I have developed a theory about academic life in America today, one that started as a kind of joke but has developed into a genuinely held view. Here’s my theory: A great many university administrators want to get sued, or at least to get seriously threatened with lawsuits.
Many university administrators are under heavy, heavy pressure from politically agitated students and faculty to combat racism by introducing speech codes, implementing racial quotas in hiring, expelling noncompliant students, firing noncompliant faculty members even when they’re tenured, compelling speech in favor of their policies, and essentially creating an enormous panoptic surveillance state to discipline and punish. The whole business is logistically impossible and would be a nightmare to build and an even worse nightmare to maintain.
Fortunately for these administrators, almost all of the proposed remedies for racism are legally forbidden to public institutions, and many of them are forbidden to private ones as well. When organizations like FIRE show up to remind administrators of that, those administrators have a card to play in their tense poker game with protestors. FIRE has actually had a good deal of success in getting colleges and universities to rescind fundamentally illiberal and often illegal policies, and the success has come through meaningful threats to take the universities to court. (FIRE itself has no standing to sue, of course, but its lawyers can represent those who do have such standing.)
My theory is that many administrators love it when FIRE shows up, or when other plausible threats of legal action come across their desk. Then they can go to the protestors and say, I did everything in my power to create Social Justice U, and I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Bill of Rights!