Prof. Ed Coleman talked to Shurtz, thinks law faculty & Schill reacted poorly

11/13/2016: In a podcast with a Black UO philosophy student, posted on the Daily Emerald website here:

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Professor Coleman’s undergraduate work was in theater. He started the Ethnic Studies program at UO. He says the administration should have thought before condemning Shurtz. He connects white emcees making money off blackface to white coaches making money off Black basketball and football players.

He’s not impressed by the argument from the Black student in the interview that one professor wearing blackface at a halloween party in her own home, with a long history of supporting diversity at UO, trying to make an anti-racist argument, creates an unsafe space for students. Coleman talks about the difficulty of meeting the Black Student Union’s demand for hiring more Black faculty without first filling the pipeline with PhD students.

He believes that whoever sent the Shurtz photo to the newspapers shouldn’t have. He and the student seem to agree that Shurtz’s anti-racist intent matters. Shurtz has told Coleman that she has hired lawyers and will sue the university so that she can resume teaching. The student wants her to have a chance to talk to the students and explain her motivations. There’s more on Ed Coleman and Black history at UO here.

11/15/2016: Profs Ed Coleman & Ofer Raban school Dean Moffitt & 23 angry professors

Retired UO Professor Ed Coleman (English Lit) is still schooling us all in what it means to be a teacher. In the RG:

As a black child growing up in a southern town in Arkansas in the early 1940s, my father took me to several minstrel shows. A friend of his played violin in the pit band and gave him tickets. The shows, a major form of entertainment in the United States, were traveling throughout the South and had stopped in our hometown of El Dorado.

As always, the performers wore blackface, with the exception of “Mr. Interlocutor” (the director on stage), who was white. All the performers were almost always black men, except for the occasional times when black women performers also wore blackface.

As a retired English professor who taught black literature and folklore (including the cultural roots of Jim Crow and minstrel show evolution and influence), I, too, was initially appalled and taken aback after reading University of Oregon President Schill’s recent letter to the University community; seeing the published photograph of esteemed Prof. Nancy Shurtz, in costume and blackface further tweaked my concern.

However, and this is a big however, after learning about Prof. Shurtz’s account of her donning the costume, I realized she was attempting to show how many black doctors have been tragically trivialized by white people. She was holding and displaying a copy of the best-selling book “Black Man In a White Coat — A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine” by Damon Tweedy, M.D. This was a party in her own home with invited guests. After reading Nancy Shurtz’s academic profile, it was clear that she is a nationally eminent scholar whose teaching and scholarship are exemplary.

What I find troubling and painful is how quickly so many of the faculty and my former colleagues are ready to tar and feather her and run her out of the university. A reputation of decades blackened and bruised with blaring headlines and heated rhetoric in an uncritical rush to judgment. Shurtz did no immediate harm and I am embarrassed at the overwhelming display of instant but uncritical outrage directed at her with their online petition and various letters screaming to have her fired.

Please! “Methinks thou protest too much.”

Shurtz had no racist intent — just the opposite. My question is: Who took the photograph and why? And why post it, hiding anonymously, on social media? Was this “guest” trying to embarrass or damage her or what? Why needlessly cause deep personal pain, anguish and humiliation?

I am taking this stance because as a black man, I, too, could be subjected to unwarranted petitions and letters.

Edwin Coleman II, PhD., is an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Oregon.

And the Oregonian editorial board thinks we need a straightjacket:

… But was Shurtz’ action malevolent? No. Racist? Unwittingly. Harmful? Yes, but not because it was so wrong-headed or because there was evidence offered by aggrieved individuals. Instead, the incident has become harmful to the brand of the law school, 23 of whose faculty members were so cowed by the event that they asked Shurtz to immediately resign. In shame. As an idiot. Significantly, as in: not one of them.

This is dangerous, hive-minded stuff. It carries the whiff of fascistic decrees that act, over time, to crush individuals and tamp down fruitful disagreement. Meanwhile, it coddles the privileged: faculty, law students and prospective law students, whose protection both real and promised places them in a padded world immune from even perceived discomfort. …

11/14/2016: UO Law Professor Ofer Raban teaches his Dean & 23 angry law professors

In the Oregonian here. An excerpt:

I do not speak only for myself at the law school when I say that the dean’s response, and the faculty’s letter, were a disgrace. This was a failure of leadership and pedagogy, and opposition to it within the law school was expressed from day one.

This regrettable Halloween event was a teachable moment, but it ended up teaching many wrong lessons. Surely, this was a moment to teach about racial sensitivity and awareness of history, and of what it means to live as a racial minority in this country. But it was also a moment to teach other valuable lessons for law students: Do not rush to judgment. Deliberate carefully, away from emotions running high. Consider all the relevant factors. And show compassion for human fallibility.

At a time of an emboldened pernicious racism, the refusal to recognize the distinction between malicious racism and a stupid but well-intentioned mistake is not only a moral and legal travesty, it is also fodder for the real enemies of racial equality.

In full:

Ofer Raban

On Halloween night, a University of Oregon law professor hosted a private party at her home attended by some faculty and students. She donned a costume representing an African American doctor, including a hospital gown and the coloring of her face.

The professor in question had a long record of advocacy for the rights of minorities. She was even nominated for the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In fact, she wore the costume to honor an African American hero of hers (Dr. Damon Tweedy, author of “Black Man in a White Coat.”) There seems to be no doubt that there was no malicious intent in donning the costume.

The reaction of the law school dean and some of its faculty was swift: The dean placed the professor on administrative leave and a majority of faculty members signed a letter calling on her to resign.

“We are angry,” proclaimed the letter, twice. “You need to resign. It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter if (your conduct) was protected by the First Amendment.”

The idea that intentions don’t matter when evaluating a person’s culpability — which appeared both in the faculty letter and in an email written by an associate dean and circulated to the students — is not just wrong but also contradicted by what law professors preach daily in their classrooms

Measuring individual culpability by reference to one’s intent is a foundational principle of our criminal law, our tort law, our contract law, or our constitutional doctrine. In fact, that principle — absent from primitive legal systems — is considered one of the greatest civilizing forces of our law.

For law professors to claim that intentions don’t matter is, frankly, preposterous. (Even more ludicrous was the remark of another university professor, who wrote to the university president that the absence of a racist intent “makes it worse” in his view, because it showed ignorance and callous disregard for minorities.)

The event in question was attended by some students and faculty, but it did not take place in a classroom or even on campus. The costume was donned at an after-hours private party at the professor’s own home. This, combined with the fact that the costume was donned without any malice — to the contrary, in an attempt to celebrate an American hero — should have obviated any demand for giving up one’s livelihood, let alone a suspension. Moreover, let’s remember that we are dealing with a public university professor at a time that many of us fear might prove challenging to academic freedom.

I do not speak only for myself at the law school when I say that the dean’s response, and the faculty’s letter, were a disgrace. This was a failure of leadership and pedagogy, and opposition to it within the law school was expressed from day one.

This regrettable Halloween event was a teachable moment, but it ended up teaching many wrong lessons. Surely, this was a moment to teach about racial sensitivity and awareness of history, and of what it means to live as a racial minority in this country. But it was also a moment to teach other valuable lessons for law students: Do not rush to judgment. Deliberate carefully, away from emotions running high. Consider all the relevant factors. And show compassion for human fallibility.

At a time of an emboldened pernicious racism, the refusal to recognize the distinction between malicious racism and a stupid but well-intentioned mistake is not only a moral and legal travesty, it is also fodder for the real enemies of racial equality.

Ofer Raban is a professor of law at the University of Oregon.

11/7/2016: Law School Dean explains blackface legal issues, criticizes Schill as unfair

That would be the Dean of the University of Illinois law school, Vikram Amar. In a nutshell, he explains that students have more First Amendment protections than faculty do. On balance he says Professor Schurtz may well still be protected by it, and quite possibly by other law. Read it all, I’ve only posted the ending:

On Academic Freedom, Administrative Fairness, And Blackface

… My second observation is that the First Amendment is not the only potentially relevant legal constraint. Due process (are faculty clearly told what they cannot say so they are not sandbagged?), contract law (tenure is often a contract concept), and state constitutional protections may give public faculty members more latitude than does the First Amendment. And these extra protections may be perfectly appropriate if we do take seriously historical notions of academic freedom.

My last observation is an important one, and that is that critics of Professor Shurtz have themselves erred. President Schill’s quick characterization of Professor Shurtz’s use of blackface as being “in jest” is at odds with her own explanation, and we need remember that there has been no process yet to determine any actual facts. Shurtz’s 23 faculty colleagues assert that her “intentions [don’t] matter.” But whether we are interpreting the First Amendment or deciding whether someone should be required to give up her very livelihood, intent ought clearly to matter a great deal. After all, the reason (correctly identified by those calling for her resignation) that Shurtz’s actions warrant serious scrutiny is that they may undermine her (and the university’s) trust and credibility with students, alumni and the community. But wouldn’t students, alumni and the outside world want to know why she did what she did in deciding how much less they like and trust her and the law school? If she did it to mock African-Americans (or merely “in jest” because she is flippant about race), aren’t they likely to be much more angry and disaffected than if she did it to support the cause of racial equality (like the author in Black Like Me who feigned blackness to document racism), even if her attempt was clumsy, ill-advised and ultimately counterproductive? Again, no process has yet found the full facts (I have no familiarity with Professor Shurtz and am not vouching for her sincerity). But the idea that intent is irrelevant when heavy consequences like resignation are being considered runs counter to most areas of law and moral intuition. And lawyers – especially law professors who are teaching students how to frame arguments — ought to take care to appreciate that.

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47 Responses to Prof. Ed Coleman talked to Shurtz, thinks law faculty & Schill reacted poorly

  1. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Kudos to Professor Raban! I have never met the man. But it must take a certain amount of courage to buck his colleagues, the dean of the law school, the provost, and the president of the university.

    As he says of his colleagues and dean, and by extension of the provost and president, their behavior has been a disgrace.

    Professor Raban should know that plenty of people across campus agree with him but are reluctant or afraid to come out of the closet.

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  2. Jerry says:

    Ever since this story broke–and then the election–I have been sick to my stomach. The atmosphere is so poisoned that no one can speak safely. Everyone is under suspicion. Open deliberation is impossible. Lines are drawn. We are challenged to make rapid and unconsidered decisions about issues that deserve serious debate, and yet real debate seems impossible. Prof. Raban appears to me to be upholding the truth here, and I respect him and thank him for it. It’s a courageous thing to do.

    I disagree about the condemnation of the dean’s action. There has been some good discussion in the RG comments about this. The dean and president had no choice. They had to act. When you saw how swiftly and effectively Shurtz became a scapegoat, and how irrational and inflamed the discussion became–the dean and president had to act quickly and decisively or they could have ended up suffering symbolic death themselves. That would have made things worse. I do agree that the dean and some of the faculty said some preposterous things, especially for professors of law.

    Here’s my worry, though. The Oregonian is not a Court of Law–neither is UO Matters. The climate IS inflamed, and many students (and others) are full of fear and anger. In such circumstances, a piece like this will be felt by some as a defense of blackface–that is, blackface as diminishing caricature. Given the lack of trust and the inflamed fear, how does one address the issues directly and reasonably knowing that doing so could frighten and shake other people emotionally–people who are already shaken? How does one write this truthful piece without risking that damage? It’s hard for me to see how this can be done in our current climate. As we all seem to be learning, people’s feelings must be addressed. How do we do the work of truth and the work of caring? Sure, we should be teaching our students how to get their reasoning and their feelings into a good relation with each other, but until they do, how do we carry on the controversies that we need to work through? Lately, this seems to me impossible, a futile hope.

    I do believe that this piece could be and ought to be an important contribution, but not everyone will understand why, and not everyone will feel that way.

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    • Where's the leadership? says:

      Going along to get along is not what we need now. We need leadership, and those in charge of this University have showed little of it in this instance. Rather, there has been a disturbing level of pandering to fear and emotion. Yes, the Dean and the President had to act, but they should have acted with restraint, pointing out the importance of free speech, academic freedom, context, intention, and patience in letting the facts sift out from the immediate backlash. Instead we got an anti-intellectual, emotional, witch-hunt mentality. That’s not leadership and, like you, I’m sickened by it. Unlike you, however, I do not wish to let our leaders off the hook for having failed us in this moment.

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      • Jerry says:

        I probably have a different view of leadership. In the university as it is now–corporate, neo-liberal–leadership is not what it used to be. Look at the presidents and the other university leaders who have been destroyed or forced to resign. Leadership now is less about vision and values and principles and more about pacifying and negotiating with parties who threaten the reputation/ functioning/revenues of the university–and so threaten efforts to sustain a financial plan and strategy. You could call it pandering to fear and emotion–and the irrationality and volatile out-of-control emotions are palpable–but that emotion and fear are the reality. I sometimes even wonder whether they are not institutionally promoted. They are, after all tactically useful for some efforts.

        For example, the “justice” that people ask for these days is not what it used to be. It usually carries some kind of price tag–funding and money and organizational power. We are all in the neo-liberal economy. Occasionally sacrificial scapegoats and other symbolic demands are made.

        I’m not judging. I am trying to describe briefly the reality within which leadership functions. I’m very pessimistic about the possibilities of breaking out of this reality. It would be self-destructive.

        I would like to make one qualification. The Vice-President for Equity and Inclusion has recently penned an essay on restorative justice that looks at these matters quite differently. Although she judges Prof. Shurtz against the standard of what emotions people felt after seeing the decontextualized photograph, her approach to a process of justice is an interesting alternative for the university to consider.

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        • Anonymous says:

          So, VP Yvette Alex-Assensoh’s essay is at around.uoregon.edu. When it comes to taking responsibility for the witch-hunt she helped launch against Professor Nancy Shurtz, Alex-Assensoh seems astonishingly lacking in self-awareness. Or is this meant to be a coded apology?

          “A campus where restoration has the final word.”

          In spite of the diverse opinions we hold, one of the sacred values in higher education is that we should have a rich context of information and truth for all members of the campus community. This value is one of the take-away propositions that our campus and the larger Oregon community gleaned during last week’s visit to the UO by the Honorable Chief Justice Georgina T. Wood of Ghana, the first woman to hold that high judicial positon in her West African nation. Many of us were fortunate to hear about her transformative work as a change agent for alternative dispute resolution and restorative justice in Ghana and beyond.

          What a timely visit, at the time when our UO community is wrestling with how, or whether, our UO law professor, who donned blackface at a Halloween party should be held accountable for the turmoil—intended or not—as news of the incident unleashed on campus—a campus already on edge as a result of the toxic national presidential campaigns.

          Rooted in the practice of indigenous societies in the Americas and Africa, restorative justice stands in stark contrast to the traditional approaches to conflict resolution on most college campuses as well as adversarial litigation of our legal system. Where traditional approaches call for confidential investigations, restorative justice beckons for open or mediated discourse among the concerned parties. Where traditional approaches are motivated by a sense of judgment and retribution, restorative justice calls for reconciliation and restitution. And, where traditional approaches look back at the magnitude of a particular offense, restorative justice looks forward to repairing the damage done and to the creation of processes that support meaningful change.

          That is, while traditional approaches focus on punishment, restorative justice seeks a broader understanding of the harm, an understanding that allows the offending parties to take responsibility for their actions. In such a process, new relationships are built, fractured relationships are restored, and bona fide healing can take place for and in the community.

          In such a scenario, victims and offenders in our UO community agree together for what is required to be done to restore trust and to achieve relevant justice for moving forward. Yet, a crucial question that emerges is how does providing restorative justice help Black students and others, who are daily beleaguered by continuing discrimination? After all, Blacks, Latina/os, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders, who run afoul of university rules and regulations have rarely been accorded mercy or brought back into the fold of restorative justice of our community. In most cases, the full weight of traditional punitive authority has been heavily brought upon them. I believe it is imperative for us to move beyond the brokenness of the past. What is at stake is a redemptive vision of our University of Oregon community. We can think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as we imagine and believe in new and innovative ways of achieving justice.

          Restorative justice offers just such an alternative vision by empowering people, who have suffered. It provides the victims with an opportunity to engage directly with offenders to explain why they hurt and how they feel. Furthermore, restorative justice also provides mechanisms for dispute resolution that are similar to the processes that exist in underrepresented communities, including victim-offender mediation as well as mediated community conferences and circles, whereby the victims, offenders, and others, who are closely associated with the issues at stake, come together for mediated dialogue about how to move forward. Most importantly, restorative justice is able to highlight the location of dysfunction and discrimination in order to facilitate structural change in processes and policies. In this way, remedies do not only focus on the actions of individuals but, also, on the institutional practices that facilitate discriminatory climates and intolerance of all kinds.

          Furthermore, restorative justice serves the university’s greater mission of educating and preparing student for their careers and lives after earning their degrees. It encourages faculty and staff to model the truth telling in ways that build community and facilitate healing.Through these dialogues and direct engagement, the restorative justice process helps the university to build character and empathy skills, especially for those we offend, wound and violate, in ways that facilitate societal transformation and peace. Our university becomes a model in how to sustainably deal with conflict, not only on an individual level, but by fixing the structural problems of discrimination that undermine deep rooted climate issues. Most importantly, our graduates leave better prepared for the real challenges and issues they will confront in their personal lives, their careers, and interactions in the world.

          Palpably Divided Campus

          At a time, when our campus is sadly and palpably divided about how to move forward, we should engage the victims as well as the offender(s) in the process of transformation. Toward that end, the first order of business is ensuring that those, who have been harmed, no matter the intention, are cared for and restored in ways that address their needs. For, this is not an issue that rests solely on intent or First Amendment expression: it involves real human beings, whose identities, safety, and wellbeing have been unjustifiably undermined. In this sense, a sincere and heartfelt apology that acknowledges the wrong(s) and what should have been done differently are non-negotiable. A sincere apology to those, who have experienced pain provides the space for victims to move beyond vulnerability and into a more just future. The apology should also invite conversation about what actions the offender should take to redress the serious damage that has been done so that true restitution can occcur. At the same time, the victims need to listen as well as consider mercy and forgiveness as they decide together about how to find restitution for those, who have been harmed. In the words of Portia in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “The quality of mercy is not strained. [Instead] It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes [mercy]. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes the thronéd monarch better than his crown.”

          While our offending faculty cannot fix the centuries-old oppression minorities have felt on the UO campus, our treatment of the victims and of the offenders alike will set the stage for engaging with the institutional structures that foster hostile climates in which black face and other forms of discrimination and disrespect thrive. More than either an exit strategy or a scapegoat, our campus, right now, needs a strategy for dialogue, inclusion, accountability, equity and the co-creation of an environment that is transparently loving, authentic, courageous and, in the final analysis, empathic for all. Putting in place the mechanisms for relationship,community building and meaningful justice will, in the final analysis, lay the proper foundation for the academic excellence that we seek.

          Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh
          Professor of Political Science and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

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          • uomatters says:

            I don’t think it’s an apology.

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          • Henry V says:

            Alas, your too much love and care of me
            Are heavy orisons ‘gainst this poor wretch.
            If little faults proceeding on distemper
            Shall not be winked at, how shall we stretch our eye
            When capital crimes, chewed, swallowed, and digested,
            Appear before us?

            We’ll yet enlarge that man,
            Though Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey, in their dear care
            And tender preservation of our person,
            Would have him punished.

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          • Jerry says:

            I really like this essay, and I really like this process of restorative justice, and I deeply appreciate the work the vice-president has done. But, if you are a university vice-president and you declare that a “sincere and heartfelt apology” is “non-negotiable,” do you really believe that you will get a sincere and heartfelt apology? Can sincerity be commanded? Can hearts be order what to feel? Even further, do you really want that power over other people, to reach into their hearts and their conscience and make demands and order things around? To punish them if they do not yield to you?

            One reason people are concerned about these issues is that, with the decline of religious life, the universities have sort of taken over as the police of the soul. We are asked not only to behave according to University Law in our home, but also to believe what the university wants us to believe, and to grant the University the power to order our hearts and souls. It’s a little much. It doesn’t feel much like freedom of speech. It doesn’t feel much like freedom at all.

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            • uomatters says:

              Thanks for this comment Jerry, and for using a screen name.

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  3. Dog says:

    Thanks for posting the Coleman and Raban viewpoints; I largely agree with them and they articulate the matter much better than dogs can do.

    These opinions also show that broad, reflective and fair thinker still exist – and that is reassuring.

    To this dog, it seems we now strongly live in an immediate world of non-reflective thinking, rush to judgement, emotional and shallow over-reactions, making complex issues black and white, and total failure to view events in fair and just terms. Indeed, I believe this is why Trump was elected.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    A question for those admonishing President Schill and Dean Moffitt and the 23 peers signing the condemnatory letter: What action or actions would you prefer they take?

    Consider the following, some of which seem to reflect a consensus:

    (1) whatever one intends, whites donning blackface is offensive to many non-whites and whites (intention must be important, but so must consequence, or at least predictable consequence);
    (2) every American in 2016 should know that donning blackface is at best highly problematic and offensive to many non-whites and whites (where is the grey area on this issue?) Consider a parallel: Imagine a conversation in which as a white person I drop the n-word to stand in solidarity with those in the African American community reappropriating the term or as a plan to educate others on the harms of racism in language. By the logic of the critics, “free speech” should insulate me from criticism and if my colleagues called out my use of the epithet, that would be censorious);
    (3) the UO, including the Knight Law School, is currently attempting to recruit a more diverse student body and faculty (I hope everyone agrees this is an important goal). What other response would better serve this goal?;
    (4) no one, students and faculty alike, attending the private party stepped forward the night of the incident to explain what was problematic about donning blackface and to ask the good professor to rethink her decision (doesn’t this say something very negative about the state of consciousness among members of our community)?

    I also am curious (5) if anyone believes there is a necessary connection between the professor’s actions and her intention to honor Dr. Tweedy? Could she have done so without blackface? If so, shouldn’t that be what we expect of our leaders and scholars?

    What would you recommend of the leaders and law faculty you critique? Assuming your recommendation preserved the importance of the values of free speech, tenure, and due process many feel has been trampled here, explain, please, how that step or steps would also help to heal the hurt?

    Or is a sense of belonging, safety, and inclusion by many of our black students and colleagues to be sacrificed at the altar of the first amendment? Is only offensive speech and not counter-speech protected?

    NB: I am not endorsing the decisions of President Schill, Dean Moffitt, or the professor’s colleagues. I agree free speech, tenure, and due process, are all important, on top of the consequences of the offense.

    This is a teachable moment, as many have said. For it to be a successful teachable moment folks must be willing to learn. Learning requires dialogue, not just reiterating default positions, whatever the position.

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    • Where's the leadership? says:

      Thanks for asking. Here’s what Schill could have said: “Last night it was brought to the attention of our community that a member of our faculty, in the privacy of her own home, may have acted and dressed in a racially offensive manner. We take this matter seriously, and regret any offense felt by members of our community. But we also take freedom of speech and academic freedom equally seriously. Therefore, we will await further facts regarding just what took place and what the professor’s intentions were. Until we know more, we will follow the spirit of fact-based judicial restraint and patience that we teach our law students. Justice is not served in these cases by rushing to judgement without a full exploration of the facts, intentions, and context of the accusations. I know every member of our community would expect the same if their own private conduct were called into question.”

      That could have been followed up a week later, after the professor’s apology and explanation, with a statement accepting the apology and noting that we all occasionally make mistakes of judgment. As educated adults working together in a community devoted to patient reflection and pursuit of truth, we must be willing to learn from mistakes, accept sincere apologies, and move forward in a spirit of considered reflection rather than immediate blame and scapegoating.

      That’s what I would have preferred.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for sharing what you would have preferred. In the spirit of dialogue, here is why your preferred approach is not sufficient for me. I am going to push back a little harder than I might in person for the purpose, I hope, of helping to push forward some of the dialogue.

        First, it barely mentions the harm, evinces zero sensitivity to the harm, and makes precisely zero arguments about how the preferred approach addresses the harm or prevents it recurrence. It’s unbalanced and tone deaf, from my point of view. That omission speaks volumes, to many.

        Second, what you write, while elegant from a wordsmithing point of view, is essentially the status quo. It is more or less what universities have done since at least the 60s on such questions…and here we are in 2016 with tenured professors donning blackface. Why? Why should we think this approach will work (again, assuming we are all hoping to address racism and not just protect free speech)?

        Third, the statement could have been written at any time and reflects no appreciation of the uniqueness of this moment or the uniqueness of the offense (not just another “racially-charged” incident at just a typical political moment). If intent matters, social context matters, too.

        Fourth, like so many other statements this one seems to me in a rush to get beyond the offense and get to the defense of first amendment absolutism. Sure it opens with a gesture (“may have acted…” as if that part is in doubt). Perceptually, it offers a gesture, ‘yeah, some maybe bad stuff happened, but let’s talk about the most important value in the world, what I think about free speech’). That’s probably not what you intended to say, but it reads/sounds that way to me.

        From a distance I see a whole lot of refusal to really engage what is offensive about the act, the assumption the act was not self-evidently unwise and racist in 2016, and avoiding engaging the social meaning of the lack of response by others that night and what that signals to others in our community.

        I mean look at what you see a week later: ‘Mistakes were made, but that understandably happens. Said she was sorry. Apology accepted, nothing to see here, move along…’

        Your statement would have been stronger in my view if it noted the herd of indifference at the party and what that says about some people in our community.

        Thanks.

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        • Steve says:

          Thanks, Anon above. I appreciate your critiques and the manner in which you expressed them.

          The response I’d probably make to your first point above–“it barely mentions the harm, evinces zero sensitivity to the harm, and makes precisely zero arguments about how the preferred approach addresses the harm or prevents its recurrence”–is that, at the time Schill made his initial announcement, we still didn’t know the facts. That photograph might have been doctored, for all we knew. And until we know the material facts, we don’t know what the harm even is. That’s why I don’t think an initial response SHOULD mention the harm, evince sensitivity to it, or argue about how any approach addresses it or prevents its recurrence. Doing any of that would be premature. I would make a similar argument about your two through four above.

          However, I would say that the university’s subsequent response absolutely should mention the harm, evince sensitivity to it, and argue how to address it and prevent its recurrence. So I do think the poster above’s suggestion that the follow up would “accept[] the apology and not[e] that we all occasionally make mistakes of judgment” is indeed insufficient.

          Fair?

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    • criminal mind says:

      “currently attempting to recruit a more diverse student body and faculty (I hope everyone agrees this is an important goal)”

      Well, maybe not everyone agrees this is a worthy goal at all.

      There are people who may think we should recruit the best students and faculty possible, regardless of group identity. I find that a perfectly defensible and discussible position myself, though not necessarily one to which I would give complete assent.

      Why would any sane person think that there are controversial goals that “everyone” presumptively should think are “worthy”?

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      • Anonymous says:

        For centuries universities did not recruit the best students and faculty possible. They recruited and supported and extolled those of particular pigmentation, gender, and class position.

        Then those graduates ran the country just as the ran the university and populated our campuses.

        That historical fact, plus the legacies of racism, slavery, misogyny, etc., produced a warped canon of knowledge, one far less robust in the aggregate than if we really did recruit the best and brightest.

        Unless the subtext here is that somehow the pursuit of diversity and excellence are orthogonal.

        Now that is a view that I hope is truly controversial.

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        • Michel F says:

          I think the events of the last few months have shown that this idea is extremely controversial, unfortunately. The idea that power and knowledge can intersect in nontrivial ways contradicts the basic tenets of American liberalism, where “free speech” and “equality of opportunity” are axiomatically sufficient for social justice.

          The problem is that there is no way to determine what constitutes the “best and the brightest” independently of the definition entailed by the existing power structure. Those in power not only get to decide which candidates are the best, but also the definition of the word “best.” The statement “we should recruit the best students and faculty possible, regardless of group identity” is equivalent to suggesting that we should recruit students and faculty who are most unlikely to disrupt the current power structure. A preference for diversity, on the other hand, implicitly acknowledges the existence of asymmetric power among social groups.

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          • uomatters says:

            You lost me at “extremely controversial, unfortunately” and “existing power structure”. I like controversy and I think our academic mission – blessed by 240 years of our existing power structure – requires I do so.

            The question on the table is simple. Should the university administration and her colleagues condemn and ostracize a professor for dressing up as a black doctor while cluelessly attempting to make a point about racism in America?

            Choose your side.

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            • Michel F says:

              Controversy, as defined by that same 240 year power structure. Why is your “simple question” the one on the table? Who decides what is and isn’t on the table?

              With all due respect, the relevant question is not whether the administration and law-school faculty should condemn a behavior, but rather why the aforementioned groups are the ultimate arbiters of this discussion. You are proceeding as if tools that are utilized to make such a decision are independent of the power structure. Not only do the powerful get to decide the question, they also get to define the way in which the question is resolved.

              Look at the rhetoric in the above comments. Those who are defending Shurtz are characterized as “courageous”, “teaching”, or “reflective and fair.” Those arguing for her dismissal “make rapid and unconsidered decisions”, “pander to fear and emotion”, “are full of fear and anger”, are “astonishingly lacking in self-awareness”, or engaging in a “witch-hunt”. Now of course, those who made these comments can justify them as referring to the content of the various arguments, rather than a simple defense of the existing power structure. But what they all fail to realize is that the method by which they analyze the content of an argument is also a product of that very same power structure.

              Implicit in the other commenters’ arguments is the idea that decisions made by “fear and anger” (as defined by those who are not fearful or angry) are qualitatively worse than their own – simply being afraid or angry is enough to disqualify a position. But why should this be the case? Because this is the manner in which our powerful forefathers have determined is appropriate. Only arguments made by those who are not afraid are worthy of consideration.

              So no, I will not choose a side, and I object to the idea that you or any other member of the powerful class are endowed with the ability to define the sides in the first place. Your question will be resolved within the structure of the question as it is posed, while once again those who question the structure itself will be ignored.

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            • just different says:

              Re: cluelessness: Would she have chosen this getup if Damon Tweedy had been at her party? A child could be excused for cluelessness, but Shurtz knew that what she was doing was racially insensitive, which is why she did it. Although she was not motivated by hate, she was not the least bit clueless about the provocativeness of her actions, or about why her actions were provocative. Her racism lies in her assumption that her “good intentions” and privileged position made it OK to trivialize racism.

              If every casually racist or discriminatory professor was dismissed from the university, there’s be an awful lot of them out of work. (I hope that Schill realizes that dismissing or disciplining Shurtz in no way clears him of the responsibility to address the discrimination and insensitivity that already goes on every day.) What’s different about Shurtz is that she had the extraordinarily bad judgment to abuse her freedom of speech by donning racism for shock value, ostensibly for pedagogical reasons (which in some ways makes it worse). Dismissing her strikes me as hypocritical and suggests that she’s a single bad apple, but I don’t blame her colleagues for publicly criticizing her.

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        • Jerry says:

          The split ratings here are instructive. People see and feel these things differently. It’s because the reality itself is so complex. You can’t achieve excellence purely by pursuing excellence. You have to be reflective about your conception of excellence, its provenance, the way it might be distorted because of historical inequalities of access and exclusions.

          But you can’t achieve excellence simply by being more inclusive either. You have to employ your conception of excellence to be inclusive in the right way, to make judgments that will land the people who will themselves truly excel and truly refine and develop the working conception of excellence.

          It’s not an easy or perfectly clear task. Sometimes pursuing excellence unfairly excludes. Sometimes being inclusive shorts excellence. We try to develop rules for this process, and sometimes it helps, and sometimes the rules are inadequate to the reality, shorting excellence and inclusiveness.

          This is why I believe that we should be less accusing and self-righteous in these matters. We have to become more capable of open debate, of working through these disagreements, taking our wins and our losses, and continuing to work together with good will. No one has a corner on the truth or on justice. And we have to make sure that losers on these issues don’t always lose. When that’s happening, equity requires us to move closer to inclusiveness.

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        • uomatters says:

          “For centuries universities did not recruit the best students and faculty possible. They recruited and supported and extolled those of particular pigmentation, gender, and class position.”

          That’s the truth, and as a legacy admit to Columbia University, I was one of the beneficiaries of it. Fortunately Columbia made up for their mistake the next year by admitting a transfer student from Occidental, Barack Hussein Obama.

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  5. Nobody's Baby says:

    Nearly everyone over here at the law school is pissed at Shurtz and wish she would go away. Faculty apologists aside, those of us who work to ensure the school stays afloat are livid.

    One point that hasn’t emerged yet in UOM comments is that Shurtz may have single handedly fucked the law school’s chances of improving next year’s enrollment. Remember, we’re struggling financially over here despite Harbaugh’s assertions that we are rolling naked in the $10M of sweet Johnson Hall money. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize this money goes directly to student scholarships so that we can continue to attract smart, capable students with decent GPAs and LSAT scores. These are exactly the students who tend to pass the bar, get jobs, and raise our rankings so that we can continue to attract smart, capable students with decent GPAs and LSAT scores. Please don’t blame us for inventing this system. We just work here.

    Up until Halloween the law school was doing OK and it looked like we may even have a shot at increasing enrollment in the Fall. Then we learn that Professor Shurtz, who likes a particular book, decides donning black face will seal the deal on conscious raising at her party. It may have been an oversight not to run it by an actual person of color first to see if they might be offensive. No, this bastion of equality from the Wharton ghetto righteously plowed ahead with her very bad terrible idea and became a national sensation and opened a gigantic shit-can of hurt and disgust for everyone to enjoy!

    Shurtz is not a racist. She is worse. She is an viciously entitled well-meaning white person who somehow thinks that she has the ability to raise others’ consciousness about racial issues. Oh and she teaches tax law and is wrote a clever title called “Living Your Life by the Loopholes” which makes her vastly qualified to basically shit on everything.

    The ultimate irony is that Shurtz will most likely be reinstated, sue the UO, and immediately retire slipping through yet another loophole with a very nice bonus thanks to her clever costume and dangerous, misguided intentions.

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    • criminal mind says:

      Baby, if you are an exemplar of the quality of thought and writing at the UO Law School, then your outfit’s problems are even worse than we imagined.

      And let me tell you, plenty of people from the part of campus that bailed you out think it was a “disgrace” the way you and your colleagues have treated Shurtz.

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    • ODA says:

      Baby, if the law school had hired better professors the rest of the UO may not have had to bail the law school out. You can say it is for the children but really it is in the end it is still a bailout. Also, since, I think there is still a glut of lawyers would it not be better to lower enrollment and costs?

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    • duckduckgo says:

      “despite Harbaugh’s assertions that we are rolling naked in the $10M of sweet Johnson Hall money. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realize this money goes directly to student scholarships so that we can continue to attract smart, capable students with decent GPAs and LSAT scores.”

      baby doesn’t seem to realize that having millions of Johnson Hall money for scholarships to top students is but a far off dream to other units in the university. “Why, we need the money!” says baby, “Law School is just part of a system that attracts few students willing to pay the full tuition needed to support our faculty salaries!”

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      • Baby Oldspice says:

        What baby (Oldspice) doesn’t admit is that most other Pacific Northwest law schools simply do not have the luxury of falling back on funds pilfered from the general fund, or of developing “undergraduate law” courses that siphon students from the main campus. Other schools actually had to hit rock-bottom and figure out how to survive. Thus, U of O Law is playing a rigged game, and yet it’s still losing.

        Baby also doesn’t admit that the $10M was arranged by the current VPFA for the sake of bailing out the school as it tanked while her husband, the U of O Law Dean, was at the helm.

        Baby also doesn’t mention that said VPFA used to be a law school Associate Dean who was cleared out into other positions in the U of O shortly before the search that produced her husband as the current Law Dean. She had already been denied a spot on the law school faculty, so she had to leave the law school in order to avoid the inevitable future conflict of being directly supervised by her husband.

        Baby also doesn’t mention this Law Dean’s demonstrated disfavor for intellectual minorities and unpopular voices among his colleagues. Of course, such realities are part and parcel of the tenure system and commitments to academic freedom.

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  6. Moonman says:

    What the hell does “orthogonal” mean?

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    • pi_are_round says:

      Lol. Fancy math term to mean two things are independent of each other.

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      • just different says:

        Not quite. It means that they’re perpendicular to each other, so that if you are moving along one direction, by definition you cannot simultaneously be moving along the other direction.

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        • Stats guy says:

          It depends on the context. In statistics, covariance is often interpreted as an inner product of sorts, so “orthogonal” is used to describe random variables with zero covariance (a condition implied by statistical independence, as pi says).

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  7. Dog says:

    To UOmatters

    where is the “Fuck No”
    radio button option on the
    latest poll?

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    • @Home says:

      And it might be helpful to add “in her own home” to the poll as well. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the tenor of the debate, and its outcome, would be very different if she had done this on campus during a class or public lecture rather than at her own private party.

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  8. come on! says:

    Presumably, tenured professors don’t presume to teach until they have carefully researched and/or have reviewed a body of scholarly literature. A simple Google search of the term “blackface” should have been enough to inform the average high school student, let alone a tenured professor, to refrain from donning blackface. But, no. A tenured professor, who claims she wanted to “teach” failed to inform herself. She probably took plenty of time to buy a lab coat, wig and makeup, and then apply the makeup and wear the costume. Then she claimed ignorance, while stating that she intended to “teach.” Even if we are to assume that the act wasn’t racist (and that’s a stretch), why tolerate willful ignorance? Should her students assume that she takes the same approach to her other “teaching” endeavors? At minimum, the act is supremely arrogant. If you have tenure, certainly you should understand that you shouldn’t presume to teach things about which you know little or nothing. Reading a book doesn’t entitle you to “teach” people about racism. And a Halloween party is, at best, a questionable venue for “teaching.” If you invite students to your home with the intent of “teaching,” I fail to understand how that is unrelated to your position as a tenured professor. So everyone who is drawing the distinction between personal and professional time ought to take her at her word. She meant to “teach” but failed to inform herself, committed an act which many see as overtly racist, and claimed ignorance. Add me to the list of people who believe that she should be summarily dismissed.

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    • Blues says:

      The first hit is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface and it is worth reading and as Ed Coleman explains the history of blackface is much more nuanced than I had thought.

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      • come on! says:

        Yes, it’s worth reading:
        “With the eventual successes of the modern day Civil Rights Movement, such blatantly racist branding practices ended in the U.S., and blackface became an American taboo.”

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  9. Anonymous says:

    While we’re on the subject of lack of critical thought, I have to say that I’m very concerned about the lack of critical thought shown in these comments. It seems like there’s an equal amount of reactive posturing from the freedom of speech/academic exchange crowd as there is from the “fire her immediately” crowd. I think there are a great number of unanswered questions in this scenario that require communication from both ends.

    For example, and I will try to be brief here because of the sheer number of questions I’ve encountered in conversations with students, alumni, and the public:

    1. Nancy Shurtz invited all of her current students to the party, and her letter acknowledges that she intended to have an academic discussion about her costume. Does that blur the line between a private party and her acting in her professional capacity as a state-employed professor?

    2. Dr. Damon Tweedy is a lighter-skinnned black man with a shaved head. Did wearing blackface and an afro actually represent the doctor respectfully or did it enter into the realm of caricature?

    3. There are 42 full-time faculty listed on the UO Law faculty page. This means that even before you subtract retired/emeritus professors, President Schill, and the Dean, over half of Nancy Shurtz’s peers signed a letter condemning her actions. Does this indicate that the people who know her character and behavior well know something that perhaps the papers and media outlets aren’t sharing?

    4. This issue has brought out very real questions about the protections of tenure, and what we can do when we have bad professors who behave badly. Hard truth: it’s been made abundantly clear to many in this community that if the perpetrator had been a student or a member of the staff, they would have been immediately fired or expelled. Regardless of your reaction to THAT information, Nancy is extremely lucky to be in the position where there is a question as to whether or not she will be dismissed for this infraction. She is getting far more due process than 90% of our campus community would get, whether you like this truth or not, and it is likely that no action will be taken until the end of this review process. What message do you think this sends to staff and students?

    5. We have been having students preparing to transfer and who have vowed to never take a course from Nancy again. We have some who are vowing to never take a course from the other professors at the party, including the professor in the photo with Nancy, the professor who took the photo, and others who were in attendance at the party. The names are widely known around the school, and the silence from these professors is growing more and more profound. How can we effectively run this school if our students don’t trust the professors and don’t trust their judgment?

    6. I can’t imagine many people who could sit in a room with Nancy Shurtz after this incident and think that she is a credible source of critical thought and reason. Is there a point at which a tenured professor cannot perform the functions of their job?

    7. Despite the assertions otherwise, this is not the first time that Nancy Shurtz has displayed a troubling lack of judgment. For years, she has donated a hot tub night to the annual OLSPIF auction – a gift that is exclusively offered to students. Do you think it’s appropriate behavior for a professor to have a hot tub party with her students? Would this gift have lasted this long if it were a male professor offering up a hot tub night?

    I had meant to stay neutral in my comments, but I think it’s clear that I’m not. I think it’s impossible to stay neutral in this situation. I do know that almost every conversation I’ve had in the building and with alumni tells me that the faculty, staff, and students do not want her back. You can see for yourself that comments from those who do not know Nancy, and do not know the law school community seem to feel otherwise. I would urge those of you who do not know the situation to listen to the people who are actually in the situation, who are on the front line talking to law students and law alumni, who are forced to be representatives for Nancy and attempt to answer for her actions.

    I was at an event the other day with a room full of high school students who had been assigned her apology as a critical reading project. These students largely concluded that the apology was vacuous, missed the point, and showed a surprising amount of cluelessness from someone in such an esteemed position. That’s been the overwhelming response I’ve received from her peers, the students, and the alumni who’ve read it. Besides Ofer Raban, who has not attended most of the town halls we’ve had at the law school discussing the impacts of this incident, no one seems to feel that the apology letter acknowledged any of her problematic behavior.

    I have to admit that I take most of the statements from professors across campus with a hefty amount of skepticism, because I think one of the major issues we are seeing played out here is that there is a real problem with how isolating tenure can be for professors who lack introspection and the ability to self-critique. What do we do with professors who cannot be trusted to self-regulate?

    Regardless of how you land on the Nancy Shurtz issue, this is a very real problem for our university and others. To be honest, working with faculty has made me more acutely aware how out-of-touch with reality and their surroundings they can be unless they make a concerted effort to listen to those around them. There is a presumption of ability that doesn’t pan out to competency in practice, and I’m seeing that played out right now. Nancy was so isolated in her implicit belief in her ability, and so lacking in introspection and self-awareness that she presumed competence in a subject she knew very little about.

    To me, that shows a fatal flaw in her ability to remain a professor and a leader in this community that I don’t think can be resurrected through any amount of restorative justice or dialogue. If she’s reached this age without learning introspection, how can we teach her now?

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    • Anonymous says:

      Are you implying with the hot tub story that you/the law school had other, unrelated reasons to try and get rid of Professor Shurtz????

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      • Anonymous says:

        Nope. What I’d meant to imply is explicitly stated in my final few paragraphs.

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    • Oryx says:

      Let me get this straight. Faculty in the law school write a letter calling for Shurtz’ dismissal, but the actual reasons for wanting her dismissed aren’t the (weak) arguments put forth in the letter. Nonetheless we are supposed to be persuaded by the letter. And you all are _law_ professors? And you’re saying _she’s_ the reason for your low enrollments?

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      • Anonymous says:

        None of the above, at least for my points. Are you responding to someone else’s comment here?

        I can’t speak for them, but I’ve never seen the law professors’ letter as persuasive in its intent. It seems evident that it is a very short, very direct letter to Nancy. If it were meant to persuade, it would have arguments supporting the statements.

        It’s also very evident that the law professors have little to no say in the outcome of the investigation except to express their opinions with the committee.

        As for your question about enrollment, I can’t speak to that, which is why I didn’t speak to that. Enrollment is down in the entire PNW region for all of the schools, and the reasons for this are unknown. This existed before Nancy Shurtz and will likely exist after her.

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  10. uomatters says:

    Let me remind everyone to pick a screen name, if they have any interest in letting people follow their arguments. You don’t have to register, you just type in whatever name you want and at least use it through a given thread. Animal names are particularly popular, so scroll through and check that yours is new.

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  11. Purple says:

    Professor Shurtz has only herself to blame for this self-inflicted disaster. She should be fired. As a lawyer and a member of the law school’s diversity committee she should have known enough to require that halloween party guests sign a release acknowledging that they are knowingly entering an “unsafe space” where they may be exposed to controversial, uncomfortable, and even scary thoughts and ideas. Her failure to do this reflects her own ignorance of the reality it is to live in today’s politically correct America and shows that she is unfit to teach.

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