Poll Results: Do Harvard Law 3Ls Want Jeff Flake to Speak?

Editor’s note: We used a Google Form to conduct this poll, and as such, it was impossible to prevent 1Ls and 2Ls from voting without identifying all voters. The voters in this data set should not be treated as a sample size representative of the Class of 2018. It is possible that this poll was circulated in some social circles and not others, and we did not share it anywhere except on our website and on our Facebook page.

Without further ado, here is the chart:

As you can see, the results are:
Happy: 33 students
Content: 17 students
Indifferent: 6 students
Annoyed: 26 students
Unhappy: 18 students

In addition, we received 31 comments. Here are a few selected comments from all sides on the issue.

It’s like the school wanted to get across a final F-you before sending us on our way. What a garbage choice. Who thought this flip flopping, morally holier-than-thou champion of nothing but his own image, was going to go over well?

Commencement speeches aren’t political, and I don’t care whether the person giving ours agrees with my views.

On the one hand, who the hell thought this was a good idea? On the other, is it even surprising that a school full of #NeverTrump Republicans and (so-called) #Resistance Democrats would think this was a great choice.

Jeff Flake was not the first, second, third, or anywhere near the top choice of the Marshals. He is perhaps the first elected Republican to ever speak at HLS’s class day. Further, he punches right, being a vocal critic of the Trump administration. The fact that we even have to have this poll is ridiculous, it reflects poorly on our campus, and is insulting to the students who do not dance to the beat of the progressive drum. Pete Davis’s article in the Record is demonstrative of just how out-of-touch some members of our campus are with reality. If we wanted to get some *real* diversity of opinion, we would invite someone sympathetic to the administration. But the fact that a vocal portion of the campus thinks that one of the more palatable Republicans is out-of-bounds is shameful. Like our Professors, the Class Marshals have an obligation in selecting the class day speaker to make us all better practitioners of the law by being exposed to views that differ from ours. Bravo to the Class Marshals for this pick and for taking the flak, I hope this poll reveals us to be deserving of them.

Harvard needs more representation on staff and faculty of people with conservative ideology. Diversity and Inclusion right now means Republicans and Conservatives not welcome. This needs to change.

If we reject a speaker merely because we disagree with his politics, we fail to fulfill one of the main objectives of law school: to get us to listen to, think deeply about, and engage with many competing viewpoints. Not to mention we would miss the opportunity to hear from an accomplished individual who is entitled to respect and from whom we can learn something. Finally, we would set a terrible example for the entire country. If Harvard Law students are rejecting competing viewpoints out of hand, why should anyone else engage with different ideas. In a time when we need dialogue and understanding, rejecting an accomplished speaker sends the wrong message and deprives us of an opportunity to learn.

I am incredibly disappointed in this choice. I wholeheartedly agree with the opinion piece written by Pete Davis about the subject.

And, my personal favorite:

thx 4 the drama

You’re welcome, anonymous voter!

Of course, I have some takeaways. You’re entitled to agree or disagree with me, of course, but as editor-in-chief, I have a responsibility to editorialize.

1. Only 6 voters were indifferent.

I’m actually impressed with that number. Indifference is the enemy of discourse, which is what I try to foster at The Record, so I’m happy to see that most of the people who took ten seconds to click on a link and fill out a poll didn’t do it just to tell me they don’t care.

2. The numbers say that this pick was controversial, but not overwhelmingly unpopular, with the people who voted.

56% of the voters are either happy, content, or indifferent that Jeff Flake is the Class Day Speaker, but 44% of them are either annoyed or unhappy. I don’t think that says that people agree with Jeff Flake’s political views, and as you can see above, even the responses that were supportive of Jeff Flake as Class Day Speaker acknowledged that his views are not popular on campus. However, I don’t know that it says that people actually are tolerant of differing political views, because if 18 students aren’t going and 26 students are annoyed that the speaker is someone like Jeff Flake, that still amounts to 44 students who aren’t thrilled to see a sitting U.S. Senator who never had a particularly controversial reputation until recently (if he did have a controversial reputation before 2017, I certainly was not aware).

3. The anonymous poll was the right call.

Some of the responses to the poll critiqued the poll itself. I don’t agree that having a poll to begin with “reflects poorly on our campus.” First, several 3Ls who are not affiliated with The Record asked for one, and second, if democracy, however casually implemented, is out of bounds in journalism, I’m not sure what pollsters are being paid for.

I decided it was more important to preserve anonymity in this instance to prevent students from being too scared to have me know that they said, for example, “BRING ME TAYLOR SWIFT OR AN OBAMA.” 31 students delivered on sending me their views in a sentence or several. Some of those views were vociferously critical of other students on campus, the lack of ideological diversity on campus, and even The Record itself and its writers.

Now, I have a lot to say about all of those things. Some of it amounts to identity politics. I’m from North Dakota, my parents are conservative Republicans, and I grew up in a space where conservative views had mainstream representation. Conservatives are the people that I grew up around, and I do not feel any discomfort around them whatsoever.

But looking at the results of this poll, as well as comments that appear in connection with some of our more outwardly left-wing content, I have to admit that perhaps they feel discomfort around me, the same way I’ve felt discomfort in very conservative spaces when I knew my views were unwelcome in the past. I don’t know that it took an anonymous poll for me to realize that initially, but I want those who voted to know that I hear them, loud and clear.

The answer to that appears to be right in front of us. I’ve asked conservative classmates who have presented their views to me in conversation to write for us on numerous occasions. Some of them gave me the same story that I get from liberals, which is that they’re terrified to have their writing brought up in a Senate confirmation hearing. I dislike that excuse, and I could write an entire article about why. Some of them, however, said that they didn’t want other students to attack them for their views.

The problem here is that criticism is part of participating in meaningful conversations in the public sphere. As you can see above, Pete Davis can be a controversial subject on campus, because his views are all public knowledge at HLS. He works very hard to make sure that is the case, and I have a lot of respect for him for creating spaces where whatever he’s thinking about is up for debate. But not everyone agrees with him, and he does receive public critique for that. There’s no such thing as freedom of expression safe from criticism at Harvard Law School, or indeed outside of it, for anyone, regardless of their politics: everyone who participates in dialogue can expect to be challenged, even if they’re not aware of it.

But if you don’t trust your classmates to participate in those dialogues with charity, I want you to trust me: nothing you say in an op-ed or any other kind of piece could possibly be worse than some of the things I’ve read on the Internet. I hope that all students at Harvard Law School will eventually participate in public dialogue, and I hope even more that a lot of them do it on The Record. All of you are eminently qualified, in my view. My inbox is open to all. This is a platform for everyone at this school. But representing your views on campus starts with you, not Jeff Flake.

Kate Thoreson is a 3L. She is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record.

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