The Black Law Students Association is refusing to debate a Cornell University law professor over his criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement—and instead calling on students to boycott his classes.
The BLSA, which says it advocates for the interests of black law students, is waging a campaign against Cornell's William Jacobson for remarks made about the Black Lives Matter movement on his popular blog, Legal Insurrection, which provides news commentary from a conservative perspective.
In an open letter posted to Facebook on Monday, and which is now circulating among Cornell law students and faculty members, the group is pressing members and student allies to avoid Jacobson’s classes. "As the course selection period approaches, we encourage our membership and our allies to reconsider studying under an individual whose views perpetuate hatred towards their fellow students," the letter says.
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The controversy erupted after Jacobson wrote earlier this month that the explosion of outrage from Black Lives Matter activists in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer was part of a left-wing campaign "to implement an anti-American, anti-Capitalist agenda."
That blog post and another critical of the activist movement have sparked calls for his dismissal, and nearly two dozen Cornell faculty members, in a letter published in the student newspaper, denounced what they characterize as a "smear campaign against Black Lives Matter."
That letter, in which the faculty members expressed their solidarity with the BLSA, has drawn criticism from prominent legal scholars including George Washington University's Jonathan Turley, who expressed concern about the censorious environment on university campuses that, he argued, has led activists to attempt to silence those they disagree with rather than to engage with their arguments.
The BLSA letter goes beyond Jacobson himself, calling on Cornell administrators to screen prospective faculty members for evidence of views they deem racist. "We further urge the administration to critically examine the views of individuals they intend to employ," the letter states.
In the wake of the dust up, Jacobson challenged the BLSA to a public debate, an invitation the group declined, arguing that "faculty members who challenge students to debate them on the motives of those fighting to preserve Black life are clearly more interested in amplifying their own agendas than engaging in thoughtful and reflective discourse."