Brandeis School of Law faculty at Tuesday's meeting
Brandeis School of Law faculty at Tuesday’s meeting

Following a series of columns over the past week and a heated debate on Tuesday, faculty at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution declaring the school a compassion institution, in partnership with the larger initiative to brand Louisville as a compassionate city.

The final vote was 26 to 2 in favor of the resolution, but not without the strong objection of Professor Russell Weaver, who recently wrote an editorial in The Courier-Journal lambasting the move, saying such an embrace of compassion is part of a ongoing effort to silence students and faculty who hold conservative or libertarian viewpoints.

“Compassion is great… nobody quarrels with the argument that we ought to be compassionate towards other people,” said Weaver. “I’m not sure it’s the only value we have in life… My point is, this makes compassion the end-all, be-all, that’s all we worry about. And I’m not sure it is.”

Weaver also complained that an amendment to the resolution stating that compassion included acceptance of ideological and political diversity — suggested to faculty by Professor Luke Milligan, whose C-J editorial against the initiative started the controversy — was not given serious consideration. Professor Sam Marcosson replied that such diversity is wonderful, but those concerns could be raised in a separate measure and were not relevant to this discussion.

“To say that passing this suggests compassion is our only value is simply not true,” said Marcosson. “It’s expressing the idea that it’s one value and one priority, among others we try to balance in how we operate as a law school.”

Professor Enid Trucios-Haynes added that the school’s strategic plan already includes respecting the political views of others, and professor Arianna Levinson noted that they were merely agreeing to a specific request to join other organizations and businesses in the city who have signed on to the compassion initiative.

Student Bar Association president Rudy Ellis — who described himself as “conservative-minded” — said that when the compassion resolution was first brought up, he did not expect “the amount of questions and ridiculous theories that people have thrown at me over the past week. I never would have imagined in a million years that us signing up for a citywide campaign on compassion would spark that.”

Ellis said that roughly 200 students questioned him about the resolution after the dissenting views were aired in the C-J, but after explaining to them what the resolution really was, only two students were still opposed to it. He added that most students were not upset by the resolution, but that “there is a civil war among faculty and that dirty laundry is being aired via The Courier-Journal instead of meetings like this.”

Professor Jim Jones said he is a registered Republican and does not see anything “sinister” about the resolution, adding that the columns that created the “media storm” were “inaccurate.” Referring to a line in one of the critical columns, professor Jamie Abrams said “when I hear the phrase ‘beat over the head’ about this proposal, that makes me so uncomfortable on so many levels… Remember that our entire reputation as a faculty has been impacted by this, regardless of what way you vote.”

Weaver also noted in his opposition to the resolution that students were given their grades last semester on Christmas Eve, and that the faculty hypocritically lacked compassion by possibly ruining the holiday with a bad grade and no one available for students to talk to. Professor Kurt Metzmeier agreed the timing of this was unfortunate, but said the resolution would only re-emphasize their need to be aware of student concerns. He also said the full text of the resolution should be put “on the web right away… people need to know what we’re talking about, not the stuff that was in various columns and the caricature of what this was.”

The only professor speaking out who agreed with Weaver was Manning Warren, who noted that while he is a “liberal Democrat,” terms such as compassion and social justice — the latter already being approved as one of the missions of the school — were loaded and did not have a shared definition among those with different political beliefs.

“It just doesn’t make sense to endorse something that there’s so much disagreement on what the term means,” said Warren. “So when Luke (Milligan) writes to the committee and says would you at least define compassion to encompass the celebration of political and ideological diversity, I don’t know why anyone would be opposed to that.”

Repeatedly seeking an answer to why the amendment to the resolution was not considered, Weaver specifically called professor Cedric Powell “close-minded” for refusing to do so. In an exchange that become personal, Powell countered that he did not consider it because he has long perceived Weaver to be condescending and that he thinks he’s “better than us.”

Shortly before the faculty voted 26-2 to approve the resolution, assistant Professor Goldburn Maynard echoed criticism of the matter being aired in the C-J, “which shows me that good-faith efforts were not made to present arguments and convince us as faculty members. When someone is holding editorials as some kind of tactic, that is not a tactic that makes me vote their way… For senior tenured faculty to complain that somehow they’ve been cowered and forced to do something is really, really beyond the pale, and we don’t need to go there.”

After the vote, Warren told IL he did not want to say publicly whether he was one of the two faculty to vote against the resolution. Milligan was not present at the meeting, as he is away on sabbatical.

In response to an email from an alumnus on Monday strongly disagreeing with the compassion resolution and stating that the school now has a partisan liberal agenda, Susan Duncan — the interim dean of the law school — replied that Weaver’s column was “particularly disturbing because it has multiple untruths in it.” Duncan said she would not correct any of the supposed errors because of “student privacy and personnel issues,” adding that she would not strike back against its author by quoting George Bernard Shaw: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

The full text of the law school’s compassion resolution can be read below:

Brandeis School of Law Compassion Resolution

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]