Report Addresses Allegations of Racism at Florida Law School
Aconsultant’s report on racial issues at the University of Florida College of Law says the school’s major problem is a “culture of name calling” in which professors lash out at each other through e-mail and in faculty meetings.
“Everyone, almost without exception, complained about a general lack of collegiality that affected every aspect of institutional life,” wrote mediator John Sands.
Sands, a New York lawyer, who has mediated more than 3,000 cases over 30 years, was hired in October to compile a report on allegations of racism at the Levin College of Law. He interviewed 65 administrators, current and former faculty members, students and staff.
Associate Dean Kenneth Nunn resigned from his administrative position in September, citing the law school’s inability to retain Black faculty members (see Black Issues, Oct. 12, 2000).
At the time, Nunn was the only Black full-time professor among the school’s 54 full-time faculty members. The law school has since hired two more Black faculty members.
Saying that the atmosphere at the law school was “inhospitable to African Americans,” law Dean Jon Mills hired Sands to investigate the problem and suggest solutions.
In his final report released earlier this month, Sands praises law school faculty for making improvements in race relations over the past few months.
“We have a lot left to do,” Mills says. “We want to confront it in an upfront manner.”
The report shows the law school as an institution torn apart by interpersonal conflicts.
“Many of the complaints expressed to me by minority faculty and students involved incidents of disparate treatment that they took to be racist and for which the actors denied racial motivation and accused the complainers of hypersensitive or ‘playing the race card,'” Sands wrote.
Nunn says he feels vindicated by the report and that the law school had ample warning of its “collegiality” problem.
“The important thing is that (Sands) stated that there have been problems at the law school in the past that have been ignored,” Nunn says.
The report said professors have resorted to name calling at the law school’s faculty meetings, and scolded each other with “critical or insulting e-mails.”
The report attributes much of that behavior to what it calls the school’s “diversity versus curriculum” debate.
Some professors, including Nunn, have argued that the law school hasn’t done enough to attract minority professors. Others on the faculty say the university’s curriculum needs should come before racial diversity.
According to the report, “extremists” on both sides of the debate have been “bullying” faculty members who take the middle ground.
No professor was mentioned by name in any of those accounts.
Among other possible solutions, Sands suggested the law school create an ombudsman’s office to handle student complaints, and he suggested an increase in funding for the law school’s Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.
Sands applauded a project by the Law Review and Black Law Students Association to draft a “civility code” governing interpersonal relationships.
Law professor Joe Little, a key figure on the curriculum side of the debate, says the report is filled with “unsubstantiated allegations.” If people are going to accuse their colleagues of racist acts, he says, they should name names.
The report also cites apparently unrelated incidents in which professors ignored minority students in the classroom, made inappropriate jokes about female students’ breasts and ridiculed students with regional and ethnic accents.
Mills says several of the suggestions in Sands’ report have already been implemented.
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