Topical Punch

The Milbank Tweed Forum continues to draw some of the brightest minds from multiple disciplines to examine important issues affecting the field of law.

In 2015–16 the weekly Milbank Tweed Forum, a lunchtime panel series for the NYU Law community, focused on topics ranging from public corruption to caregiving to sexual assault on college campuses to free speech in academia.

Preet BhararaLast October, Preet Bharara, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, discussed the role of his office in deterring public corruption as well as a recent blow to insider trading prosecutions. In the political realm, Bharara’s frank statements to the press about recent cases have stirred controversy. He stressed that in other instances, such as promoting education or raising awareness of gang violence, the voices of prosecutors and district attorneys are welcome: “I don’t, frankly, get why it’s different in the public corruption context.”

Bharara has also made waves for his dogged prosecution of insider trading, but the Supreme Court’s denial of cert in US v. Newman was a setback for his office. The US attorney theorized that the Second Circuit’s gamechanging ruling meant the head of a major company could pass a tip to a friend or family member and claim it was merely a gift. “Is that how you get people to have confidence in the securities markets?” he asked.

Anne-Marie SlaughterAnne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America think tank and a former highranking State Department official who sparked heated debate with her 2012 Atlantic essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” visited in November to highlight the problem of caregiving.

Until we build an infrastructure of care in society so that we have paid maternity leave and paternity leave as well as access to quality child care, said Slaughter, caregiving will remain a challenge for both men and women. “As long as we see this care problem as a women’s issue,” she said, “we are reinforcing the very problem we need to overcome.”

Several of this year’s Forum discussions focused on particular forms of inequality, an issue increasingly prominent in the national conversation. In a March Forum on how colleges should address on-campus sexual assaults, Professor Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia Law School described the context: “We are in a time where there is increasing attention to the conditions that give rise to injustice and harm.”

That same month, a Forum on campus speech inspired passionate debate about a different type of inequality. For Professor Jonathan Haidt of NYU’s Stern School of Business, the proliferation of trigger warnings threatened academic freedom. Relating how a student had swiftly reported him to the administration for course content she found offensive, Haidt posed the risk starkly: “Did the most sensitive student in the class feel unsafe? If so, you’re accountable.”

Viviana Bonilla López ’17 countered that content warnings signal the importance of encouraging historically marginalized viewpoints by creating a safe space for more inclusive dialogue. “The attempt is to make students who are asking for those accommodations, students who are asking for accountability, seem weak,” she said. “And I resent that. I don’t think that it is a weakness to aspire to a society where we don’t hurt each other.”

For University Professor Jeremy Waldron, differing views were the nature of the academic beast. “You are preparing yourself for a lifetime of professional dealing with difficult topics,” he said, “but the other side of it is that you deal with those topics as a professional—that is, with the obligations of civility and learning how to conduct yourself in relation to other people who have sensitivities and traumas that need to be respected.” Not unlike, one could argue, the Forum itself.

Posted September 2, 2016