Dear UC Hastings Community:
I had intended to write a general welcome to the Class of 2020, and a resounding welcome back to the Classes of 2018 and 2019. But events around the nation require a different message, but one that nevertheless calls upon each of us to rededicate our efforts toward working for justice.
We have borne witness to events that we had thought were relics of a buried past, one known only through ancient newsreels. If history has taught us nothing else, it is that bigotry and hate must be confronted plainly and without hesitation. The events of this past weekend in Charlottesville and their anticipated redux in the Bay Area over the next several weeks call for rebuttal. This call is multiplied many times by the shameful response of our President, who navigates these tumultuous waters with no moral compass.
What now seems like such a short while ago, I began my odyssey into the profession at the University of Virginia. It is ironic that the place I learned the importance of the rule of law and the adherence to a core set of moral principles should be the site of an assault on both. I lived in Charlottesville, just blocks from where Heather Hyer, 32, lost her life standing up for values that we all cherish. It is a college town. Like many places in America, Charlottesville faces many challenges involving race and ethnicity. But more than most, it has been a protective haven for individuals of all backgrounds. Like many college towns, Charlottesville always seemed a somewhat innocent place in which people of all kinds came together in mutual respect. The hateful right-wing demonstrators that invaded that idyllic space this past weekend robbed that city of that innocence and shattered that idealism.
Much has been said this past week about the First Amendment. A first principle of free speech guaranteed by that Amendment is that we as a society should welcome the clash of ideas. Only when ideas are fully debated and dissected in the marketplace can truth or wisdom emerge. But we saw in Charlottesville a perversion of this principle. How can ideas be fully debated when one side is carrying automatic weapons? This is not a marketplace; it’s a prospective battlefield. The Bill of Rights has been torn asunder when supposed Second Amendment rights effectively silence the foremost guarantee of a free society.
Ordinarily, we as a people look to our elected leaders for moral leadership. Franklin Roosevelt described what we should expect from our President:
"The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. All our great Presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified."
We now live in a time when “certain historic ideas in the life of the nation” have to be clarified. As lawyers and future lawyers, we must be willing to step into the void. Our nation was built upon fundamental concepts of liberty and equality. Although our nation stumbled early and often over the ensuing centuries, we have always embraced the ideals of our founding values that all people are created equal. Ideologues that have preached otherwise were once marginalized and shunned by all reasonable people.
Martin Luther King, Jr., famously quoted Theodore Parker’s observation that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe this is true. But that moral arc is neither self-defining nor inevitable. It takes shape only through our collective actions. As members of the legal profession, with a duty to uphold the Constitution, we must stand up and be counted.
I want to assure the entire UC Hastings community that I will devote my full energy to ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all. Our school is committed to all of its community, to make sure everyone feels safe and valued, and to the Constitution of the United States, which promises equal justice under law, and to which we have or will be dedicating our professional lives.
Now is not the time to remain silent.
David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law
200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Professor, UCSF School of Medicine (Psychiatry)