Michael Simkovic is a law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. You’ve likely never heard of him. He’s not an important prawf. He graduated Harvard Law School in 2007 and has since done little to draw attention to his work outside the legal academy. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but inconsequential. It’s the bane of academics, trying so hard to matter when the stakes are so small.
But now he’s drawn attention. Not for a deep thought. Not for a theory of law that enlightens anyone. But for being, as David Bernstein too charitably puts it, “remarkable.” And while David may feel constrained by the moderated characterizations of the academy, I’m not, and so I’ll remark. Simkovic flamed out in a public psychotic breakdown.
I’M EMBARRASSED FOR THE AUTHOR: USC lawprof Michael Simkovic: A well-organized campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities is exploiting students and manipulating the public.
I’m not embarrassed for Simkovic. This is America and he’s entitled to be as big an asshole as he wants to be. And he wants to be huge.
Recently, the Federalist Society invited South Texas College of Law Houston’s Josh Blackman to lecture at CUNY law school. Professor Blackman’s sparsely attended lecture drew protestors because of Blackman’s previous criticism of an amnesty program for undocumented immigrants and his use of language the protestors interpreted as racial dog whistling.
A university official asked the students to be respectful, defended Blackman’s right to speak, and admonished the students “please don’t take the bait.” One student noticed Blackman recording himself and asked Blackman, “You chose CUNY didn’t you? Because you knew what would happen if you came here.” (CUNY, like Vassar, has a reputation for left-wing student activism). Blackman deflected the question. One protestor used an expletive, which Blackman repeated.
According to both Blackman and CUNY, the protestors were non-violent. Security was present to maintain order. Blackman—tall and muscular—towered over the students and appeared calm throughout the exchange.
This was the “fuck the law” protest, the one that the CUNY law National Lawyers Guild explained meant “fuck the law.” The voices in Simkovic’s head, the ones that only he hears when he’s alone at night in the darkness, told him this was a calculated conspiracy by the dark lords Koch to bring down the Force of social justice.
Right-wing journalists hyped up the incident, labelling the largely minority protestors a “mob” and “hoodlums.” A law professor writing for the Volokh Conspiracy blog at Reason Magazine argued that the CUNY Dean should be fired. White Nationalist websites such as Breitbart, New American (the John Birch Society), and VDare lionized Blackman as a hero. Blackman seized the opportunities that resulted, scoring an Op Ed in the New York Daily News.
Professor Blackman’s claim that student protestors at CUNY denied him a platform is ironic. It is precisely because of Blackman’s right-wing connections and the brief protests they engendered that Blackman was given a platform at the National Review, Fox News, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, Reason, Inside Higher Ed, FIRE, Campus Reform, Cato.org, Commentary, First Amendment Watch, The College Fix, and The Global Dispatch, SeeThruEdu (The Texas Public Policy Foundation) among others. Many of these organizations are part of the Koch Brothers’ backed State Policy Network.
And why, according to the voices in Simkovic’s head, are these evil manipulators doing this to the good and righteous forces for justice?
The purpose of media exaggeration of incidents at universities appears to be to discredit universities in the eyes of conservatives, libertarians, and moderates.
There’s a grand conspiracy afoot, or more precisely in the nasty inner reaches of Simkovic’s bizarre delusions, which is working, undermining vulnerable and marginalized progressives on campus by this vast right-wing conspiracy. Heck, even Overlawyered’s Walter Olson is in on it.
This messaging strategy dovetails nicely with anti-university propaganda. That same year, Walter Olson of the Koch-sponsored Manhattan Institute and Cato Institute published Schools for Misrule, which portrayed law schools as hostile toward conservative students. Olson has little relevant experience with law school, either as a student or as a professor. His account does not reflect the experiences of many of those who do.*
That nobody stopped Simkovic from having this psychotic episode in public is unfortunate, suggesting that not even Brian Leiter, whose blog hosted this screed, cared enough to spare Simkovic the humiliation. There is no shortage of legal academics happy to whore themselves in the cause of social justice, and to bring down Darth Cheeto. But they tend to be a cowardly, weasely group, so those prawfs will shake their head in private, condemn these public displays of nuttery only amongst themselves, or at worst pretend to be above the fray, sniffling that it’s “curious.”
I, however, have no such compulsion to rise above this insane delusion, this attack on Josh Blackman (and William Jacobson). Simkovic broke the rules, openly attacking other academics, and for that he gets no moderated response. He’s a fucking nutjob. He was a nobody before this, and now he’s just a psychotic piece of shit for spewing his delusion that there’s a conspiracy by the evil Koch Brothers to vilify and destroy the sweet darlings of social justice in law school.
No one “baited” the easily manipulated children into disgracing themselves, their school. And no one forced Simkovic to lose his shit in public and attack Josh Blackman as a tool of the evil empire. Simkovic tries to wrap himself up in the cloak of goodness, as the insanely self-righteous are wont to do:
I have had the privilege of teaching, learning from, working with and befriending decent people of all political persuasions over the years. It disappoints me to see some of them allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder in a misguided war against education.
But his crazy polemic is complete bullshit. David Bernstein takes it apart.
The whole piece is like this, full of illogic and innuendo, suggesting that the fault with the threats to free speech on campus lies with those who engage in and defend free speech, rather than those bent on suppressing it.
This is a call to arms in the legal academy. I doubt that most of them will have the balls to call Simkovic the lying sack of shit he is. And so, as happens with unfortunate frequency, a vulgarian will do the job they lack the courage to do and clean up their mess. Josh Blackman deserves as much. As for Michael Simkovic, you’re a disgrace.
*If you click on the link in support of “many of those who do,” you arrive at an Amazon review of Walter’s book written by, ta da, Simkovic.