Commencement, Evan Caminker, Gay, Gay Marriage, Law Schools, Politics

Dean Caminker Digs In To Support Anti-Gay-Marriage Commencement Speaker At Michigan Law

We told you yesterday that Michigan Law has decided to invite Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to speak to its 3L class for senior day. We told you that many Michigan Law students have objected to the choice of Senator Portman, because of his strong anti-gay rhetoric on the issue of gay marriage.

We told you that Michigan Law Dean Evan Caminker — the hottest law school dean in America, by the way — didn’t respond to our request for comment. We wondered, though, if he would dig in his heels against the LGBT community at his school, or if he would try to be sensitive to the concerns of minorities at his school who would like to enjoy basic civil rights.

Well, Dean Caminker decided to dig in, and in so doing kind of totally missed the point…

Here’s Dean Caminker’s email. He sent it only to the 3L class, but there’s no reason incoming LGBT students to Michigan Law shouldn’t know exactly where the Dean stands on this issue:

Today I met with several student leaders who have expressed deep disappointment in the Law School’s choice of Senator Rob Portman as Senior Day speaker because of his voting record on gay rights. This sentiment was also reflected in a letter signed by 98 graduating seniors. All the communication surrounding this issue has been thoughtful, and I respect our students’ conviction and outreach. I truly regret that this issue has caused members of our community distress in anticipation of what should be a celebratory day.

The Law School has a tradition of inviting commencement speakers with a range of backgrounds and accomplishments, including leaders in government, public service, and private enterprise. We seek speakers who have achieved success and accomplishment in their professional careers, rather than speakers whose views are representative of all or a majority of the students at the Law School. For those in the public sector we invite alumni who represent a broad range of political views in high-level service, in both national and state government. Last year’s speaker was White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, for instance. Above all, the University as an institution is committed to being a place of respectful conversation and debate. We are deeply invested in the principle of diversity where a wide spectrum of perspectives is included. The Law School remains steadfast in its commitment to create a supportive environment for our LGBT community, and also to create an educational environment in which diverse viewpoints can be represented. Anything less would undermine the Law School’s core values.


I think we all knew that if Dean Caminker was going to defend this, he would issue this kind of statement. He was going to play the intellectual diversity card. He was going to try to cast his own protesting LGBT students as people who don’t support that kind of diversity. He was going to bring up some Democrat to make it look like this is an issue of partisan squabbling instead of a question of basic human rights. He was going to say Michigan is committed to being “inclusive” in the very same message he was using to support a divisive speaker. We knew he was going to tell LGBT members of his campus that they are welcome at Michigan just so long as they sit quietly when occasionally the school invites somebody who hates them to come speak to them.

And, of course, Caminker was going to completely ignore the Andrew Shirvell situation that’s been an ongoing plot line at Michigan college all year. A member of the Michigan college community has been menaced by a raging homophobe who was once a lawyer in the state, and this is the year Dean Caminker decides to choose an anti-gay speaker for his 3L class? This is the year Caminker decides to take an unpopular stance against gay law students in the name of intellectual diversity? You’ll forgive members of the Michigan Law LGBT community if they don’t feel particularly “supported” by the school.

But what Dean Caminker really doesn’t get — what scores and scores of moderates and even general liberals don’t always get — is that the similar speaker to the Rob Portmans of the world isn’t someone like Valerie Jarrett; it’s David Duke. It’s Louis Farrakhan. Now if Dean Caminker wants to say that Michigan Law is a community where Farrakhan’s virulently Anti-Semitic rhetoric can be discussed with “respectful conversation and debate,” fine. I’m sure that’d be an interesting symposium. But I doubt, I highly doubt, Dean Caminker is going to be putting in a call to Louis Farrakhan with an invite to speak at graduation! This isn’t some kind of lecture series where students are showing up for free pizza, this is part of his students’ graduation celebration — and it’s supposed to be a celebration for gay students too.

But see, Dean Caminker doesn’t think of Rob Portman like he thinks of Louis Farrakhan. He thinks that the anti-gay-marriage people are just one of many co-equal viewpoints. This guy doesn’t like gay marriage, that guy doesn’t like the New York Yankees. Whatever, we can all talk about this like adults.

I suppose Caminker has the luxury of thinking that, assuming that he’s never been in love and/or nobody has ever sat there and told him his choice in a lover was a gross abomination that will be punished by God and not recognized by the state.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe what I should do is figure out how Dean Caminker likes to do it, then start a campaign calling the way he likes it “wrong” and introducing legislation designed to make sure that he wasn’t allowed to start a family with anybody who liked to do it the same way that he likes to do it.

Maybe then I really would get invited to speak at Senior Day.

UPDATE (4/19/11): One Michigan law student wrote to us in defense of Dean Caminker:

A few days ago, I thanked Elie for his coverage of our letter to Dean Caminker. I also want to thank you for making the point that too often we liberals give people like Senator Portman a pass on these views.

But you have misrepresented the dean’s response to our letter by omitting huge details. Your tipster probably hasn’t directly interacted with Dean Caminker. I have; many of my classmates have.

Dean Caminker has engaged any 3L who has approached him about this issue. He’s literally responded to e-mails at 2 a.m.; he’s asked for suggestions on how to address the situation; he’s proposed ideas and asked for feedback. To say that he is digging in is so terribly unfair. He has been thoughtful and very willing to listen and respond to our ideas. Some of us have been more hostile than others, but he’s responded to everyone with what is clearly genuine concern.

I signed the original letter, and I still think that Dean Caminker made a stupid decision in selecting Senator Portman. And again, I thank you for your overall message; it needs to be said. But you’ve completely misrepresented what Dean Caminker is doing.

We’ll keep you posted regarding any subsequent developments.

Earlier: Michigan Law School Invites Ohio Senator With ‘Anti-Gay Politics’ To Speak At Senior Day

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