Wednesday, March 18, 2009

All Of This Has Happened Before, And All Of It Will Happen Again, Pt. 1

Le plus ca change le plus ca le meme chose? Maybe - the Virginia Law Weekly staff, in scouring through our archives (which go back to 1949!) found this article about controversy Professor Leslie in the April 22, 1988 issue. Both that issue and the week that proceeded have substantial coverage on the allegations outlined below - including a lengthy (and I mean LENGTHY) op-ed by Leslie himself defending the charges. We'll try to put some of this material online, consistent with the Law Weekly's policy on reproduction (opens a .pdf of the most recent issue, see just below the colophon). Please pardon the transcription errors . . . and stay tuned for more archived Law Weekly coverage.
Leslie's Response Stirs Controversy
Virginia Law Weekly
Joe Pankowski, Jr.
April 22, 1988
p. 1

Law School Prof. Douglas Leslie said that he didn't "feel ashamed or apologetic" this week about his classroom conduct following the circulation of a petition which asked the administration to investigate discriminatory remarks he allegedly made in class.

The petition, sponsored by the Virginia Law Women, the Jewish Law Students Association, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Black Law Students Association, was presented to the deans last Friday. Leaders of the groups said that many in the Law School community had supported the petition, but they did not know the actual number of people who signed it. In a sternly-worded response, Leslie denied that he engaged inr acists or sexist conduct, or conduct lacking in judgment.

Students in Leslie's Contracts and Employment Law classes aid the professor made an offensive comments on at least eight separate occasions. Three of the alleged statements were about blacks, with the others concerning Jews, Italians, homosexuals, women and the blind. Leslie answered each allegation in his letter, saying either that the particular incident never happened or that his statement or actions had been misunderstood.

For example, some students were concerned about Leslie's classroom treatment of Williams v. Walker Thomas Furniture Co., a case involving a poor women buying on credit. They particularly upset by Leslie's identification of the woman as "probably black," especially since her race was not mentioned in the decision. Lelsie said discussion of the case warranted consideration of the woman's race.

"It is my view that most students reading the case believe that a woman on public assistance buying a stereo in these circumstances in the District of Columbia is very likely to be black, whether the case identifies her race or not," said Lelsie, a professor at the University of Virginia since 1978. "This is not a statement about some inherent capability of black women, but rests on the empirical observation that there are more black women on public assistance in the District of Columbia than there are white women on pubic assistance."

Leslie, who said that no students have approached him about any of his in-class comments, questioned the motives of those behind the petition. He said that they knew the dean's office was already investigating the matter and that this petition was part of their diversity activist agenda. [emphasis added]

"The only purpose of the petition was publicity, and I paid the price," Leslie said. "Could it be that the fact that because of my involvement in the law and economics program and my known personal friendship with the incoming dean, I was thought to be opposed to the activists' goals and potentially an important influence in school affairs, and thus a satisfactory target?"

The students who back the petition and at least one faculty member disagree. Prof. Gary Peller, in a four page letter in today's Law Weekly, said Leslie had unfairly characterized the motives of the students.

"(Leslie's) accusation that 'some political activists are falsely accusing him because they object to his law and economics approach strikes me as incredible," Peller said. "This accusation should be allowed to trivialize or obscure the serious issues that have been raised about whether Professor Leslie made racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks in class, and whether institution will deal with allegations in a fair manner."

James F. Williams, who said that he was an objective observer of the incident, said in his letter to the Law Weekly that the measure had absolutely political purpose. "No one involved with the petition ever contemplated some broader political agenda would be further by it or that anyone objectively viewing the situation would reach such a conclusion," Williams said. "The petition was merely a response to valid student concerns that have been generally expressed over the course of three years and that crystallized this this semester in such discontent that warranted expression to the administration."

Representatives of the organizations supporting the petition and other students met with Leslie last Thusday to try to resolve their problems. The meting, which was attended by Prof. Stephen Saltzburg and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Elizabeth Lowe, didn't lead to any progress. In fact, it may have exacerbated the situation.

In a letter which he posted on the records office bulletin board, Leslie said he was not given the chance to answer all of the charges aginst him a the meeting. "I sought to give an oral account of each incident, along the lines set out in the memorandum, but they would not let me get beyond the first incident - that it is racist to identify Mrs. Williams in Williams v. Walter-Thomas as black," Leslie said.

Yet, in response to Leslie's letter also placed on the bulletin board, third-year student Mark Scudder said the professor had mischaracterized the tone and substance of the meeting. Scudder said that the 40-minute discussion of the Walker-Thomas incident was going nowhere and the group unanimously agreed to depart the incident-by-incident progress.

"The students did not deny Leslie to opportunity to address the allegeations against him," Scudder said. "All, including Leslie, agreed to abandon the format."

At the meeting Scudder said the group agreed on a two-prong solution to the Leslie situation. First, Leslie, Dean Merrill and concerned students would come up with a way in which Leslie would teach his courses in an inoffensive maner. Second, a permanent faculty commitee would be assembled which would provide a forum so that students could voice their concerns in complete privacy.

Leslie, however, siad that his Employment Law course requires a discusison of employment discirmination issues. In that he didn't wish to offend any student, Leslie said that he would never again teach Employment Law, [emphasis added] according to Scudder. An administration source has confirmed that Leslie will no longer teach Employment Law.

"The students urged Leslie to teach the course, but to eliminate the offensive comments," Scudder said. "Leslie said that he could not conceive a teaching the course in any other way, and that he would be too self conscious in his lectures."
Some thoughts points that jump out (with no comment one way or the other):
  • Leslie and the administration said he wasn't going to teach Employment Law anymore (?)
  • Leslie blamed the petition on diversity activists - those diversity activists are still around, North Grounds, are they not?
  • We've started transcribing Leslie's response, and hope to have it up soon.
  • We've heard that there is now a petition to keep Leslie as a Prof. circulating.
  • Apologies to BSG. Too lazy to come up with originally / witty post titles. Or paying homage. Whichever . . .
Previous Coverage:
Secret's Out: Cavalier Daily Runs' Story on Students' Accusations; VLW Report Pending
UVA Law Prof Draws Controversy for Remarks; Virginia Law Weekly to do a Full Report

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm usually quite anti-PC, but Leslie's defense of his logic regarding the Williams case is ridiculous. If I were black, I would be deeply offended. Furthermore, race had no bearing on that case whatsoever. Two similar allegations 20 years apart certainly give the students some added credibility here.

A girl 1980 said...

Let's circulate a petition to abolish the discretionary participation component to grades!!!

Anonymous said...

A girl 1980 said: "Let's circulate a petition to abolish the discretionary participation component to grades!!!"

Might be a good idea, but doesn't address still-current controversies.

Lets learn more about the "discretionary participation component" that Leslie utilized.

Anonymous said...

Abolishing the discretionary component to grading would address the current controversy because it would protect all students from having their grade based on race, religion, or marital status.

So far as the current controversy is whether or not Leslie made inappropriate comments: No, it doesn't address that. But I submit that the inappropriate comments were only really harmful because they were seen as a proxy for his tendency to discriminate against members of certain religious or racial groups. If his tendency to discriminate cannot translate into bad grades (because the discretionary grading component is gone), then the inappropriate comments do less harm.

Anonymous said...

"Abolishing the discretionary component to grading would address the current controversy because it would protect all students from having their grade based on race, religion, or marital status."

Going forward, yes. But let's find out more about this discretionary component, and abt how it impacted grading in the classes that gave rise to these complaints.

Anonymous said...

Sure - and while we're at it let's abolish it for the future........

Anonymous said...

I would be very surprised if the school has not already looked at this. When professors have a participation component, they must first submit a set of grades to the registrar before they can get back the names. Thus, when they adjust the grades to reflect participation, the SRO knows what a particular student's grade was before application of the participation component and after. It would be easy to see how those adjustments were made as a general matter and across certain demographics. It doesn't necessarily say anything about intent, but it says something. Again, I imagine that this has already been looked at.

Anonymous said...

The discretionary participation component to grades is the tip of the iceberg. I have been fortunate to have avoided taking a class with this professor, but it seems clear to me that creating a learning environment which fosters open hostility to racial, religious and sexual orientation minorities, as well as women, is likely to have substantial impact of its own on students. It may serve to silence, degrade and understandably distract both students who are members of these groups and students who are not. It is appalling that this issue was not handled twenty years ago. If these allegations are true, Doug Leslie should have been effectively disciplined a long time ago. Instead, it was the professor who supported the petition in 1988 who left the law school that year. What a shame for UVA. I am disgusted and embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

It seems like many (if not most) of these comments are made by people who have not taken any Leslie classes. I have, and while he certainly makes insensitive and sometimes outrageous comments, they often get blown way out of proportion. As for the comments regarding the Williams case, obviously race did not play a direct role in that case but can you definitively say that race played no role. That is one of the positive things about Leslie. He is not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking but not willing to talk about. He is clearly offensive at times (he has said things that could be offensive to myself, but I choose not to take offense), but I don't think he intends to offend people. He just has a fetish for controversy and attention.

Anonymous said...

If he loves controversy and attention, he's probably having a great week. And yes while many may have been "thinking" what Leslie said, that doesn't make it any less offensive. People "think" a lot of things, that doesn't make it OK to say them, especially to a group of law students. If I tell my buddy his girlfriend is ugly, I don't think he'll dismiss it simply as me being "controversial"

Anonymous said...

I'm not defending him in any way; I'm just trying to give a little more perspective on the "situation". I think some of the things he says are outrageous, and he should be held responsible for them. However, I don't think he is a racist and I don't think his goal is to hurt people.

1L who took Leslie's Contracts said...

10:06 said: "Hope the Law Weekly address the the fact that, at least as I heard it, not a single complaint was made to anyone (Deans Mahoney, Ballenger, Ryan. . .etc) until after grades went up"

9:27 said: "It seems like many (if not most) of these comments are made by people who have not taken any Leslie classes."

I was in Leslie's Contracts class which is at the heart of this controversy, and let me say, this has in no way been blown out of proportion. I (along with most of the class) was shocked that a professor who ran such an outrageously unprofessional class was allowed to teach at a school like UVA. The concern about his favoritism, btw, was discussed among all of us in the class LONG before grades came out. We knew the "participation" grade was a joke. His actions (ignoring/cutting off certain students and cold-calling his favorites EVERY DAY) made it clear that some were welcome to participate and some weren't. We all knew it, we all talked about it during the semester. The worst thing about it was, Leslie emphasized his "participation" grade all the time, which made his delight in snubbing/cutting people off seem motivated by some sort of sadism rather than just favoritism. I believe some students DID in fact complain to the dean during the semester, and for those of us who didn't, it's easy to see why...we didn't want to risk Leslie finding out about it and factoring that into our "participation" grade.

Anonymous said...

Re: 1L who took Leslie's Contracts class

Still doesn't explain the lack of course evals on this.

Also, I completely agree about the participation grading being ridiculous. But disagreeing with a professor's grading policies (particularly in such a post-hoc way no matter how much you try to paint it otherwise) is in no way the same thing as labeling him racist. Your entire comment only makes me more confident that the allegations are the result of bruised egos and disappointing grades.

Does Leslie's use of participation in grading suck? Yes. Does that make him a racist? Of course not.

1L who took Leslie's Contracts said...

Anonymous said: "Re: 1L who took Leslie's Contracts class: Still doesn't explain the lack of course evals on this."

The reason this wasn't mentioned in the course evals was because Leslie didn't give the class a chance to fill out the course evaluations, like all other professors did. He didn't tell us to fill them out and leave the room, like most profs. That's why no one filled out evals on him in the first place. Only two students filled out evaluations because Leslie didn't notify us until evaluations were closed.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has taken a Leslie course before - it is true that he never mentions evaluations, and never sets aside time in class for people to fill them out. Look at all his course evals on LawWeb - they consistently have a low number of comments.

Anonymous said...

A prof doesn't need to ask his class to fill out an eval for an eval to be posted.

To put it another way, Dean Ryan didn't ask you to come by and see him, right?

Anonymous said...

"Still doesn't explain the lack of course evals on this.

Also, I completely agree about the participation grading being ridiculous. But disagreeing with a professor's grading policies (particularly in such a post-hoc way no matter how much you try to paint it otherwise) is in no way the same thing as labeling him racist. Your entire comment only makes me more confident that the allegations are the result of bruised egos and disappointing grades.

Does Leslie's use of participation in grading suck? Yes. Does that make him a racist? Of course not."

1:48 PM

You are clearly the stupidest person who has been posting in these threads. You do not seem to be able to wrap your stupid head around some of the clear inferences that can be drawn by the ever-growing factual record in this case.

Anonymous said...

"I completely agree about the participation grading being ridiculous. But disagreeing with a professor's grading policies (particularly in such a post-hoc way no matter how much you try to paint it otherwise) is in no way the same thing as labeling him racist. Your entire comment only makes me more confident that the allegations are the result of bruised egos and disappointing grades."


Oh, so when you don't feel comfortable discussing a hypothetical about Leslie impregnating the girl on the front row and your grade gets reduced because of it, you're just a whiner?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Someone buy an e-ticket for Doug Leslie so he can fly away from us said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I took 5 Leslie classes while I was at UVA.

I'm not going to go into a full-blown defense of Prof. Leslie or his classes on this blog, other than to say this is completely ridiculous. He is not racist. He is not sexist. He makes a concerted effort to call on people who don't feel comfortable volunteering, especially in his 1L classes.

Oh, and don't worry if he cuts you off. So long as you opened your mouth and said anything, you get your participation credit for the day.

The bulk of this PC whining sounds like it probably comes from some students who are stressed out about not being able to find a job, and have no idea how to study for Leslie's class and are worried that it will negatively impact their GPA. To them I say: get over it. You don't know how lucky you are to not have to study for an exam when the rest of your classmates are studying their asses off for property right now.

Grow up, people. Get over yourselves and grow a thicker skin.

J said...

I absolutely cannot believe the shitstorm that has been made over this professor. If grading is based in part on student participation, I could understand a complaint that he was not calling on minority students AT ALL. But Jesus, minority students having to "waive their hands" to get his attention? GIVE ME A BREAK. He is either truly not calling on minority students or he is but in a fashion that makes overly race-conscious minority students feel uncomfortable. Give me verifiable, uncontrived evidence that he has called on the average white student, say, 5 times but the average minority student, say, 1 time – controlling for demographics of the class and hand-raising attempts – THEN we’ll talk. But until then, claims of having to “waive one’s hands” to get his attention, or the use of broad and vague terms such as “enough” to describe his failure to call, will get no sympathy for me. The victimhood in this country is out of control.