At another time, I will express my views on when and whether university administrators should express their opinions on contemporary issues. For now, it suffices to note that they do it all the time, and in this context they should be judged by what they say, when they say it, and how they say it.
Here’s Dean Ken Randall, Scalia Law School (my law school) in an email I received this morning:
Dear students, faculty and staff,
Over the past few days we have seen images of deadly terrorist acts against Israel. Whether you have friends and family in the area, or your interests are focused on your peers and colleagues here at home, please know that my thoughts are with you. Terrorism has no place in our society, and we stand with the Israeli people. Especially in this season when we celebrate important Jewish holidays, I know you will provide support to those in our community in need during this difficult time.
By contrast, here is NYU Dean Troy McKenzie, responding to a formal letter sent to law students by the president of the Student Bar Association, in defense of the massacre:
Dear members of the NYU Law Community:
Some of you may have seen a message from the President of the Student Bar Association regarding the horrific conflict in Israel and Gaza. This letter was not from NYU Law School as an institution and does not speak on behalf of the law school’s leadership. It certainly does not reflect my own views, because I condemn the killing of civilians and acts of terrorism as always reprehensible.
The attack on Israel and subsequent and continuing hostilities have made this a period of intense pain and distress for many members of our community. Since the weekend, I have been working with administrators to provide support to students, faculty, and alumni who have been impacted by this crisis.
The feelings that divide people in the world at large certainly exist within law school, but I hope we can address them with compassion and mutual respect. The Law School leadership team will continue to provide the resources and support we can.
In addition to implicitly expressing the view that the slaughter of children etc. is merely a matter of opinion, MacKenzie was far from explicit. While the NYU SBA does not speak for NYU Law as an institution, it is not just a student group, but part of the NYU administration. The SBA has representation on sixteen different committees of faculty and students at the Law School, including admissions and faculty recruitment.
He compared McKenzie’s verbal evasion to this statement made by the student’s former employer, Winston Westron. One could have a separate discussion about whether canceling her show is inappropriate “cancel culture” – my general view on this is that when someone says something blatantly stupid, or even vicious, one should give that person a chance to reconsider and apologize before make a decision. work – but regardless, W&S managed to achieve the moral clarity that Dean MacKenzie did not.