Our Beleaguered Public World

Anthony Townsend Kronman, Yale Law School


A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a man—not himself a graduate of the Yale Law School—condemning the president's behavior and his manipulative use of the law to conceal it. The letter writer said he held the Yale Law School responsible. The art of evasive hairsplitting, the disrespect for truth, the cynical view of law as a tool with no inherent dignity ofits own: all ofthese, he said, the president must have learned at Yale. What steps was I prepared to take as dean, he asked, to produce graduates ofhigher ethical quality? It was not the only such letter I have received.

I responded politely but brushed the criticism, and the question, aside. How can the president's law school be held accountable for his failings, even his failings as a lawyer? Most Yale graduates—most graduates of every law school in the country—are morally minded men and women with a strong sense ofprofessional duty. Most of them spend a great deal of time worrying about ethical issues that others ignore. Most lawyers have a deep commitment to the law, and to the civilization it supports, and the spirit of public service is alive amongst them. On the whole, our graduates are honorable men and women, with an unusually resilient idealism and a greater-than-ordinary sensitivity to the moral dilemmas of practical life. We should be proud of these qualities in our graduates and, as their teachers, perhaps even take a little credit for them. We should be at peace in our work, our schools, our selves. Our enterprise is flourishing.