Constitutional Law, For Liberals Only

, Abraham Taylor, Leave a comment

Leave it up to the academic left to try and extinguish views that would
challenge their own.

Our latest example comes to us from the University of Montana School of Law.
Robert Natelson (pictured), a tenured Professor of Law and senior member of the
faculty, has applied to teach constitutional law following a vacancy in the
course 4 times over the past 8 years. Despite his known interest in the
course and the fact that he is one of the most published members of the faculty,
Natelson has been denied each time. The reason for his denial, he claims,
is because of his conservative views.

After an unsuccessful attempt to remedy the situation through the provost,
Natelson filed a political discrimination complaint with University
President George Dennison. Dennison agreed to establish a hearing for the
procedure. In mid-August, the state Board of Regents reversed the School of
Law’s decision and ordered that Natelson should be allowed to teach
constitutional law. The hearing found the continual denial of Natelson’s
request to teach the course unfair after a visiting professor of 6 law
schools testified that in his experience a senior professor had never been
denied a course transfer.

The School of Law’s denial of Natelson’s request is a continuation of a long
history of “punishment” he has received for his conservative views. In
1993, shortly after receiving tenure, Natelson wrote a series of op-ed
pieces opposing a tax increase. A short time later, fourteen of his
eighteen colleagues at the School of Law sent letters riddled with personal
attacks to all major news outlets in the state. A few years later, Natelson strongly criticized a case by the Montana Supreme
Court. The School of Law sent him a letter saying that his conduct was over
the top. Natelson’s colleagues again wrote individual op-eds about him, and
again their language was “highly intemperate.” These are just two of the
many instances when Natelson’s colleagues at the University of Montana have
attacked him in the press.

Many School of Law faculty members accused Natelson of a “lack of civility
and collegiality with students and colleagues.” They also accused him of
being unwilling “to be a team player on the faculty,” and criticized him for
“abrasive” and “contentious” attributes. Natelson’s response to these
charges: “they are absolutely absurd.” He had no recollection of any scene
with a student or faculty member. “I never curse and am very soft spoken,”
Natelson replied. Despite these charges, neither the University nor the
School of Law has ever disciplined Natelson.

In fact, in the 2000 gubernatorial race, with an underfunded campaign based
largely on volunteers, Natelson came in second. His record in the community is outstanding. He finds very few problems working with others, outside the School of Law.

The “punishment” continues. Each year, the School of Law’s dean awards a
scholarship to a law professor for outstanding academic achievement.
Natelson has never received the Boon Scholarship Award, though he accounts
for about 40 percent of the publications by members of the School of Law’s
faculty. If that were not enough, under the University’s system Natelson
has never been approved for merit pay. In the past two years, though he
ranked in the top two according to the numerical points system used to determine pay based on merit, he has been
skipped over.

Before his political views became known, Natelson was chosen as the
University’s delegate to the Association of American Law Schools. Following
his political coming-out-of-the-closet he has not been chosen for one
important assignment.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Natelson’s story is that even his worst
enemies do not accuse him of having a political agenda in the classroom.
His political views came out while he was on his own time, in op-ed pieces
and in his volunteer efforts. Natelson feels that his course transfer was
denied repeatedly because his colleagues “don’t want a balanced course. Con
Law has been in left-wing hands for twenty years and the faculty wants to
keep it that way.” A Montana School of Law student recently complained that
in a four credit Con Law class the 2nd Amendment—that gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms— was never mentioned once. Natelson wants to “present the students with a spectrum of opinions, and
give them access to the founding documents.”

As a result of the state Board of Regents decision, Natelson will get his
Con Law course, but there are a few strings attached. An independent
evaluation committee will be assembled to review his performance in the
course. This process will include class visitations, assessments of his
teaching abilities and other relevant considerations such as required
readings. When asked if, to his knowledge, another professor with tenure
was ever subjected to these requirements, Natelson replied “No, but I am
happy to have a chance at an impartial evaluation committee. It is a great

So Natelson will get his course, but it cost him greatly in time, and
emotion, and in attorney’s fees. Will the discrimination stop here? It is
doubtful, but his victory is one that should encourage others with similar
experiences to stand up and take action. “The greatest thing I am worried
about,” said Natelson, ” is that unless alumni stand up to these people
there will be no academic training left.” Natelson is right, because
without a balance of opinion in the classroom only indoctrination exists,
and that would be a real tragedy.

A recent graduate of Brigham Young University, Abraham Taylor is an intern at Accuracy in Media.