A Message to the Georgetown Law Community (Updated)
March 21, 2021
Updated March 21, 2021
Dear Georgetown Law Community,
Like many of you, I spent most of spring break reflecting on recent events and thinking deeply about how we move forward together. The comments about Black students, made in a conversation between two adjunct faculty charged with preparing students for leadership and service in the legal profession, had a profound and adverse impact on Black students. But the harm inflicted did not stop there. Our entire community is grappling with the painful and difficult effects and the significance of the video.
Words alone will not, I know, be enough to move us forward. Yet, I want to begin by apologizing on behalf of Georgetown Law to the students, faculty, staff and alumni who have been impacted by this incident. I expect more of this law school than what we saw in that video. We can and will do better.
In recent days, I have been speaking with students, faculty and administrators across the University to discuss policies and strategies that we can deploy in restoring our community and guarding against other similar events. Some of the responses will take time and call for the involvement of the faculty and administrators. There are, however, other steps that I can take more quickly. I am writing to tell you about five items that will be implemented in the next few months.
First, we will be conducting non-discrimination training for our faculty before the start of the fall 2021 semester. At the start of this academic year, in response to requests made by the SBA, BLSA, and other affinity groups, I appointed a committee headed by Professor Robin Lenhardt to develop such training and that effort is underway. The first session was held in January, and we will be holding three additional sessions before the end of this academic year. We will also make available additional programs, including those that discuss bystander intervention; these will be easily accessible to all faculty, including adjuncts. I am additionally considering whether we will make such programs mandatory for all faculty. (Currently, non-discrimination and anti-harassment training is required for new full-time hires.)
Second, we will be re-examining the past teaching evaluations of all faculty currently teaching, starting with the past three years. This second look will allow us to ensure that we have responded appropriately to any reports of discrimination or harassment. We will also utilize this review to improve our processes to better identify and address these instances in the future.
Third, I will be providing grants for faculty members who wish to work over the summer to develop curricular materials addressing racial justice, racial inequities, and the experiences and agency of traditionally marginalized groups. We have always provided summer grants for faculty who wish to wish to engage in substantial curricular development. This year, I will specifically encourage faculty members to develop curricular materials addressing these important topics. I am especially interested in developing new materials that can be incorporated into the courses they and others already teach. While significant longer-term changes to our curriculum will take time and faculty discussion, this will help jump-start that project.
Fourth, I have in the past week heard the voices of students from underrepresented groups about their experiences at Georgetown and their desire for additional forms of support. As part of our response, we will significantly increase the funding for the RISE program next year and going forward.
Finally, the SBA, BLSA, and our other affinity groups requested that the Law Center “implement a reporting system that allows students to document bias-related incidents in the classroom . . . modeled off of the Main Campus Bias Reporting System administered by” the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (“IDEAA”). After consultation with Olabisi Okubadejo, a Georgetown Law alumnus who was recently hired as Associate Vice President, Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Compliance, we are convinced that IDEAA provides the appropriate reporting mechanism for the Law Center. Although this is not a new system, we will ensure that every student is aware of that process and how to use it. The bias reporting process is a robust reporting system for tracking and addressing incidents of bias, and for referring formal complaints of harassment or discrimination to IDEAA. Under the leadership of Associate Vice President Okubadejo and Vice President Rosemary Kilkenny, also a Georgetown Law graduate, IDEAA is well positioned to handle reports from students thoroughly, confidentially, and efficiently. Going forward, we will share information about the bias reporting system and IDEAA’s complaint process with incoming students, and every semester, we will send a reminder to all students about how to report incidents to IDEAA. Because the bias reporting system regularly publishes statistics about the number and type of reports it receives, anyone in our community will be able to track the progress of our work to reduce bias, harassment, and discrimination.
I recognize that students have asked for additional changes. I share the sense of urgency. Some of the requests are not a matter of decanal authority and will take time. For example, the SBA, BLSA, and our other affinity groups have recommended that the Law Center mandate a critical race theory unit in all first-year criminal justice courses, and consider establishing a two-credit racial justice requirement for all students. At the start of the academic year, I charged the Academic Standards Committee with considering this proposal; they hope to make a recommendation to the faculty by the end of this academic year. Other student requests include making faculty attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion an explicit part of our tenure standards, hiring practices, and salary reviews. I am beginning conversations about those requests with the relevant faculty committees as part of the Law Center’s faculty governance processes. And I am still considering other suggestions that are committed to my discretion, including the request for an increase in BLSA funding. As we move forward, I will continue to give you updates on our thinking and planning, and I invite you to continue to contribute your ideas.
Finally, I would like to say something a bit more personal. It was clear at the listening session with students that I held before the break that some question this school’s and the administration’s commitment to diversity. To the extent the video eroded students’ trust in that commitment, that loss of trust pains me deeply. From the beginning of my deanship, making progress on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion has been my top priority. And though we have done so, I reaffirm my commitment to this work. In the last decade, we have increased the percentage of students of color in our entering classes by 40%, including an entering class this year comprising 15% Black students — the highest proportion in the school’s history by several percentage points — 32% students of color, and 57% women. In the decade since I became dean, 41% of our new full-time faculty have been people of color, up from 11% in the preceding five years. We have created the position of Director of Equity and Inclusion, a role held with distinction by Dr. Pérez-Caro.
In addition, thanks to generous donations from many of our graduates, we have dramatically increased our financial aid awards in the past decade, doubled the number of Opportunity Scholars, and significantly increased the percentage of students who are the first generation in their family to attend college. And three years ago, we created the RISE program to better support students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. These achievements have been the product of a community-wide effort — from students working to recruit a diverse entering class, to faculty hiring decisions, to staff leadership of initiatives, to generous alumni support — and I am proud of what our community has achieved.
I list these changes not to suggest that we are finished. We still have much to do. But I hope you understand my commitment to ensuring that Georgetown Law is a place in which every individual — student, faculty and staff — feels welcome and thrives. I am dedicated to the important work that lies ahead, and I know that our faculty and staff are as well.
Sent on March 15, 2021
Dear Georgetown Law Community,
There is much work to do following the recently shared video and its aftermath, and we will continue our efforts and the conversation in multiple fora. But today, I want to say a bit more about the students in the Negotiations Seminar taught by former Professors Sellers and Batson. I have received many questions about the welfare of these students, as well as offers of assistance, from faculty, staff, other students, and alumni. Because many of you who have not yet reached out may have similar questions or impulses to offer help, I wanted to say a few more words.
This class is known as a book-end course, meaning all of its meetings took place over two weekends in February. The class is not scheduled to meet again. Although we have no need to recruit a replacement instructor for this course, I am grateful that we received several unsolicited volunteers to step into the class from full-time and adjunct faculty, as well as from alumni in the field.
I asked Associate Dean Ohm to develop a proposal to ensure the fair completion of the assignments for and grading of this course. Associate Dean Ohm has worked with several Assistant Deans to develop what I believe to be a fair, compassionate, and academically rigorous plan. Each piece of written work for the class will be anonymously graded by another professor with experience in negotiations; we have also made the last required assignment in the class optional, so students are not required to revisit the content of this class if they choose not to. Sandra Sellers and David Batson will have no further participation in this class. Associate Dean Ohm met with students from the class last week to share this plan and to offer the administration’s support.
The video that was posted involved faculty referencing the performance of Black students and a specific student in a disparaging and reprehensible way. Ordinarily, I would not write publicly about a particular student, but in this case, I think it is important to correct an unfairly distorted record. That student has given me permission to clarify that record. The individual, whose identity we are not sharing, is an excellent student, and one with a very strong record at Georgetown and history of excelling academically prior to Georgetown. Our law school has been greatly enriched by the student’s presence. We are deeply disappointed that they were unfairly singled out in the video in this way.
Our deans and academic advisors have met with members of the class as a group and also reached out to students particularly affected by the video incident. Our entire student advising and counseling team continues to be available to support any student in the Negotiations course. They also are here to support any student who may have concerns or be struggling after learning about the incident. Students are encouraged to reach out to Deans Ohm or Bailin, Dr. Judith Pérez-Caro in the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Maura DeMouy in the Office of the Dean of Students, or any trusted mentor or advisor if they need help or a place to process these troubling events.
Sent on March 11, 2021
To the Georgetown Law Community,
As I wrote to you last night, I am appalled that two members of our faculty engaged in a conversation that included reprehensible statements concerning the evaluation of Black students. I have further reviewed the incident and have now spoken to Professor Sellers and Professor Batson, giving each the opportunity to provide any additional context. I informed Professor Sellers that I was terminating her relationship with Georgetown Law effective immediately. During our conversation, she told me that she had intended to resign. As a result of my decision, Professor Sellers is no longer affiliated with Georgetown Law. Professor Batson has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation by the Institutional Office of Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action, the results of which will inform our next steps. Until the completion of the investigation, Professor Batson will have no further involvement with the course in which the incident arose.
We are taking significant steps to ensure that all students in this class are fairly graded without the input of Professor Sellers or Professor Batson.
This is by no means the end of our work to address the many structural issues of racism reflected in this painful incident, including explicit and implicit bias, bystander responsibility, and the need for more comprehensive anti-bias training. This is a matter of great concern to me. I will be writing to you soon with a range of actions and changes that we will implement to address these issues. I will also send information about a listening session for the Georgetown Law student community that we plan to hold tomorrow.
Sent on March 10, 2021
To the Georgetown Law Community,
We learned earlier this week that two members of our faculty engaged in a conversation that included reprehensible statements concerning the evaluation of Black students. We are responding with the utmost seriousness to this situation. I have watched a video of this conversation and find the content to be abhorrent. It includes conduct that has no place in our educational community. We must ensure that all students are treated fairly and evaluated on their merits.
We are taking this incident extremely seriously. Upon hearing of it, I immediately engaged the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Affirmative Action, which is undertaking a thorough investigation. The Law School is also pursuing additional responses and will act swiftly and seriously to address this incident.
I recognize how hurtful this incident is to members of this class, to the members of the Black community, and to members of our community as a whole. I am committed to taking steps to support students through this and to addressing racism and bias wherever they appear. There is no place for bias in our grading process or anywhere in our community.