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Monday, August 18, 2008

The AALS Speaks -- Sort Of (UPDATED)

If you're a law professor, you've probably already received in your email in-box a letter from Carl Monk of the AALS containing a "Statement Adopted by [the] AALS Executive Committee," responding to the proposed boycott of the site of the AALS annual meeting because the hotel's owner "has contributed money to a ballot initiative designed to overturn the California Supreme Court's May decision in favor of same-sex marriage."  (There is an open question how much ongoing labor disputes at the hotel also have to do with the boycott proposal, but the statement omits this detail.)  Here are the pertinent parts of the statement:

In addressing this issue, the Executive Committee has sought to ensure that the Annual Meeting serves the needs of all participants to the maximum extent possible given our contractual obligations to the hotels.  [P] Our contracts with the hotels provide that each hotel reserve a block of guest rooms, and leave to the AALS the choice of where to locate the AALS Registration, Exhibit Hall, Section Programs, Presidential Programs, and House of Representatives meetings. We will honor our contracts with both hotels, and we have exercised our option to hold all AALS events at the Marriott to ensure the maximum participation by our members.  [P] Law schools and other organizations hosting meetings and receptions will be contacted soon by an AALS meetings manager regarding the location of their events. Faculty and staff at law schools will soon receive housing information and you will be able to choose your individual hotel room on a first-come, first-served basis in accordance with the usual housing procedures.

What to make of this statement?  The basic message would seem to be, we're holding our meeting at the hotel, period, at the very least because we are contractually obliged to do so.  It also states fairly clearly that all AALS events will be held at the hotel.  I think it leaves unclear what will happen with a non-AALS event, but the thrust of the statement is generally straightforward.

But is it enough?  Not in my view. 

For the reasons I've already given on this blog, it would have been nice if the AALS's reasons had something to do with more than just its contractual obligations.  The AALS could and, in my view, should have shouldered its burden to speak as an academic organization.  In that capacity, it should have said that it might be reasonable in the first instance when making siting decisions to keep in mind factors (including, perhaps, "political" issues) that might affect the ability of the AALS to draw the widest possible audience to its event, although those factors shouldn't be judged for their substance.  But, with the die having been cast, it would not now be appropriate for the AALS to abandon its siting decision on the basis of matters that are extrinsic to its role as an academic organization. If it wanted to be a tad more pugnacious, it might have gone further and pointed out that under no reasonable reading of the AALS's own non-discrimination policy could it be said that the owner's decision to subsidize a political activity, of whatever sort, violates that policy, provided that access to the hotel is available to all.

Of course, the AALS said none of that.  I suspect the statement will satisfy few if any people who have been engaged in debating this issue on either side.  And as the statement of an academic entity devoted to academic values, it is politic but timid and sorely lacking.  Another missed opportunity....   

Update: Wups!  I have failed in my reading.  Commenter James Grimmelman kindly and gently points out that the AALS has in fact put its events at the Marriott, the hotel that is not subject to the boycott, "to ensure the maximum participation by our members." Obviously, that substantially negates much of what I've written; in keeping with my usual practice, I'll leave it up as a reminder of the error of my mistake, to quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So, um, as I was saying, what to make of this?  Well, first of all, it will satisfy many people on one side of the debate -- the pro-boycott side. It may or may not satisfy the "anti"-boycott people.  As I argued above, I don't think it is illegitimate to make decisions based on drawing the largest number of audience members, provided that one doesn't take a side on the substantive issues involved; that is perfectly consistent with academic values.  One can wonder aloud whether, in practice, the AALS would be as eager to take this advice if the hotel owner in question funded a pro-same-sex-marriage initiative or group and some members of the AALS took umbrage and said they were unwilling to attend events at such a venue.  But in principle I don't have a problem with attempting to ensure the widest possible audience participation.  In short, even if the AALS's move strikes some of the boycott opponents as a little on the pusillanimous side, that does not make it illegitimate, and they should not necessarily oppose the AALS's decision -- if it was reached in good faith and for the right reasons.

I still think, however, that the AALS could have said more.  It could have made clear that its decision was reached solely for the legitimate reasons I've outlined above, and it could have made equally clear that it was not drawing any conclusions about the substantive issues, that those substantive issues are irrelevant to its academic mission, and that its decision was explicitly and firmly not made on the basis of any non-discrimination policies, whether they belong to the AALS or to any other group. 

Nevertheless, that's me wiping egg off my face.  Thanks for the correction, James.         

Posted by Paul Horwitz on August 18, 2008 at 01:05 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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That's some outstanding irony there. Yup. Some mighty fine irony, all righty.

Paul, you still have that egg rag? I could use it.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Aug 18, 2008 7:51:10 PM

Ummm . . . Doug Manchester owns the SD Marriott as well. http://www.dougmanchester.com/

Good due diligence, AALS.

Posted by: Dan Rodriguez | Aug 18, 2008 5:12:38 PM

There are two hotels involved: the Marriott and the Hyatt. The Hyatt is the one with the pro-life owner. The statement explains that the official AALS events will be at the Marriott.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Aug 18, 2008 1:52:51 PM

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