Being a student at Penn State has to be about as close as you can come to being in a World War I foxhole. Their reputation is just getting bombed from all sides. Right now, kids should just be trying to keep their heads down and ride this out.

But in the PSU Law foxhole, somebody just laid an egg.

Apparently students at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law have already been banned from a few area hotels for drunken and inappropriate behavior this fall. And now a student is throwing around a slur on the school list-serv.

It’s not happy times in Happy Valley…

It appears that Penn State Law is going down the road of William and Mary School of Law. We’ve previously reported on W&M’s raucous Barrister’s Ball, but it appears that Penn State law students also had a fabulously drunken fall event.

Here’s a message from Penn State Law Dean Philip McConnaughay that he sent to students last fall. Since we measure everything Penn State related in Sandusky time, this email and the events it talks about happened “B.S.”, i.e., “before Sandusky”:

Dear Students,

As a result of the conduct of several students at the Barrister’s Ball last month (bringing flasks of liquor into the Penn Stater Hotel, treating Penn Stater staff rudely and abusively, public drunkenness), the Penn Stater and Nittany Lion Inn have banned future events that include law students. This action is a matter of significant embarrassment to the law school, both within the University and within the State College community. The actions of the students responsible for the Penn Stater’s and Nittany Lion’s ban are inconsistent with the professional comportment expected and required of members of the legal profession.

If the law school learns the identities of the students whose behavior disrupted the Barrister’s Ball and embarrassed the law school in this way, we will institute Honor Code proceedings with potential penalties up to and including permanent expulsion from the law school. At the very least, the unprofessional conduct will be documented and shared with the Character and Fitness Committees of the Boards of Bar Examiners of every state in which the responsible students seek admission to the bar.

The SBA has instituted the following rules for all further SBA-sponsored events: (i) alcohol is forbidden on bus trips between our campuses; (ii) flasks and any other type of container of alcohol are forbidden at law school events; (iii) students whose judgment or behavior is impaired by alcohol are prohibited from law school events; and (iv) students behaving in disruptive or clearly offensive ways will be removed from law school events.

Dean McConnaughay

All right. Let’s give the Penn State students the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t know the entire world would be looking at the school; this drunkening happened before the campus was put under the microscope.

But now, now Penn State students know that they are being watched. They know that the campus is under siege. They know that saying slurs on a list serve is going to get picked up by the press and make the school look bad.

Don’t they? From a tipster:

Below is an email smack down that occurred earlier today from a Penn State Law Professor to a student who used a gay slur over a school-wide email list serv (which included students, faculty, and staff) when accidentally “replying all.”

Oh dear.

The set-up is that PSU Law student sent an email out to the list serv trying to get people interested in playing basketball. That’s a standard list-serv message. But check out the reply all:

You are a queer

Sent from my iPhone

Annnnnd, the quick apology:

My sincere apologies, that was supposed to be for [basketball emailer] only, sorry for the inconvenience and if I offended anyone

It might have died there. But PSU Law professor Stephen Ross wanted to weigh in:

Your “sincere apology” is nothing of the sort. Your comment was plainly offensive to lots of people, and a “sorry… IF I offended anyone” just doesn’t cut it. Plus, your email clearly suggests that your remorse was in sharing what was intended to be a privately offensive comment with the broader audience.

As a matter of degree, words are not as hurtful as fists. But this is a matter of degree, not substance. If you slugged me in the stomach, and then apologized on the grounds that you intended to slug [Redacted] in the stomach, and you were sorry “if” I was offended, all would see your follow-up for the absurd and ridiculous non-apology that it is.

This is America. Like your drunken classmates who caused the Penn Stater to bar law school student events, you can choose to begin to be respected as a professional whenever you choose, and can keep acting like a punk for however long you want. But expect those in the law community who have chosen to grow up and act like adult professionals to treat you accordingly.

Steve Ross

I kind of love the Ross email. People usually look the other way on this particular offense. But Professor Ross, for his part, is done with Penn State officials looking the other way on anything. I mean, he told the kid he was “acting like a punk.” That’s brilliant.

In any event, you know that tension is high and nerves are frayed at PSU right now. We always counsel law students to make sure they’re not hitting “reply all,” but maybe right now people should just assume that everything they say can and will be used against them.

Keep your heads down, kids. Hopefully this will pass by next year’s recruiting season.

Earlier: William and Mary Running Out of Local Places Willing To Host Law School Events


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