Gary Roberts

Gary Roberts, the dean of Indiana School of Law – Indianapolis, is a bad ass. We’ve mentioned him before: we featured him in a Quote of the Day, when he said, “If you’re a law student and think you’ll make $140,000 right out of law school, you’re an idiot.” At the time I thought the line was a rare moment of honesty from just another law dean.

It would appear now that I was wrong. This is maybe just how Dean Roberts rolls, having the guts to tell the truth as he sees it to his own students.

Yesterday, we told you about the controversial email that someone calling himself “Invisible Man” sent to his fellow IndyLaw students. In the message, he claims he feels unwelcome at his law school because of three banners that prominently feature African-American law students. After our publication, the story made it around the internet, getting picked up by Jezebel and focusing people on a law school many were unfamiliar with.

Well, today Dean Roberts responded, and his message is pretty brilliant. And the copy is clean, so you can’t say I wrote it…

You can read Dean Roberts’s full message to the student body below, but I want to highlight one paragraph. Here we see the dean meeting “Invisible Man’s” thinly veiled racial animus head-on, and basically inviting the kid to join the rest of us in the rational world:

As for the posters in the atrium, it is certainly true that three of the four there now depict African-American men, which of course is not a true reflection of the percentage of African-American men in our student body. If that makes anyone feel slighted or unwelcome, it is regrettable (if not inexplicable given that over 80 percent of the student body is white). That is definitely not the school’s intent. But just to set the record straight, these four posters are only the first set of posters created as part of a marketing campaign that is proceeding in conjunction with our current capital fundraising campaign. There have been for months now three additional posters on order that should have arrived weeks ago, but that have been held up because of technical glitches in their production. My understanding is that all of those posters depict white students and professors, and they will be in the atrium with the current ones as soon as they arrive. So when the entire set of campaign posters is in place, there will be more racial balance. However, that really is not the issue. It is unfortunate that in a large building where the overwhelming majority of photographs and portraits are of white people, mostly white men, anyone would focus only on three of the four easily moveable posters at one end of the atrium and conclude that he is therefore unwelcome. Perhaps this anonymous student will feel more welcome if he focuses instead on the hallway outside my office where portraits of the last 13 deans of this law school hang – 12 white men and one white woman. In fact, I find this whole discussion ironic in that I am usually taken to task on this subject purportedly because the makeup of the faculty and student body, as well as the artwork on our walls, is not diverse enough and that the law school is therefore unwelcoming to various types of minority students. Apparently anyone can feel unwelcome if they choose to focus only on the things they find unwelcoming, which is sad given that it is the firm commitment of this law school to be inclusive, diverse, and welcoming of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability. That is certainly my commitment and it will continue to be so.

I believe that “If that makes anyone feel slighted or unwelcome, it is regrettable (if not inexplicable given that over 80 percent of the student body is white)” is the credited response to this nonsense. Invisible Man’s complaints were “inexplicable” to most of the IndyLaw students who reached out to us after the mass email.

But my favorite line is this one: “Perhaps this anonymous student will feel more welcome if he focuses instead on the hallway outside my office where portraits of the last 13 deans of this law school hang – 12 white men and one white woman.” “Reverse” racism is just as serious as “regular” racism, but what I can’t deal with are people who claim reverse racism the minute conditions cease to be as favorable towards whites as they used to be. It’s not racist to level the playing field; it’s racist to do nothing and thereby grandfather in an uneven playing field.

I can only imagine how annoying it must be for certain white men to have to share scarce resources, time and prestige with minorities and women. I can only imagine that there are some young white men who look at how many more advantages they had even 30 years ago and say, “Damn, it’s not fair that I missed out on the good old days.” But since the vast majority of white men that I know are able to compete and thrive even as we move toward a more equal society, I really have little sympathy for those — perhaps those like Invisible Man — who merely wish to recapture their unfair racial advantage.

Or as Dean Roberts says later in his message:

I regret that anyone perceives that some students may be getting preferential treatment, and I can assure everyone that this is a false perception, probably born out of the frustration with the difficult job market all of our students are facing these days.

I also really like how Dean Roberts’s message applies equally to potentially disgruntled white and minority students at his school. Undoubtedly, undoubtedly, there are also many minority students at IndyLaw struggling to secure jobs and feeling like the white kids at the school have all the advantages. The grass always seems greener on the other side. You can imagine either Invisible Man or a minority student thinking that the other race must be enjoying the kind privileges that Eddie Murphy perceived when he dressed up as a white person. But here Dean Roberts is saying to everybody that times are tough and nobody has it any better than anybody else. That’s the right message.

All around, it’s a great response from the dean. And yet I do believe that Invisible Man probably does have cause to feel “unwelcome.” His prejudices and worldviews are not shared by the majority of his fellow students. IndyLaw might be 80% white, but it’s not 80% dumb. And I imagine that when you are one of the few people in your class running around feeling like people are taking something from you just because of their skin color, that is indeed a lonely existence that is not represented in your law school photos.

Earlier: Giant Pictures Of African-American Males Make Law Student Feel Unwelcome
Quote of the Day: But You Don’t Mind Taking Money From Idiots, Do You?


DEAN GARY ROBERTS — INDIANA SCHOOL OF LAW – INDIANAPOLIS — WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT

Although I know that distractions are the last thing you all need as we head into final exams, I am also aware of the concerns many of you have about the message that was circulated yesterday by an anonymous student calling himself “The Invisible Man.” On one level, I am reluctant to respond to that message because it is intentionally divisive and appeals to the worst instincts in all of us, and because any response from me will only invite another round of messages from this student or others who think like him and will risk escalating the rhetoric well beyond what is useful or healthy. Nonetheless, because the message has apparently caused some concern and generated discussion on the internet and in the media, I do think it appropriate for me to clarify the facts and reaffirm the law school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

As for the posters in the atrium, it is certainly true that three of the four there now depict African-American men, which of course is not a true reflection of the percentage of African-American men in our student body. If that makes anyone feel slighted or unwelcome, it is regrettable (if not inexplicable given that over 80 percent of the student body is white). That is definitely not the school’s intent. But just to set the record straight, these four posters are only the first set of posters created as part of a marketing campaign that is proceeding in conjunction with our current capital fundraising campaign. There have been for months now three additional posters on order that should have arrived weeks ago, but that have been held up because of technical glitches in their production. My understanding is that all of those posters depict white students and professors, and they will be in the atrium with the current ones as soon as they arrive. So when the entire set of campaign posters is in place, there will be more racial balance. However, that really is not the issue. It is unfortunate that in a large building where the overwhelming majority of photographs and portraits are of white people, mostly white men, anyone would focus only on three of the four easily moveable posters at one end of the atrium and conclude that he is therefore unwelcome. Perhaps this anonymous student will feel more welcome if he focuses instead on the hallway outside my office where portraits of the last 13 deans of this law school hang – 12 white men and one white woman. In fact, I find this whole discussion ironic in that I am usually taken to task on this subject purportedly because the makeup of the faculty and student body, as well as the artwork on our walls, is not diverse enough and that the law school is therefore unwelcoming to various types of minority students. Apparently anyone can feel unwelcome if they choose to focus only on the things they find unwelcoming, which is sad given that it is the firm commitment of this law school to be inclusive, diverse, and welcoming of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability. That is certainly my commitment and it will continue to be so.

As for the accusations about the Office of Professional Development, all I can say is that they are just untrue. The two professional staff in the OPD are a black woman and a white man. They are both outstanding professionals with a commitment to all of our students. The services they provide are for the entire student body and I am certain that no group of students is given better service or preferential treatment over another group. The performance of the office is measured by how many of our students get jobs. It would be irrational and self-destructive for the staff in that office not to devote itself fully to helping every student find a job, which certainly includes the white students who make up the overwhelming majority of the overall student body. I am told that a decade ago when OPD was staffed entirely by white individuals, some minority students complained that they were not given as much attention as the white students. It is a sad reality that in our society people often see what they expect to see, not what is real, especially when race is involved. As noted above, it is the commitment of this law school and its entire staff that people of all backgrounds and characteristics be treated equally and with respect. Discrimination in any form will not be tolerated. I am convinced that everyone at the school is devoted to carrying out this commitment. I regret that anyone perceives that some students may be getting preferential treatment, and I can assure everyone that this is a false perception, probably born out of the frustration with the difficult job market all of our students are facing these days.

I am sorry that this has to arise just as everyone needs to be focused on their examinations. If, however, some of The Invisible Man’s message resonates with many students, and troubles many others, perhaps it reflects a deeper undercurrent of concerns within the student body. If so, this is something that the law school administration, the faculty, and the student body (through the SBA) should put on our agenda for the fall. Meanwhile, best of luck to everyone on their exams and congratulations to all you 3Ls/4Ls who will be graduating in a couple of weeks.

Gary R. Roberts
Dean & Gerald L. Bepko Professor of Law
Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis


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