Sputnik: In one of your interviews you have stated that "universities today are largely a failure when it comes to discussing complicated issues" and that it is impossible to debate without commitments to one specific point of view. What is the reason for this?
Alan Dershowitz: I think over the 60 years that I have been in academia I have seen minds closing, closing and closing. When I started teaching, students came with an open mind; they wanted to hear all sides of issues. Today they come with their ideology well-formed. They think they have the truth on their side. There is no room for dissent, there is no room for debate, there is no room for due process. Why bother with all those technicalities and procedural difficulties? Why not just only let the truth come out — "Pravda, Pravda!" has come to American universities.
Alan Dershowitz: The most important thing is to adopt rules like the University of Chicago has, that encourage open dialogue and debate, and encourage due process. Administrators have a role to play to educate the students when students demand something like firing of a professor because he represented Harvey Weinstein, a very controversial person accused of sexual misconduct. The university should respond by teaching the students the importance of representing unpopular defendants rather than firing the law professor who decided to represent the unpopular client. The university should be open to all points of view equally, no censorship at all, and they should teach the virtues of free, open dialogue.
Sputnik: I think you were talking about Ronald Sullivan who was fired from Harvard for representing Harvey Weinstein. And you have also noted some similarities between this case and McCarthyism. What is the essence of this comparison?
Alan Dershowitz: When I was a college student we were going through the late phase of McCarthyism. During McCarthyism, if a lawyer dares to represent a communist or a leftist or a person accused of being a communist or sympathetic to the Soviet Union, that lawyer would be fired and ostracised. Today we are seeing the same thing coming from the hard left instead of from the hard right. Ronald Sullivan was the dean of an important college at Harvard and he lost that job, not because he did anything wrong but because he did something right, because he became the lawyer for somebody who was very, very unpopular and very controversial. And that is the essence of McCarthyism.
Sputnik: In his article for The Daily Wire, Dennis Prager wrote that "conservatives are not the enemy of liberalism; the left is". In your opinion, how much does the current so-called left-wing contradict the notions of traditional liberalism?
Sputnik: What points of view do you think are currently prevalent on college campuses?
Alan Dershowitz: Well, it is hard to know what the majority believe because most students don't speak out. But the loudest students are the people from the hard left, who don't have any toleration for dissenting views or any toleration for due process. This includes radical feminists. It includes radical people involved in other political ideologies. And when you have radicals and extremists, they only want to hear one point of view: "free speech for me but not for thee; due process for me but not for thee". And that is the end of free speech and due process when it is not applied universally.
Sputnik: Once you said that major college professors are unwilling to express their honest views in order to not upset students. How long has this been going on and what is the reason for that?
Alan Dershowitz: It has been going on for a long time. Student evaluations have an impact on professors' careers. So when professors express views that are unacceptable to a small number of students it can affect their evaluations. That certainly happened to me when I expressed support for Israel on Harvard Campus. Many of the anti-Israel students decided to lower my evaluations, even though I was one of the most popular and effective teachers on the faculty. I was a senior professor so it didn't affect me, but if you are a junior professor seeking tenure that could have a big impact.
Sputnik: In your view, what is the risk that a person, for example, with right-wing or conservative views will be persecuted at modern colleges?
Alan Dershowitz: Well, even professors with liberal views like mine — I am not a conservative, I am a liberal — we are attacked because we are not radical. People confuse liberalism with the left. I am very much opposed to the hard left, though I am a liberal, a traditional liberal who believes in free speech for everybody. And that is not a popular view today on college campuses. I also believe the people accused of sexual misconduct on campus should have a full and fair trial and an opportunity to prove their innocence. That today is an anathema to radicals [radical leftists] who believe that sexual assault is so serious a crime that even the innocent should not be defended. And nobody should have the opportunity to prove their innocence: if you are accused, you are guilty. And so liberalism is suffering today on campus along with conservatism.
Alan Dershowitz: I think most parents look for the prestige of the university and that is a mistake. They should look for the university that best suits their children. For example, children who are willing to fight against this oppression would do very well at most major American universities. And there are some universities that don't have these problems. So I think parents and students should be very careful and selective when picking colleges to go to. And not go to colleges which will deny them a liberal education, which is what is going on in some universities today.
Sputnik: What do you think are the main shortcomings of laws in the current system of higher education in the US in general?
Alan Dershowitz: Well, the Obama administration did some terrible things in relation to colleges. They made it impossible for people to get a fair trial when accused of sexual misconduct. The Trump administration has reversed that to its credit. Also, many universities today have speech codes that are one-sided and, for example, allow any anti-Israel speech to be made on a college campus. But when you try to make a pro-Israel speech, you are silenced. That happened to me on a number of occasions at Berkley, at the University of California, at the University of Massachusetts. And so it is not only that we have censorship but it is very one-sided censorship.
Sputnik: In your view, how important is the information that students receive at universities? How do these opinions and attitudes impact a person's future worldview?
Alan Dershowitz: The current students at major universities are the future leaders. I know I taught, in my 50 years at Harvard, I taught many of the current leaders of the United States. And it's very important that the classroom not be used to propagandise students, that the classroom not be used to teach to students what to think but to teach the students how to think, how to think critically, how to think objectively, how to listen to all sides of an issue. And I wish there were more of that on university campuses today rather than propaganda in and outside of the classroom.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.