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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Roisman/Bradford Saga, Cont'd
Posted 11:05 PM by Joshua Claybourn
[Editor's Note: The following commentary reflects the view of the author alone, and does not necessarily reflect the views or official positions of other writers at this site, Indiana University or its affiliates.]

Update: Prof. Roisman writes, "I am not wealthy and I come from New York, not New England."

The Indianapolis Star carries a story that has long been a subject of conversation at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis. It involves two of the schools most outspoken professors - Florence Roisman and William Bradford. Roisman, by her own acount "the most to-the-left person" on the faculty, and Bradford, a relatively conservative professor, do not see eye to eye. The differences have led to a nasty dispute that has finally found its way to the community outside of the law school walls.

Roisman and Bradford are as different as night and day. Roisman is a wealthy New Englander, short in stature and over two decades Bradford's senior. Most of all, though, Roisman is an unabashed liberal. Bradford, on the other hand, is a conservative who generally supports Bush's "war on terror" and the Iraq war. He's a young, athletic man of Native American decent with an imposing figure, but gentle personality. He's fought in two wars, at times behind enemy lines, and earned the Silver Star. Perhaps the only thing the two have in common is their stellar education. Both earned degrees at Harvard Law and both are top notch academics.

In terms of teaching the law, Roisman is one of the finest I've had in two years of law school. She has a remarkable ability to impart the law, both theoretically and practically (a rare combination). I've not had the opportunity to have Prof. Bradford, but every indication is that he is equally capable in the classroom. Indeed, students voted him best new professor. So why must these two top notch educators be embroiled in such a public fight?

Despite what the Star article tries to suggest, their dispute does not center around Roisman's refusal to vote for tenure for Bradford. Why? Bradford has not even applied for tenure, and besides, faculty members do not typically apply for tenure until their sixth year of teaching (Bradford has just completed his third). In other words, the piece by Ruth Holladay is a non-story undeserving of wider publicity. Inter-faculty disagreements are not exactly riviting news, nor should they be.

But this disagreement does remain fertile ground for discussion on this site, as it significantly impacts the school's community. As I've already stated, Prof. Roisman is among the best at teaching the law, but her well documented antics outside of the classroom are controversial, to say the least. She demanded, successfully and without prior discussion, that a Christmas tree be removed from the school's atrium because of its alleged insensitivity. When given an opportunity, she consistently advocates a more liberal minded Constitutional/statutory interpretation. She openly supported Ward Churchill, the anti-American Colorado professor who called 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," not just for his academic freedom, but for his underlying position. And I've heard numerous reports of Roisman privately urging students not to work for "the man" in prosecutorial or certain private sector positions.

I do not doubt the sincerity of Prof. Roisman's desire to bring about a better law school environment and to advocate a position she passionately believes is superior and just. But I can say with certainty that her crusade has significantly altered the mood among the law school student body. Whether this is a positive change to be embraced by the faculty and administration is an important question that needs to be addressed. Either way, though, this is hardly a story deserving of Indy Star attention.

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