Con law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky “impressed” by TU Law students - The University of Tulsa
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Con law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky “impressed” by TU Law students

Photograph of Erwin ChemerinskyOn Feb. 1, The University of Tulsa’s College of Law hosted Erwin Chemerinsky, a renowned authority on constitutional law and the Supreme Court and dean of University of California Berkeley Law. Chemerinsky served as keynote speaker at the annual John W. Hager Distinguished Lecture in Law.

The dean addressed the intricate nature of free speech on college campuses – a discussion that’s particularly relevant as rights and respect intersect with racial strife, political polarization, and the rapid growth of social media. He also explored the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion, proposing a potential solution to prioritize the ultimate objective of DEI: By emphasizing that DEI is not about imposing specific beliefs, but rather about fostering an environment that acknowledges the needs and experiences of every student, faculty, and staff member, institutions can showcase their dedication to equality and opportunity while staying within the bounds of the Constitution.

“We invite experts to our campus to enrich our community and provide students with the opportunity to learn from their expertise and real-world experiences,” said Dean Oren Griffin. “Additionally, our faculty engage in dialogue that refines their legal proficiency and perspectives.”

Photograph of attendees at the Erwin Chemerinsky lectureChemerinsky stressed that the U.S. Constitution safeguards the right to express any viewpoint or idea, without fear of government repression. However, this principle is not without caveats and considerations, even for private universities like TU. “Now, as everyone in this room knows, the First Amendment applies only to the government, so it applies only to public college universities,” Chemerinsky said. “But that doesn’t mean that private universities … are unconstrained when it comes to speech.”

After the public lecture, Chemerinsky spoke to Professor Janet K. Levit’s constitutional law students and answered questions about the Supreme Court, judicial ethics, and how politics affects rulings. The students also asked for advice from Chemerinsky and U.S. Circuit Judge Robert E. Bacharach, who also attended the class.

“You can make a difference. You can make more of a difference in this profession than you can in any other profession,” Bacharach said.

Chemerinsky agreed with the judge. “Follow your passions, and fight for what you believe in,” he told the students. “Law is the most powerful tool for social change. Use it to bring about your vision for a better society and a better world.”

TU Student Bar Association President Taylor Williams shared her gratitude. “As a law student, having the opportunity to learn from a legal titan like Dean Chemerinsky is second to none. His command of the law is astounding. First Amendment law is, and will always be, incredibly important,” she said. “I am thankful to attend a university that knows how essential it is to have such knowledgeable speakers on campus and that provides an opportunity for us to interact with them.”

After class, Chemerinsky commented on the caliber of TU Law. “It is a terrific law school with a great commitment to social justice,” he said. “I received terrific questions (from the students), questions that really made me think. I’m just tremendously impressed by the students here.”

Photograph of Erwin Chemerinsky with TU studentsLevit thanked Chemerinsky for generously giving his time to visit with her class.

“Dean Chemerinsky’s visit offered students the opportunity to be in conversation at once with a legal scholar unparalleled in his brilliance, a leader whose dynamism and creativity shapes the profession, and a human being who radiates humility and kindness. He challenged students to critically examine the role of the Article III judge and question whether objectivity – even in the guise of originalism – is possible or desirable,” she said. “To our students, Dean Chemerinsky, the author of their textbook for both Con Law I and Con Law II, is literally a rock star, as evidenced by the line of students that sought his autograph at the end of our class.”

Erwin Chemerinsky at TU Law