Introducing The Morningside Muckraker

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The idea to create The Morningside Muckraker began in Professor Sturm’s Lawyering for Social and Institutional Change class during my 2L year.  The law school was our case study and as we discussed various initiatives already taking place or that we hoped would take place at the school, I suggested that they would all be helped by a space dedicated to facilitating constructive dialogue among students, faculty, administrators and alumni about the issues that mattered to these different CLS stakeholders.

As I began talking to other students about starting a publication, some suggested that law students were too busy, didn’t care, or were too risk averse to write freely in a public forum. Some indifferently responded that it was a “nice idea” and some wondered if there was anything to write about. Others were excited. These were students who recognized this could be a tool to help them advocate for issues or projects they cared about, students who wanted a creative outlet within law school, writers who are going to be lawyers and lawyers who want to be writers, those for whom media advocacy aligned with their professional development, and students whose eyes lit up at the chance to speak truth to power.  It was the latter responses that drove us to make the idea a reality.

That process has forced us to constantly question what role we will play at Columbia Law and what we hope to accomplish. We changed our name from the Advocate to the Muckraker rather casually. The Advocate was boring; the Muckraker wasn’t. To us, muckrakers were journalists who sought out the truth about issues that mattered — government corruption, exploitation of workers, business monopolies — and whose writing created social progress in America. That wasn’t why we picked the name, but it was why we didn’t think twice about using it.

While some read their U.S. history similarly to how we did, others equated muckrakers with yellow journalism, with stirring up trouble , and with an attitude of antagonism directed at breaking down rather than building up.  That’s not it, we assured them. Were we community killers?  No! Community builders, we soothed. We even promised.

A faculty member with whom we spoke was wise enough to articulate the question that we had been navigating: What does it mean to be a free press in a professional institution? Can we “muckrake” our way to community building or must we temper our inquiry, our criticism, and our insight to protect the institution that is both the subject of our writing and of which we are a part?  We believe that these ambitions are not mutually exclusive. Surely, school papers have a long tradition of doing just that.

My initial proposal was grounded in Professor Sturm’s argument from her paper, The Architecture of Inclusion, that diversity in higher education is more than normatively imperative, but a benefit to all.  The Supreme Court has upheld the diversity rationale for affirmative action in higher education in part because of the value they have found in educating future leaders “through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues.’” 1 The first amendment is part and parcel with what it means to be a university, and particularly a law school where so many of our nation’s future leaders are trained.

It is the robust exchange of ideas that we hope the Muckraker will inspire.  At the risk of being everything and nothing, our publication is a monthly newspaper, a magazine, and a literary magazine all at once.  We want the Muckraker to be a reliable source for information about what decisions are being made at the law school, be the pen and paper that forces the CLS community to crystalize its thoughts and continuously improve it, and be a forum to think and write about law school and the law. In practice, we are very different from the muckrakers. There is not a single piece of deep-dive reporting in this issue.  As aspiring lawyers, though, we hope to learn from them the art of muckraking: advocating, with words, for a more just society.

Our promise to be a community-building publication is not a compromise of editorial discretion or a punch pulled.  Rather, it is a commitment to the fundamental American insight that our leaders, our institutions, and our communities are strengthened by protecting the “freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think.” 2

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  1. Justice Brennan quoting Judge Hand in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, which was cited by Justice Powell in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which was cited by Justice O’Connor in Grutter v. Bollinger.
  2. Justice Brandeis in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California.
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