor to this country and party to unprecedented corruption is a “controversial point of view” the University deems worthy of discussion? Does @NotreDame gain anything from Barr’s corruption? I’m guessing there’s a lot of financial reasons behind this decision

KB851  @KB8511 (Lawyer and College Faculty)

So now Notre Dame joins Florida in completely screwing this up People are smart They get there is a difference between a conservative voice and allowing trump jr or Barr to do NOTHING but lie You are dead wrong ND as are you, my alma mater, Florida

I am ashamed

Megan Schweppenheiser  @schweppenheiser

There is still time to boycott. Who would want to listen to that liar and gadlighter who is complicit in bringing down our democracy? Don’t go. Non-violent protest. Bring whistles. Stand up for the rule of law and ethics! Don’t give him a platform!

There were more bitter political opponents.

But there were also a smattering of supportive tweets:

Mary Miskimon  @MaryEM106

The only reason Bill Barr is controversial is because students disagree with his boss. That’s not controversial; that’s diverse thought, and it’s what we do here in America. It’s sad that ND has to explain to the students it admitted (presumably bright).

Joseph Rio  @josephwrio

It’s utterly amazing that Dean Cole has to issue such a common-sense statement. But judging by the replies on this thread by people who evidently believe they have been blessed with revealed truth, it was absolutely necessary. Difference of opinion is not evil.

Politically and on free speech issues the USA is a badly divided country.


American Conservative on Barr’s speech at Notre Dame – Bill Barr: Religious Liberty Warrior

Last week, US Attorney General William Barr gave an extraordinary speech about religious liberty at Notre Dame Law School. I have not been able to locate a transcript, and only found time to watch it this morning. Here’s a video of the entire thing. The speech itself begins at about the four-minute mark.

The AG begins by talking about the capacity for self-government, meaning not the form of administration of a liberal democracy, but the ability of individuals to master their own passions, and subject them to reason. Can we handle freedom? That, says Barr, is a question that preoccupied the Founders.

No society can exist without the capacity to restrain vice, he goes on to say. If you depend only on the government to do this, you get tyranny. (This, by the way, is what’s happening in China; many Chinese actually support the tyrannical Social Credit System, because communism destroyed civil society and social trust.) But, says Barr, licentiousness is another form of tyranny. People enslaved by their own appetites make community life impossible. (This, I would say, is what we are more endangered by in America today … and it will ultimately call forth tyranny, Chinese-style.)

Barr offers this quotation from Edmund Burke:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

Why is religion a public good? Because, says Barr, it “trains people to want what is good.” It helps to frame a society’s moral culture, and instills moral discipline. No secular creed has emerged that can do what religion does, he says. And by casting religion out, we are dismantling the foundation of our public morality.

“What we call ‘values’ today are nothing more than mere sentimentality, drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity,” says the AG.

Barr took the gloves off, saying that religion is not jumping to its death; it’s being pushed.

“This is not decay,” he said. “This is organized destruction.”

He named secularists in academia, media, and elsewhere as figures who are not neutral at all, but have rather inculcated a kind of religiosity in their own project of destroying religion. They conduct their own inquisitions and excommunications for heresy.

Here’s a link to AG Barr’s entire speech. 

Russell McVeagh, law faculties under fire

The spotlight on inappropriate behaviour in legal circles continues, with more distancing from law firm Russell McVeagh, and the Auckland University joining Otago in the firing line.

Women’s Law Journal: Russell McVeagh & NZ Women’s Law Journal

Until now, we have not commented on the complaints of sexual assault against Russell McVeagh. Russell McVeagh is one of the Journal’s sponsors and we have taken this time to consider our relationship with the firm.

The complainants have faced trauma two years ago and again with recent publicity. Our go out to the women involved. You are not alone: we and many others stand with you and hope to support you however we can. Russell McVeagh, the profession and society have failed you by enabling a culture in which these assaults could happen.

We have had a frank conversation with Russell McVeagh about the complaints, the firm’s culture and the steps the firm has taken subsequently. Russell McVeagh seem to have genuine concern for the complainants and have told us of their endeavours to do best by them and ensure this never happens again.

In spite of this, we feel it is best for us to put our relationship on hold so that Russell McVeagh can review its policies, practices and culture.

The events of the last few weeks show that the problem is far broader than Russell McVeagh. It is not an issue of working long hours and alcohol-fuelled social events, which are a normal part of professional life. The issue is deeper than that: it is about the sexist thinking that people have failed to challenge for far too long. Anything else is a scapegoat. We believe that now is the time for the leaders of our profession to take responsibility and initiate change.

We are deeply disappointed by many of the responses from senior members of the profession in recent days. The women involved and anyone who has suffered because of the inappropriate actions of others deserve our support. They also deserve a comprehensive, creative and paradigm-shifting response.

There have been heartening and proactive responses from other members of the profession.

We support these positive actions and would like to lend a hand wherever we can. Of particular note, we would like to mention the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association, Elizabeth Hall and Zoë Lawton who have taken it upon themselves to institute fora where anyone can speak out about their experiences and be heard. In the coming months, we will also be taking action to help change our profession for good.

We will not be silent any longer.

NZH: School debating competition drops law firm Russell McVeagh after sexual harassment scandal

School debaters have dropped their sponsoring law firm Russell McVeagh, as public reaction continues to mount over alleged sexual harassment of the firm’s female interns.

NZ Schools’ Debating Council vice-president Nicholas Cross said the council had put its relationship with the firm “on hold”.

“Russell McVeagh has been the major sponsor of the NZ Schools’ Debating Council for 18 years and has been a valued and supportive partner throughout this time,” he said.

“The council was very concerned by these recent allegations. Our policy is zero tolerance for any kind of harassment.”

All six of New Zealand’s university law faculties have already distanced themselves from Russell McVeagh, but Auckland has joined Otago in the hypocrisy spotlight.

ODT: Law camp cancelled after claims

The University of Otago student law society has cancelled the law camp run for second-year students, following a series of allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling. The camp was scheduled to be held this weekend.

The camp has been highly scrutinised by former students for the levels of alcohol consumed and the activities run during the weekend.

The camp is organised by The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls), and has been running for at least the past 10 years.

Souls had vowed to clamp down on drunkenness and ban ‘full nudity’. But yesterday it put out a statement saying the pro-vice chancellor and the university were not prepared to support the camp, previously held at Camp Iona, near Herbert.

“Without this support, regrettably, Souls is unable to run the camp this year.”

Souls president Tim Austen said the event had relied on the support of the law faculty and wider university, which provided assistance with security, while the proctor signed off an event management plan.

Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan has attended parts of previous camps as a guest but could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

NZH: Familiar tale of binge-drinking and nudity at Auckland University’s annual law camp

Binge drinking, skinny-dipping, and dirty-dancing competitions with extra points for nudity have occurred at the University of Auckland’s annual law camp, students claim.

The weekend-long camp on Motutapu Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, run by the Auckland University Law Students’ Society (AULSS), has come under scrutiny after the University of Otago student law society scrapped its law camp following allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling.

Students say that daylight hours featured healthy team-building and bonding exercises and games including obstacle courses, raft building, and orienteering.

But the evenings were dedicated to raucous parties with drinking games, vomiting, sex and seedy skits.

No staff were present but the 200-odd students were overseen by sober student leaders.

One self-described conservative, teetotal student spoken to by the Herald was shocked by the antics.

“I’m not really used to that whole situation so I kind of just assumed that’s what happens when you go to normal uni parties,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

She was unfazed by the rampant binge-drinking and sex, but when her group was asked to go skinny-dipping, and then perform “racy” dance shows, she became “super-uncomfortable”.

“I wasn’t drinking but before we did the skit thing, our leaders said, ‘This whole thing would probably just be easier if you were drunk’,” the law student said.

“The more dirty the skit, the more clothes you took off, the more points you would get, at least it seemed that way. It was uncomfortable because it encouraged you to strip or be vulgar and that’s very not me.

“There was a skinny-dipping game where if you went completely in the nude then you got more points, but the entire team had to do it. That was where I felt kind of peer pressured by the sort of thinking that I have to do it because everyone else is doing it.

“It was very out of my comfort zone. But I am also the kind of person to be open to almost everything, so I was feeling really weird, I never do these kinds of things, ever. I was kind of in the head space thinking, ‘Well, what everyone else does, then maybe I should do it too’.”

She added: “I’ve always wanted to experience being drunk or doing something crazy. But I didn’t expect it to be at law camp.”

When they arrived on the island, condoms were handed out, the student said.

Throughout the weekend, she said, couples snuck off to have sex.

“There were lots of people puking, people stripping naked or taking off whatever and just dancing,” she said.

Another student posted on an online forum that they will pull out of this year’s camp after hearing that it’s “all about getting laid and drunk” and that it “should be renamed STI camp”.

University students will inevitably let their hair down and ditch their inhibitions – many are away from home for the first time in their lives, and almost all have recently been legally been able to buy and drink alcohol.

What they do in their own time is up to them.

But university organised or sanctioned over-imbibing and debauchery is inappropriate, irresponsible, and is a disservice to those students who get caught up in and pressured by group excesses.

Back to where the inappropriate legal fraternising story began, Newsroom: Ex-Russell McVeagh lawyer moves on

The man at the centre of the serious sexual assault allegations involving Russell McVeagh is no longer sharing offices with several other lawyers. He left Russell McVeagh following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against summer clerks.

One of the lawyers at those offices confirmed to Newsroom the man at the centre of the allegations was no longer working from those offices and information about him has disappeared from the venue’s website.

Meanwhile, Russell McVeagh told Newsroom an internal project team is working towards making an announcement regarding the appointment of a non-legal external reviewer early next week.

Since Newsroomrevealed the allegations on February 14, Russell McVeagh has claimed it undertook a detailed internal investigation and the two lawyers accused by the clerks left the firm. It claims it adopted a Zero Tolerance policy to sexual harassment and abuse but will not say when that came into effect.

Newsroom also understands that ILANZ, the In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand, has agreed with Russell McVeagh that the firm will withdraw as a Premium Sponsor of the ILANZ Conference 2018.

ILANZ president Erin Judge said it is appropriate for Russell McVeagh to focus on the external review that they have commissioned and implement the recommendations made.

“As a collective of in-house lawyers, we need to consider how inappropriate sexual conduct affects our part of the legal profession and what we are going to do about it.

“The upcoming conference provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to a safe and healthy work environment and to encourage discussion of these issues. Continued sponsorship by Russell McVeagh would be a distraction from this important discussion.

“Sexual harassment, assault and unsafe working conditions are not limited to one firm or one part of the legal profession. We all have a role and responsibility in driving change. We are mindful of this as we finalise our conference programme and continue to focus on the best interests of our membership.”

Some soul searching required in both business and education legal circles.