Stupid and offensive Halloween costume & response from Law & Schill

10/31/2019: A Halloween reminder:

11/3/2016 update: 23 Angry Law Professors:

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11/2/2016 update: Law Dean writes alumni condeming professor and racism and bigotry, then suspends her from teaching. KEZI posts professor’s explanation and apology. It seems she is not a racist or a bigot – quite the contrary:

The KEZI report is here:

“I chose my costume based on a book that I read and liked—Black Man in a White Coat.  I thought I would be able to teach with this costume as well (or at least tell an interesting story).  When I asked my daughter who is at Brown Medical School the demographics of her medical school class, she said “they do not give those statistics out mom”, but later when she asked the administration, they said there was _not one black male _student in the class. She and others were outraged. She was able to get the administration to assign a portion of this book (the one where the black medical student was thought to be the janitor) out to students.

I am sorry if it did not come off well.  I, of all people, would not want to offend.

Prof. Shurtz”

Dean Michael Moffit’s email to Law School Alumni. He’s opposed to bigotry and racism, for “the safety of all concerned”, and confused about taking time to learn the facts before suspending a professor:

From: University of Oregon School of Law <lawdean@uoregon.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 3:02 PM

Subject: Message from the Dean

November 2, 2016

Dear Oregon Law Alumni and Friends,

With great frustration about the circumstances that compel me to do so, I write to share with you a message that went out late last night from the President, the Provost, the Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, and me.

As you will read, a University of Oregon School of Law faculty member wore a Halloween costume that included blackface at a private, off-campus party attended by UO faculty members and students. This matter has been turned over to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity.

This action demonstrated racial insensitivity in a way that is inconsistent with our school’s values, and wholly unacceptable for this institution. We will follow the university’s processes for determining whether the act violated university rules. We obviously don’t know the outcome of that process and it would be inappropriate to speculate. In order to ensure the safety of all concerned and the smooth operation of the law school, I have placed the faculty member responsible on administrative leave pending resolution of the AAEO process.

As dean, I expect all members of the UO School of Law community to provide a welcoming, diverse and inclusive environment at all times. To be clear: We will not tolerate any form of bigotry or racism. Ever.

I have already heard from a number of you, and I am grateful for your feedback. If you would like to reach out to me directly, I would welcome hearing from you.

Michael

Michael Moffitt
Dean
Philip H. Knight Chair in Law
University of Oregon School of Law

Law School

11/1/2016 update: From what I’ve learned so far the professor in blackface was trying – albeit awkwardly and unintentionally offensively – to honor the author of “Black Man in a White Coat”. The NYT review:

… As a medical student at Duke, he feels underprepared among the privileged graduates of fancy schools like Harvard and Yale. (He attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.) On a scholarship for black students, he frets about being written off as a product of affirmative action.

In one chilling incident, a professor mistakes him for the handyman come to change the classroom light bulbs. Rather than making a fuss, Dr. Tweedy triumphs by earning the second-highest grade on the final exam and then declining the startled teacher’s offer of a job.

Such incidents of overt racism are rare, at least among the professionals Dr. Tweedy works with, but a lot of prejudice is flying around. Some patients flatly declare that they don’t like black doctors; even a black patient once snaps that he doesn’t want to be treated by a “country-ass doctor.” Dr. Tweedy feels annoyed at the uneducated black patients who sabotage their health and then feels irritated at himself for his annoyance. …

Good intentions gone awry.

11/1/2016: Maybe some enterprising reporter will now make a public records request for details on the various investigations and consultants reports on how Ms Daugherty has run UO’s Affirmative Action office, and ask how the UO administration has responded. Meanwhile here’s tonight’s email to campus from President Schill:

Students, Faculty, and Staff,

The University of Oregon has been made aware that a faculty member of the School of Law wore a costume that included blackface at a private, off-campus Halloween party that was attended by UO faculty members and students.

We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon’s cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion. The use of blackface, even in jest at a Halloween party, is patently offensive and reinforces historically racist stereotypes. It was a stupid act and is in no way defensible.

The faculty member involved has apologized for the decision and has expressed concern about its potential impact on members of the community. Although the party occurred outside of the faculty member’s official duties, the professor acknowledges that the costume choice was unacceptable under any circumstances.

We take seriously any complaints from members of our community, and we have referred this complaint to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, which will determine whether this action could constitute a violation of university policy.

At a minimum, it illustrates the need for more training and dialogue on these critical issues. In support of this dialogue, the Division of Equity and Inclusion created a UO African American Workshop and Lecture Series to help increase understanding. Implicit bias training is now required for all faculty searches and this winter new trainings on micro-aggressions will be offered. We will continue to assess other trainings or opportunities we can employ to further educate our community.

Bigotry and racism have no place in our society or at the UO. Providing a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive environment for all is one of the university’s top priorities. We have been working for more than a year with our students to further these objectives. This incident makes us even more determined to ensure that no member of the UO community feels isolated or alienated on this campus as a result of intentional or unintentional racist behavior.

Sincerely,

Michael H. Schill, President and Professor of Law         

Scott Coltrane, Provost and Senior Vice President                                                          

Yvette Alex Assensoh, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion                                    

Michael Moffitt, Dean, School of Law

Professor Hames-García’s Open Letter on blackface

11/4/2016 update: In case you are confused about why this blackface incident was so genuinely disturbing, Michael Hames-García (Professor of Ethnic Studies) has an excellent Open Letter to Pres Schill (and us all) in the Daily Emerald. Read it all, here is an excerpt:

… Part of the problem with blackface is that white people don’t know why it’s a problem. It’s impossible to understand why black people are so angered by its use unless one knows what it is that black people see when they see white people in blackface. From the perspective of the harm done, it doesn’t matter what the white person’s intention was.

Nothing about the history of what white people have done to black people and other people of color is shocking to people of color. We know that white people hung, burned alive and dismembered not hundreds, but thousands of black men and women, indigenous men and women, Mexican men and women, Chinese and Japanese men and women, and others for well over a hundred years. We know it was done with impunity. We know it was done publicly. We know they took genitalia from lynched men and women and collected them as souvenirs. We know they posed for pictures and made postcards to commemorate the events. We know that blackface and other racial impersonations were forms of entertainment for white people that were part of a larger dehumanizing process that made lynching possible. We know that these impersonations never honored us.

Unfortunately, many white people don’t know these things. They come to college and take a class about who-knows-what to fulfill a multicultural requirement and come away singing “Kumbaya” and decide to have a “Mexican gangster” or “pimps and hos” party at their sorority and don’t know why people of color are so sensitive about it.

The possibility that Shurtz’s act was done with no deliberate racist intent to harm makes it worse in my view. It confirms everything I suspect and fear daily about the ignorance and callous disregard for black humanity among my colleagues and students. It makes me less likely to trust my white colleagues. It makes me dislike them. In that sense, you need to understand that Shurtz has injured you.

At the same time, I am taken aback by the University’s swift suspension of Shurtz. I don’t know if the suspension happened in consultation with her, and I understand that the University has stated that this was not a disciplinary action.

Let me be clear. Shurtz is not a young, uninformed undergraduate. She has been a professor almost as long as I’ve been alive. She grew up during the civil rights movement. I find it very hard to accept any protestation of ignorance or statement of good intent from her. Do I find Shurtz’s behavior to be vile? Emphatically. Do I buy her protestations of goodwill? By no means. Do I join my Law School colleagues in calling for her to resign? With gusto. Her resignation would be the best, most productive action she could take, sparing the University, our students and her colleagues further trauma and embarrassment.

However, I fear there is a risk of scapegoating, with the effect that Shurtz is punished for the sins of many and outrage over her behavior evades discussion about what is, unfortunately, a common practice in U.S. society. This is the “bad apple” phenomenon that one sees in discussions of police shootings: You deal with the bad apple and pretend that the barrel isn’t rotten. …

Professor Hames-Garcia also wrote one of the most courageous statements I saw come out of attempted cover-up of the basketball rape allegations, here. He’s got a gift for turning disastrous events at UO into teachable moments. That said I disagree with his call for Shurtz to resign.

11/3/2016 updates: UO faculty union & Chicago Law’s Leiter weigh in, professor issues statement

The Faculty Union Exec Council has released a statement condemning the use of blackface, supporting the professor’s right to due process, and pointedly *not* demanding a resignation. Noted University of Chicago Law Professor Brian Leiter has ripped into those 23 UO law faculty (the law school is not part of the union) who called for the professor to resign. And the professor who put on the blackface has explained why. All below, starting with Leiter:

UPDATE:  Now 23 of the professor’s colleagues have called on the faculty member to resign if the allegations are true.  That reflects poorly on them, and suggests they have no regard for  contractual and constitutional rights to academic freedom, including the right to engage in racially insensitive extramural speech.  Absent a finding that the professor treats students or colleagues in racially discriminatory ways, there is no reason for the faculty member to resign (apologizing might be a good idea though!).

The Union:

Dear Colleagues,

The Executive Council of United Academics condemns the use of blackface as inherently racist. We find such actions anathema to our aspirations for a just community at the University of Oregon. We furthermore believe all faculty, in our bargaining unit or not, are entitled to a fair hearing and hope that any actions – including any suspension from duties – in response to allegations of misconduct or unethical behavior will be undertaken according to established procedures of due process and, under our CBA, with just cause.  We object to any administrative actions that violate these rights.

Like many, we do not have details or a full understanding of the recent incident, but regardless, the use of blackface evokes America’s racist history in a way that understandably offends and harms many in our community. When a white person puts on blackface, they invoke a history of brutality against black bodies as though the white person were putting on black skin for entertainment. The revulsion in this is found across a spectrum of racially discriminatory and violent actions, from the many racist media stereotypes of people of color to the horror of lynchings. For someone to evoke this history without being corrected by others is a collective harm that degrades all of us. Such actions damage the trust, respect, and safety we seek in a diverse community regardless of how they may have been intended….

The professor has also made a statement to the RG:

“During a Halloween party I hosted at my house, I wore a costume inspired by a book I highly admire, Dr. Damon Tweedy’s memoir, ‘Black Man in a White Coat.’ I intended to provoke a thoughtful discussion on racism in our society, in our educational institutions and in our professions. As part of my costume, I applied black makeup to my face and wore a white coat and stethoscope.

“In retrospect, my decision to wear black make up was wrong. It provoked a discussion of racism, but not as I intended. I am sorry for the resultant hurt and anger inspired by this event. It is cruelly ironic that this regrettable episode began with my admiration for a book that explores important aspects of race relations in our society, but ended up creating toxic feelings within our community. I intended to create a conversation about inequity, racism and our white blindness to them. Regrettably, I became an example of it. This has been a remarkable learning experience for me.

“I hope that all who are hurt or angered by my costume will accept my apology. I meant no harm to them or others.

“Out of respect for all involved, I will make no further comments to the media until the University’s investigation is completed.”

11/4/2016: More on blackfaced professor and Dean Moffitt’s decisions:

I’m still rummaging around for the law school letter criticizing Dean Moffitt’s past management. Meanwhile,

The RG Editorial Board:

… UO President Michael Schill responded quickly and forcefully. Law school colleagues and others have signed letters and petitions calling for the professor’s resignation. Schurtz has been placed on administrative leave, and the UO Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity is investigating.

Lesser reactions would condone offensive actions and imagery, and invite worse ones. But what the UO needs is not one fewer law professor, but more understanding. Shurtz’s experience offers an opportunity to explore the lines between self-expression and hurtful messaging, between cluelessness and consideration, between privilege and vulnerability. A university exists to teach students how to think, not what to think — and here’s a chance to do just that.

And, from Scott Jaschik in IHE:

… “It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter if it was protected by the First Amendment,” the letter says. “Blackface is patently offensive. It is overtly racist. It is wildly inappropriate. It reflects a profound lack of judgment. There is no excuse. We are angry that you would alienate our students, staff and faculty of color. We are angry that you would destroy what others have worked hard to build …. If you care about your students, you will resign.”

If Shurtz does not resign, some legal experts believe her actions — however foolish — are in fact protected by the First Amendment.

“Simply dressing in blackface or as an African-American at a party is indeed constitutionally protected expression that UO, a government agency, cannot punish,” said Robert L. Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

He cited a 1993 decision by a federal appeals court to block George Mason University from punishing a fraternity that held “an ugly woman contest” fund-raiser in which some fraternity members posed as caricatures of black women. The appeals court found that this event, however offensive, was protected by the First Amendment. “If such a skit is protected expression, this professor’s expression surely is as well,” Shibley said.

John K. Wilson, an independent scholar who writes regularly about academic freedom issues, agreed. Via email, he said, “When dealing with an extramural activity, there’s generally no valid punishment unless it shows incompetence in doing their work. That obviously doesn’t apply in this case. There’s no reason why wearing an offensive costume makes you a bad law professor.”

Michael Dreiling is a professor of sociology at Oregon who is president of United Academics, the faculty union at the university, an affiliate of the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers. Via email, he said, “Blackfacing is not only negligent, but hurtful, regardless of intentions. Even as we condemn blackfacing for the racist history the action evokes, we believe all faculty are entitled to a fair investigation and due process. We hope the university will recognize and respect these important rights in this case.”