Activism Over Education? Law School Embraced Drag Shows And Social Justice Amid Rankings Free Fall

As law school plummeted down the rankings, its professors were performing in drag
Brandeis Credit: Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images; Brandeis School of Law.

Students at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law were shocked in February to learn their school was hosting a “Drag Story Hour,” in which one of their professors dressed as a woman and told a story about a gay rabbit with a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 

The event was part of the university’s “Drag Me to Class” fundraiser to raise money for students to attend the LGBT-focused Lavender Law Conference in the nation’s capital. But while the school leaned into drag, students were fuming over projections that the law school could be taking a massive dive in the US News & World Report’s upcoming law school rankings. 

Those fears were confirmed on April 9, when the rankings saw Brandeis drop from 99 to 136 in the rankings. The 37 spot drop was the largest of any school on the list, and has left both faculty and students pointing fingers. School administrators blamed the drop in rankings on leadership changes, a lagging job market due to the COVID pandemic, and a new methodological ranking system by US News & World Report.

Current students aren’t buying it, and told The Daily Wire that the drop came as they witnessed the school pivot towards activism, and away from academics. The school’s total first-time bar passage rates have been in a free fall since 2020, when the rate sat at 89%, to just 75% last year. And the pass rate was just 65% in 2022, according to the most recent data available on the school’s website. By comparison, the number one law school in the country, Stanford, had a first-time bar passage rate of 94%. 

One student, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid academic repercussions, told The Daily Wire that traditional law school electives like remedies and federal courts have not been offered over the last two years while other substantive classes like advanced civil procedure and advance contracts were only sporadically taught. 

Meanwhile, the student noted a surge of “wacky” classes like “Gender, Law, and Policy,” “Afro-American Women and Reproductive Justice,” Critical Race Theory,” and “Reproductive Rights and Justice,” which were all taught in the last year. 

The class on “Critical Race Theory,” examines the “fundamental propositions about race and racism in society and uses those propositions to critique the law as a legitimizing force for advancing systemic racism and structural inequality.” It is taught by Cedric Powell, a Critical Race Theory scholar.

Another class called “Environmental Law,” focuses on discussions of “environmental justice” and accuses white people of racism, according to another current student. The professor who teaches the class, Tony Arnold, also leads up the law school’s “Resilience Justice Project,” which is a research project looking at the “inequitable vulnerabilities of communities” through a lens of “climate change,” “systemic racism,” and “anti-colonialism.” The project’s goals include increasing the “power of low-income communities of color” and making changes to systems of injustice in society and governance.”

The students said that there was a real appetite for that type of instruction among the student body.

“To be fair a little bit to the school, that’s what a lot of the students coming in do want, which is kind of the sad part,” one student told The Daily Wire. “But it’s not what everybody wants. A lot of us wanted law school to be an academic pursuit as opposed to an activist one.” 

The pivot Left at Brandeis includes a hyper-focus on the politicized death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police after her boyfriend opened fire on several officers conducting a drug bust in Louisville. Earlier this year, Brandeis School of Law Assistant Director of Diversity and Community Mark Martinez sent out a campus-wide email in remembrance of the fourth anniversary of Taylor’s death. The email boasted that the school sought “to honor Breonna Taylor in several ways,” and included a poem by leftist poet Camonghne Felix that encouraged the public to “shut the streets down” and referenced embracing “rage” and being a “menace.”

The school also hosts a yearly lecture called “The Breonna Taylor Lecture on Structural Inequality.” It created “The Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship” in 2022, which gives a handful of students $9,000 summer stipends to pursue “social justice” work. Money for the scholarship comes from the proceeds of a portrait of Taylor painted by activist painter Amy Sherald. 

In line with criticism of police over Taylor’s death, the school brought in a lecturer in April to talk to school staff about “white supremacy” in policing for its 2024 faculty workshop. 

The school has also encouraged students to flag alleged “microaggressions.” This was so that administrators could help decrease “the systemic and cultural oppression within the school.” One example of a microaggression included a student complaining about how a professor “erased trans identities” by making a reference to the biology of women. 

Internally, Brandeis has openly embraced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. “Fostering an equitable and inclusive learning environment is a priority at the University of Louisville and at the Brandeis School of Law, as we strive to better serve our students, faculty and staff of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, those from international backgrounds and others who have been historically marginalized or underrepresented in the legal profession,” the school says

While students don’t pin all the blame for the decline on activism and DEI-focused luncheons, they wish the school would focus more on education than politically-charged seminars and drag dress-up fundraisers. They also point to a real lack of “academic diversity” on campus, saying that there are only a few center-Right professors on the whole staff. 

The professor who participated in the drag fundraiser was law professor Dan Canon, who donned a skirt and wig to read the book “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” a children’s picture book about gay rabbits, alongside “Sister Petty Davis,” a member of a local chapter of the anti-Christian Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. According to the university, the two also gave students tips on “drag activism.”

Screen Shot: Brandeis School of Law Instagram.

The fundraiser involved donors giving in support of specific law school faculty members to dress up in drag. The reading raised $1,800 for the campus’s Lamba Law Caucus to go to an LGBT-themed retreat. 

Canon has been with the university since 2016 and teaches civil rights and civil procedure at the law school. He supports abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, boasts about suing former President Donald Trump, and was one of the lawyers who helped to overturn laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. 

In 2017, he ran for Congress in Indiana as a Democrat seeking to abolish ICE, saying that it existed “solely to cruelly and wantonly [break] up families.” Later that year, in an article for Slate, he claimed that concerns over illegal immigration were unfounded. 

Another professor provided commentary “on the role of structural inequality in the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement in communities of color,” for a documentary on the death of George Floyd by the Black News Channel. Enid F. Trucios-Haynes, an immigration and civil rights professor, advocated against a proposed Kentucky bill that would have given law enforcement more tools to crack down on illegal immigration and is linked to the leftist ACLU. 

Professors have also lashed out at anyone from the other side of the political aisle. One former conservative Brandeis professor, Justin Walker, was criticized by his colleagues after former President Donald Trump appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. After the nomination, several of his colleagues released a letter saying that they could “not fully support” Walker’s nomination. 

Administrators at the law school have a similar leftward bent. The school’s associate dean of academic affairs, JoAnne Sweeney, who includes “feminist jurisprudence” as one of her scholarly interests, has made several public partisan statements. In an opinion column for the Washington Post, she wrote that Ireland’s vote to legalize abortion should bring “hope” to Americans. 

“Ireland’s story provides some hope that the United States might find its way to legalizing abortion, yet it also shows how a government can impede changes that have strong public support by passing unpopular legislation and blocking any attempts at judicial reform,” she wrote.

Sweeney’s social media history shows her cheering on Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) while saying that former President Donald Trump appealing to the First Amendment after the Democrat-led House impeached him over January 6 is “utter bulls***.”

The school’s dean, Melanie Jacobs, has a similar leftward social media history. In a post from January 2022, Jacobs referred to an unborn baby as “a mass of cells smaller than my fingernail” as justification for abortion. “A D&C is not a good medical option for me but is for many women,” she posted. “That treatment is now unavailable in many states. This is about more than abortion. Why is women’s health secondary to a mass of cells smaller than my fingernail?”

In another post, she said that a bill to protect children from transgender procedures would “cause pain and breed discrimination.” 

When Jacobs, a lawyer whose academic work focused on “non-traditional families,” was appointed the new dean of Brandeis, then interim President Lori Gonzalez praised her for her history of advocating for DEI. Gonzalez said that Jacobs had a “history of championing diversity, equity, and inclusion and is a strong advocate for the needs of students, faculty, and staff.”

In February, Jacobs hosted a panel of the National Conference of Bar Presidents in Louisville asking the question, “Is DEI dead, or are those rumors greatly exaggerated?” 

The success among diversity rankings apparently did not translate into success with the US News & World Report’s rankings. In an email to students, Jacobs maintained that the ranking did not truly measure the school’s success. 

“The hard news is that Brandeis School of Law dropped in the rankings, a dip that does not reflect what a great moment this is for our law school and our students. No ranking methodology can fully capture what is happening at an institution, especially a methodology that has markedly changed,” Jacobs wrote in a letter to the campus community obtained by The Daily Wire.

In a statement to The Daily Wire, a spokesman for the school pointed to recent bar passage rates and employment data when asked about the drop in ranking.

“Last year, U.S. News changed the weights of the criteria used in compiling its rankings. Unfortunately, this resulted in a 37-point drop for Brandeis Law School,” the spokesman said. “Because U.S. News relies on data that we report to the ABA for accreditation purposes, the employment and bar passage numbers never represent our most recent cohort. For this year’s rankings, U.S. News relied on bar passage rate and employment data – two significant portions of the new ranking formula – from 2021 and 2022.”

“In fact, the Brandeis School of Law Class of 2023 had the best first-time taker bar passage rate in the Commonwealth of Kentucky – over 80% for first-time takers – and over 90% of the Class of 2023 is employed,” the spokesman added. “Both of these data points are key metrics for determining a law school’s success.”

The most current data available on the school’s website indicates that the passage rate inside Kentucky for first-time takers was 78%, and the rate outside of Kentucky was 64%.

Bills to claw back DEI initiatives and the promotion of discriminatory concepts failed in the Kentucky legislature this year, even though Republicans have a supermajority. 

“I feel a little betrayed by my own state, my own legislature. This is a state school,” one student said. “I’m just a little depressed by the fact that we have an all-red legislature in Kentucky that’s just kind of not done much about it, until recently with the DEI bill, which they miserably failed at.” 

The measure, which would have banned state funds from going toward DEI offices and officers, DEI training, DEI initiatives, and the promotion of discriminatory concepts, failed after Republicans in the Senate were unable to move the bill forward. 

The bill reportedly “caused an uproar on campus,” and the school hosted luncheons where students were encouraged to be “scared” of the measure. One faculty member at Brandeis, Cassie Chamber Armstrong, is also a Democrat state senator from Louisville. She opposed the bill, claiming it would have blocked her from teaching history. 

On the other hand, conservative students say the infiltration of leftwing politics into public universities has “gone way too far” and should have been addressed years ago. Journalist Chris Rufo reported earlier this month that DEI had taken over the University of Kentucky, and called on the Republican-dominated state legislature to crack down on DEI in the state. 

Other conservative states, like Texas and Florida, have advanced robust DEI prohibitions leading many university DEI offices to be closed down and DEI officers fired. Kentucky Republicans would need to stick close together as Democratic Governor Andy Beshear would most likely veto any legislation that cracks down on DEI. 

Still, many students say their requests are simple: “More law, less activism.”

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