It would have been so much easier to teach using simple, straightforward lecturing, with every sentence carefully composed, with a sharp eye on the goal of never giving anyone any reason to question the purity of your beliefs and the beneficence of your heart.The forum seemed designed to address questions like this. I'm not going to write about the forum. In fact, I didn't attend the forum because I saw it as too much of an internal confabulation to write about here, and I didn't want to use the material that I'd be privy to.
Your colleagues may sympathize with you in private, but most likely they’ll be rethinking this idea — heartily promoted in law schools since the 1980s — that they ought to actively incorporate delicate issues of race into their courses.
My colleague Alan Weisbard, however, did decide to attend and to blog about it. You can read what he wrote here. I thought you might find this part especially interesting:
[M]any students, of varying backgrounds and perspectives (at generally liberal UW, this was expressed most poignantly by (white) students, male and female, identifying themselves as "anti-affirmative action" and/or as "Republican" (whatever that is)), felt reticent to express their true views on controversial subjects because of fear of negative repercussions from fellow students (and gave some chilling, in multiple senses, examples). Some present expressed considerable doubt that faculty could do much to change this: Peer culture may be much more influential than anything faculty do or don't do. Others disagreed, and there was some constructive, if largely disembodied, discussion. At least we were talking, and complexifying the oversimplifying assumption of faculty omnipotence and sole responsibility. Not much talk of student responsibilities to the collective learning environment, however.Alan has some more posts on the subject over there which you can click around and find.
I should think that affirmative action -- an extremely important topic in constitutional law -- is the single most difficult thing to discuss openly and vigorously. Don't you agree? I suspect that in the great majority of law school classrooms, perhaps in nearly all of them, students feel compelled to act as though they support affirmative action and dare not say anything to the contrary, even if the teacher seems to bend over backwards to encourage debate.
Professor Kaplan caused an uproar while teaching about race from a left liberal position. I really wonder what the reaction would have been if he had been viewed as a conservative, who was not presumed to have the generally approved set of political beliefs. On the other hand, I think that the only reason he got into the position where he ended up saying some inflammatory things -- and I still don't know exactly what they were -- was because he was teaching from a left-wing perspective.
As to the students who feel chilled, I think it's easy to say to them they should take more "responsibility" in the "collective learning environment," but I think the teacher has got to be the teacher. Students are going to care what other students think about them. Their social relationships matter to them, and their interest in their standing among their peers deserves respect. The teacher needs to structure the classroom discussion in a way that gets the whole range of opinion heard. The most obvious way for a law teacher to do that is to call on students to articulate the arguments of the various parties and judges in particular cases and to require them to defend those arguments and to respond to other students who have been called on to articulate other arguments. It's a mistake to think that a lot of class time should be consumed by students professing their personal beliefs, endorsing policies, and proclaiming politics.
But by all means, talk about such things. There must be a thousand bars and cafés in town where you can carry on the conversation late into the evening.