Law School Deans, Law Schools, Plaintiffs Firms, Sexual Harassment

Did The Dean’s ‘Drunker Than Ten Big Indians’ Comment Cost Him His Scalp?

I’m not even sure if the ten little Indians song is still kosher, so I’m guessing that jokes about ten big Indians are obviously wrong.

Last night, we told you that the interim dean of Saint Louis University School of Law was stepping down because of “inappropriate comments.”

Dean Tom Q. Keefe admitted to making inappropriate comments. But he didn’t exactly apologize for them. Instead he said: “The problem is I’m just too politically incorrect to be a dean.”

I guess thinking for yourself as a casualty of “political correctness” is one way to avoid actually confronting and dealing with your own inappropriate behavior. But when your law dean allegedly says that he’s “drunker than ten big Indians,” I don’t think the problem is that people are oversensitive….

Multiple tipsters and commenters have emailed in with versions of what Keefe said. But let’s start with the statements that Keefe himself has copped to in interviews since his ouster. From the Riverfront Times:

“‘Life is a bitch. If it was easy, we would call it a slut,'” [Tom Keefe] says. “Apparently, I said that one time.”

Another time, he says, he might have used the phrase “drunker than ten big Indians.”

He says he has joked with students that “pot’s gotten a lot better than when I was in law school.”

Look, I’m no fan of the language police. And some readers have pointed out that the Indians bit is a Midwestern colloquialism — as if that somehow lessens the sting of the racial stereotyping. But what I see here isn’t a one off, ribald comment. It’s more of a pattern that is inappropriate for anybody in a leadership position.

I just don’t think it’s that hard for a leader to not make references to drunk Indians, sluts, and bitches.

And those are just the comments that Keefe admits to. Keefe says that he didn’t say anything sexually harassing:

“That’s a surprise. I would like to know what it is,” he says of any possible harassment allegations. “That’s the one thing I do take issue with…. I think sexual harassment is repulsive and I don’t ever want to be…guilty of that.”

Yeah, well, students and members of the SLU community seem to disagree with that. We’ve received multiple reports that Keefe asked a law student if she was “wearing any panties” at a school meeting. He then allegedly asked another girl if she would be “getting stuffed” at the school’s barrister ball.

Not that Keefe is denying anything specific:

“Did you say this or this or this? The likelihood is I did say it,” he says. “I’m in the business of sticking my foot in my mouth.”

Keefe says he doesn’t always remember the things he says, but adds of allegations, “It sounds like the kind of stuff I’d say.”

Perhaps what’s most ridiculous isn’t the things that Keefe says, but the way that he attempts to justify them:

“I live in the real world,” he says. “People don’t get their feelings hurt so easily…. I’m not being critical…. Those folks all have a right to their feelings…but the learning curve just proved much too steep. It’s a world that I’m just not familiar with. I tried, but tenured faculty and me are kinda like oil and water.”

He adds, “If I was them, I’d fire me.”

You know, I live in the “real world” too, and I say things that some people find inappropriate every freaking day. And yet, somehow, magically, I don’t go around asking women if they are wearing panties, I don’t make analogies to “sluts,” and if I’m going to make a drunk Indians joke, I’ll do it ironically.

This seems like a good time to remind you that Keefe was handpicked by a Catholic priest, Father Lawrence Biondi, to run the law school. Who would this guy vote for Pope? Todd Akin? Something tells me Tom Keefe didn’t just start making inappropriate comments that he can’t remember when he was named law school dean. Maybe this kind of leadership is why tipsters report that a number of prominent professors have left SLU since Keefe took over.

Speaking of the law school administration, as of this writing, the school has still not “officially” informed the students that their law dean resigned. The students at SLU are getting their information from news reports and campus gossip.

And, in true amateur hour fashion, there was a reply-all response to the listserv from Keefe that appears to have been an accident. SLU Law professor Michael Wolff (who is apparently the new interim dean) sent an email saying that Keefe was “very classy” for “making the truth his truth.”

“Class” isn’t the first word that springs to mind about a guy who allegedly talks about law students wearing panties, but whatever. Keefe responded to Wolff, and apparently accidentally sent it to the entire law school community (no caps in the original):

that is very kind Mike it just made more sense to get this behind us the story needs to be about the law school, the new demands of legal education and most importantly the justice gap—-as long as the story was about me it detracts from that message—i made some real mistakes, but hopefully my stumbles will be yesterday’s news tomorrow (or at least by the week-end)—i know you will do a great job—you have all the tools—and you have such a wonderful group of students to inspire you—-I will try to continue to raise money for the building—and help in any other way I can—(probably by keeping my mouth shut?)—for what it is worth–I did the best I could— Tom

Again, that is what passes as “communication” to the students at SLU Law that their old dean is out and Mike Wolff will replace him.

But I want to end on “I did the best I could.” Because it doesn’t seem like Keefe has any desire to learn from his mistakes, he just wants to do a better job of not getting punished for them. He wants to keep his mouth shut and get back to the real world — where he apparently feels it’ll be okay to get drunker than ten big Indians without anybody calling him out on it.

And I wonder if that kind of feeling is pervasive among the administration of SLU? Is the lesson here, “Whoops, let’s try again.” Or is the lesson here that law school deans need to be able to do more than raise money? Is the lesson here that a hand-picked leader should be able to “keep his mouth shut,” or is the lesson here that the law school deserves somebody who can talk as much as he or she wants to without calling anything a “slut”?

Because let me tell you, it’s not hard. Despite the antics of Biondi and Keefe, it doesn’t take a Herculean effort to find a law school dean who can lead without offending everybody. It’s not hard to find somebody with the support of the faculty, and it is not hard to communicate with the students.

It seems like SLU had just such a person with former Dean Annette Clark. Maybe, instead of wishing that she kept her mouth shut, the administration might want to try addressing her reasonable concerns.

UPDATE: (3:20): We published this a 2:37 EST. At 3:12 our time, the SLU administration finally made a formal communication to the students, announcing Michael Wolff as the new, permanent dean. Click the the next page to see the statement. They just “thank” Keefee instead of making any mention of why he is “stepping down.”

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments