“Kneecapping” Academic Freedom

An article in the latest issue of Academe discusses a rising trend in corporate and governmental interference with law school clinics.  The article, “Kneecapping” Academic Freedom by Robert R. Kuehn and Peter A. Joy, explores the ramifications of this trend which saw two lawsuits brought this year against clinics for their work. In Maryland, “a law-clinic lawsuit against a $4 billion poultry company triggered a legislative effort to withhold state funds from the University of Maryland unless its law school provided the legislature with sensitive information about clinic clients and case activities.”  Meanwhile, Tulane University “refused to drop an academic program that sometimes represents citizens challenging petrochemical-industry environmental permits”.  In response, “the industry developed an eleven-point plan, in the words of its spokesperson, to ‘kneecap’ the university financially.”

Law clinics have become an essential teaching tool to bring real world legal training into the classroom and help to develop better attorneys. But these attacks are nothing new.  Seemingly, as law clinics developed, so too did the attacks which date back to the 1960’s.  Only this year, however, did these attacks reach the level of severity.

The authors explain that this issue is about academic freedom.  Indeed, it is the clinic’s right to choose the issues they will address and people whom it will represent in the course of teaching law students.

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