Lec­ture change will al­low emo­tions to cool

UNM Law likely to resched­ule con­tro­ver­sial judge for Jan. 23


Re­cent Jour­nal sto­ries that im­ply that UNM School of Law caved to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and can­celed a planned lec­ture by Judge Ken Starr are sim­ply un­true. Mon­day’s ed­i­to­rial ti­tled “UNM Law Can­cels Starr and Sells its Stu­dents Short” states that the idea that our law school “would can­cel a speaker be­cause of po­ten­tial con­tro­versy is trou­bling at best and a ma­jor dis­ser­vice to its stu­dents at worst.” When Judge Starr and I spoke, we af­fir­ma­tively and adamantly agreed that it was not be­ing can­celed or post­poned in­def­i­nitely. Since then, we have been work­ing on find­ing a mu­tu­ally agree­able date.

I am a be­liever in the free flow of ideas, and we in­vited Judge Starr to speak here pre­cisely be­cause his lec­ture will gen­er­ate a healthy de­bate. His lec­ture topic, “In­ves­ti­gat­ing the Pres­i­dent, Now and Then: Liv­ing in a Con­sti­tu­tional Quag­mire,” is fas­ci­nat­ing. That said, some­times cir­cum­stances can so in­flame emo­tions that we ac­tu­ally risk sti­fling de­bate and shift­ing the fo­cus away from the topic rather than pro­mot­ing a healthy ex­change of views. The Jour­nal ac­knowl­edged as much af­ter run­ning an ed­i­to­rial car­toon por­tray­ing mug­gers as “Dream­ers.” Af­ter an out­cry, the Jour­nal’s ed­i­tor wrote, “In hind­sight, in­stead of gen­er­at­ing de­bate, this car­toon only in­flamed emo­tions. …” As a re­sult, the ed­i­tor pledged a higher level of scru­tiny of their con­tent.

Judge Starr’s planned visit pre­sented a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. As we ap­proached the planned date for the lec­ture, the na­tional cul­tural con­text had acutely sharp­ened pub­lic con­cern for women who have been sex­u­ally as­saulted, and the Ka­vanaugh hear­ings had ig­nited pub­lic opin­ion and re-trau­ma­tized some as­sault sur­vivors. Pri­mar­ily be­cause Judge Starr had worked closely with Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh and had ex­pressed sup­port for his con­fir­ma­tion, it be­came ap­par­ent that this, in­stead of the planned lec­ture topic, could be­come the fo­cus of his visit. Also, we would be per­ceived as tone deaf to the con­cerns of women by host­ing this event shortly af­ter Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s swear­ing-in and only five days be­fore a con­tentious na­tional elec­tion.

We reached out to Judge Starr be­cause we felt that we owed him the cour­tesy of hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about the tim­ing of the event and the mes­sage it would con­vey, not to tell him what to do. We dis­cussed op­tions, in­clud­ing go­ing for­ward with the pub­lic event as planned, host­ing it as a pri­vate event, or reschedul­ing it for a fu­ture date. There was no magic to the se­lec­tion of the planned date, and we de­cided jointly that we would post­pone the lec­ture. The law school did not ban, cen­sor or uni­lat­er­ally halt his lec­ture. This was a con­ver­sa­tion and a joint de­ci­sion.

By putting a lit­tle time be­tween the lec­ture and Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion, we hope ten­sions will cool a bit and peo­ple will be able to come to­gether to have a civil de­bate re­gard­ing the planned topic, which will be equally as in­ter­est­ing and rel­e­vant a cou­ple of months af­ter the elec­tion as be­fore it.

This was never about cav­ing to pub­lic pres­sure, but solely about re­spect and de­lay­ing the event to a time when we can have a civil dis­cus­sion. While some peo­ple will ob­ject to any date change, I stand by our joint de­ci­sion to post­pone the event. There are ways to re­spect free speech while also be­ing re­spect­ful of women who are as­sault sur­vivors. In this con­text I felt it re­spect­ful to de­lay for a short pe­riod of time.

I fully agree with the Jour­nal’s state­ment that it’s im­por­tant to “foster crit­i­cal think­ing and con­struc­tive de­bate among (the law school’s) stu­dents.” I am all for invit­ing con­tro­ver­sial speak­ers to cam­pus — as ev­i­denced by our in­vi­ta­tion to Judge Starr. It is part of our mis­sion to bring in speak­ers who will en­cour­age lively de­bate.

Al­though the date is still ten­ta­tive, it looks like Jan. 23 may be the best date for the event. Please pen­cil that in on your cal­en­dars. The event will, no doubt, be well-at­tended.

Ken­neth Starr

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