Asians, Law Professors, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Minority Issues, Racism, Vicious Infighting

Controversy Continues at a Leading Law School Over Allegations of Racial Bias

Professor W. Burlette Carter

Here is an excerpt from a longer message that Professor Carter sent to us refuting some of the defenses of the Maggs appointment that she has heard. Please note that we did not share with her the specific defenses we’ve listed above; rather, she was just responding to what she has heard on her own from members of the GW Law community (although you’ll note a lot of overlap):

Of course now the fake counterstory comes. They have been making it up for weeks — that Bracey wanted to run for dean instead (which is not true), that he didn’t want the job (which is not true), etc, etc. I heard this version of the story was going to come out some time ago to offset concerns; believe me, my concerns about race were no surprise to the administration or to faculty who knew what we had done in the past and who had themselves voiced some of those concerns. Folks were just surprised that I had the guts to voice them publicly….

Now, let me offer a few more points on the question of evidence (a subject that I teach). Circumstantial evidence can convict as well as direct evidence. You don’t need “I am a racist.” We have a long pattern here of proceeding in the past and a deviation from that pattern. We have Bracey being kept out of the loop in the discussions with no opportunity to defend himself against those who would challenge him. And there are other facts that I won’t present at this time but that could easily rebut claims made by any critics. The question is not whether he is or was a perfect Senior Associate Academic Dean. The question is whether or not he is as qualified as the white guys picked previously….

So what was their point in denying Bracey the fairness accorded to white predecessors who were up for interim dean? All I can think of is that this renegade segment of the faculty chafed at the idea of a black man being over them as a dean, even if for a limited period, no matter how competent. And I say this having some sense of the key players and how they have treated black candidates in the past. This is a law school with a small but vocal group of faculty that has lost its sense of what is fair — a group that thought that because the world was not watching, they could do whatever in the hell they wanted to do to achieve their ends, irrespective of the rights of the individuals involved.

And it is a law school with a majority of faculty who are decent people but who want to bury their heads in the sand and get back to work, and ignore the inconvenient issues like fairness or addressing racial discrimination. Dealing with racism and fairness issues is time-consuming and inefficient. Blacks and other persons of color do it everyday; their work and promotional responsibilities are affected by having to navigate it.

(Note Professor Carter’s statement that a majority of the faculty members are “decent people.” Some readers felt, based on her earlier statements, that she was condemning the entire faculty.)

With respect to Chris, the renegades who opposed him counted on all of us being so worried about press and so worried about our careers that none of us would speak up. Well, they have overplayed their hand. It is time to spread that burden of dealing with racism and fairness issues around a bit and drain the swamp….

I have heard from law professors from across the country noting that the problem of recognizing black competency or black excellence when compared to whites and giving blacks a fair shake is bigger than GW. I have heard from lawyers in law firms noting that the phenomenon occurs in law firms and corporate bodies as well.

The insiders count on us being fearful of losing a position or, if we have tenure, losing friends. The troublemakers alter rules at the drop of a hat to suit their liking — simply because they don’t like the outcome if the rules were applied. Others go along hoping the troublemakers will be satisfied. It never happens. They never are satisfied.

These are just excerpts from a much longer statement from Professor Carter, which we’ve reprinted on the next and final page, along with all of the other primary documents.

The members of GW’s Black Law Students Association have also weighed in. The sent a letter to President Steven Knapp raising questions about the interim dean appointment process. From the GW BLSA letter:

First, how is the University going to address the allegation that race played a role in the selection process of the Interim Dean? Does the University currently have a stance? We were shocked by the allegation. But we are more frustrated that history, and for many, personal experience, has made it impossible to completely dismiss the charge. Absent further information, it is just as likely that race played a role in the selection of the Interim Dean as it is that there were reasonable grounds, irrespective of race, to oppose a candidate.

Second, setting aside the allegation of racism, why break from what appears to be a pattern of selecting the Senior Associate Dean to serve as Interim Dean when there is a vacancy? It is unfortunate and disquieting that this deviation coincided with a person of color filling the Senior Assistant Dean position. Respectfully, this coincidence would be less of an issue if the University was more transparent about its procedure for selecting deans.

Finally, what are the University’s plans to address the possibility of institutional racism or bias within the law school?

We don’t believe that President Knapp has responded yet. But Professor Burlette Carter, who was copied on the BLSA letter, did respond. Some excerpts:

Let me say that I don’t think the solution is removing Dean Maggs. He has a great deal of integrity and I think he stepped into a hornets nest not realizing the impact….

I also think that students need to think about their studies first not just during exams but always. These types of problems can only eventually be resolved by people like you focusing on getting good grades and being great lawyers. One of the ways that race based prohibitions work their magic is by taking up our time. I wanted to make a point about which I feel very strongly. But my career is set. If I can’t speak now, when can I speak (although anyone who knows me knows that I have always tried to speak my mind and with integrity). You and other students on the other hand have your futures ahead of you. It is not that you should not be interested, but rather that you need to have your priorities on the very thing that blacks have historically been denied by racism: education. That is the best revenge to any unfairness….

I do appreciate your time and concern. I am always impressed with our students. You are amazing. But again, I am a person who thinks seriously about time investments. You want them to pay off, rather than simply to act as the opium of the masses that just lulls folks into thinking we have accomplished something.

Those are my views. I thank you for your thoughts. I know you will knock your exams out of the park. Go get ’em.

Here is what strikes me about Professor Carter’s collected correspondence on these matters: contrary to those who demonize her, she is acting in good faith. She truly believes that a race-based injustice took place here, and she believes it is her duty to speak out against it.

I can say the same thing about my colleague Elie, with whom I’ve worked for more than four years now. He too is a good person, and he too believes that a race-based injustice took place here. Contrary to his critics, he did not engage in “race baiting” in his original story; rather, he expressed his sincerely held views.

At the same time, I have also heard from numerous readers who believe that Professor Carter and Elie have acted unfairly, by leveling unfounded accusations of racism against parties who acted for race-neutral reasons. Some portion of these readers might be racist, but I’d say that the vast majority of them are also good and decent people, also acting in good faith. They too believe injustice has been done: members of the GW administration and faculty have been publicly and unfairly labeled as racist.

In terms of my own views, I tend to agree with the people who see the appointment of Professor Maggs as not racially motivated. To the extent that there was a presumption in favor of Dean Bracey as senior associate dean, the presumption was rebutted by the reasons noted previously. That’s my personal opinion, based on the facts presented in the (very lengthy) post you’re now reading.

But what I happen to believe about these matters, or what Elie happens to believe, or what Professor Carter happens to believe, is somewhat beside the point. What I find most interesting about this whole controversy — fascinating, really, in an academic way — is how decent people can come to such diametrically opposed, deeply held beliefs about the same set of events. The existence of such sincere and profound disagreement between people of good faith suggests that we have a long way to go before we reach a point where everyone is generally indifferent to race, a so-called “colorblind society.”

We will continue to monitor the situation at GW Law. Even though Elie and I don’t agree on the underlying events, here is an opinion we do share: there is a high likelihood that the next dean of the George Washington University Law School will be a diverse individual.

(If you’re interested, flip to the next page to see the collected emails, memos, and letters about these matters.)

(hidden for your protection)

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