Toledo Law’s John W. Stoepler Professor of Law & Values Lee Strang won an award. Normally, that would raise at worst a yawn, at best an eyebrow. But not this time. The award Strang won is called the Inclusive Excellence Award, and he won it “overwhelmingly.”
UToledo College of Law Professor Lee Strang received an overwhelming number of faculty nominations focused on his presence in the classroom where he “enjoys and respects a good healthy debate,” as one nominator wrote. The individuals who nominated Strang for the award recognized his conservative point of view as a minority in academia and a benefit to legal debate.
One nomination read: “Professor Strang always welcomes students to present and defend their perspectives while respectfully challenging them to consider points of view contrary to their starting point. I believe the academy at its best is a place where truth claims and viewpoints can contend with one another based on their own merits and scholars from all life experiences have the opportunity to wrestle with the arguments of others as well as their own assumptions.”
Another wrote, “As much as any demographic measure of diversity, the diversity of thought and perspective is at the very heart of our identity as an academic institution.”
It is for these reasons Strang was recognized with the 2021 award.
Consequently, UToledo Law realized that they completely blew it and ended up with a disaster.
This year’s Inclusive Excellence Awards from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has launched a passionate and important conversation about how The University of Toledo works to ensure all individuals on our campus feel included and respected.
The awards were created in 2019 as a way to recognize the faculty, staff and departments on our campus who have put in the work implementing the University’s Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion to make our campus a more diverse and inclusive place to study, work and grow.
When we talk about a diverse and inclusive campus we mean a community free from discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, beliefs, age, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Strang, you see, may be exceptionally inclusive when it comes to diverse and inclusive thought, but he’s not exactly the wokiest prof on campus.
A current law student who asked to remain anonymous said in his opinion, Strang is not the clear winner.
“His views are not exactly in tune with, I guess you can say, modern diversity and views most professors would hold,” the student said.
In other words, this inclusive award was intended to go to a prof for the other kind of inclusiveness, the kind that was totally exclusive and tolerated no thought except the “correct” thought. Or at least that’s what a student who hid behind a rock said. But he/she/it is not alone.
Now an online petition with over 800 signatures is circulating, calling for the award to be given to someone else.
Sophomore Liam Walsh, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, started the petition.
“You don’t feel included or safe,” Walsh said. “I’m still going to be who I am, but I am less inclined to be open about that on campus.”
What’s a university to do when they throw an inclusion award and the overwhelming winner, except not the “clear winner,” isn’t of the sort required? Change the rules, of course.
In a statement, UT said the winner is picked “exclusively on the nominations submitted,” but that they’re working to change the nomination and review process.
According to the university’s website, those who nominated Strang cited his diversity of thought and his respect for a good debate.
One of the less progressive complaints about the notion of “diversity and inclusion” is that it’s about everything except heterodox thought, which stands in intolerable conflict with their flavor of inclusion. Giving the award to Prof. Strang, whose high esteem among his colleagues was demonstrated by his nomination and support, misses the point. This was an award to signal the virtue of progressive values, not heresy as reflected by teaching excellence and tolerance of all views. This cannot stand.
The intent of this award is to recognize those at UToledo who best represent our diversity and inclusion values and the feedback we’ve received on the nomination and review process is important as we continue to advance this new recognition into the future.
We have learned that more work is needed on our part to inform our campus community and our alumni of this recognition opportunity and to seek their nominations. Our UToledo alumni is an audience we had not actively engaged for nominations and will do so in the years ahead. In addition, we will broaden the review committee beyond the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to be sure we have diverse perspectives during the selection process for this honor.
Clearly, Toledo law cannot trust its faculty to nominate the right sort of professor for this “honor,” which the students point out is awful but (you can’t make this up: “The students did not say they want to see Strang fired, but simply want to see that award given to someone else”) ) they are not yet calling for Strang to be fired for winning.
The notion underlying this award reflects a dubious “value.” That students of diverse backgrounds should feel included, meaning not excluded because of their characteristics, is certainly laudable. But it goes one step further: respected. This is where the conflict arises, as respect isn’t an entitlement, but a thing that’s earned. It has to be earned by police. It has to be earned by academics. It has to be earned by students. You may be entitled to courtesy, but not respect. If your views are irrational, illogical or dumber than dirt, then people are under no obligation to respect them.
Perhaps what earned Strang the honor is that he gave students the opportunity to express their views, good, bad and stupid, whether they deserved respect or not. And this is what his tolerance of diverse thought has wrought. I have no idea what Strang gets for winning the award, but I hope it’s a roll of dimes. Toledo law, as pretty much every law school these days, needs more prawfs with dimes and the fortitude to hand them out.