W&M Law students complain of department's lack of action against racial insensitivity

aheymann@vagazette.com

On Nov. 10, after a speech that didn’t go as planned and two town hall meetings, the College of William and Mary published an apology for their handling of the McGlothlin Leadership Forum, including statements from President Katherine Rowe and Davison Douglas, dean of the law school.

The speaker even returned to campus to listen to student complaints and apologize.

Jim McGlothlin, a major donor to the law school, was invited to speak about leadership to law and business school students at the McGlothlin Leadership Forum’s lunch on Oct. 31.

McGlothlin said he discussed his views on respect for the Pledge of Allegiance, authority and police. He talked about the lack of leadership in how the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were handled. After the talk and at the town hall meeting, students complained that he addressed the topics in a racially insensitive manner. At the talk, students were not given a chance to respond or ask questions, and one table of students was asked to stand and applaud when McGlothlin finished speaking.

The next day, the law school held the first of two town hall meetings to hear student complaints. The meeting ended after an hour, so the law school scheduled a second town hall, because Douglas said in an email to students there was more to discuss.

The day after the second town hall, held a week later, before Rowe’s apology was published, McGlothlin returned to campus to meet with students. He met with a large group at the Law School who attended the luncheon, as well as other students who wanted to talk about the luncheon.

He later held a second meeting with leaders of affinity groups.

“I did not learn (students) had any issues whatsoever until a week later at about 10 or 11 o’clock at night … and the next morning I got on the plane, came up to Williamsburg to tell them that whatever caused them to feel pain or hurt — I wanted to apologize to them because I never intended that,” McGlothlin said.

“I went there hoping to add something to the students’ life and I ended up taking away something, and I didn’t want that to be a painful experience for them at all.”

Douglas said McGlothin personally spoke to each student in the room, before going to meet with law school student leaders.

“I understand their pain because I have pain, and I am really just so sorry that I did it,” McGlothlin said. “I’m truly sorry.”

Then Rowe issued her statement: “William and Mary’s mission of teaching, learning and research depends crucially on our ability to empower all members of our community to offer principled dissent, ensuring open debate as we air diverse viewpoints.

“We fell unacceptably short of that core principle and must hold ourselves to a high standard going forward.”

Before the apology

The day following the luncheon, law school administrators held a town hall for students to talk about their experience and feelings.

“At the first town hall meeting, Douglas appeared to have been apologizing for Mr. McGlothlin’s comments,” said Kaili Moss, a law school student who attended the meeting. “(Douglas) said that (McGlothlin) was a very kind and generous man and that he had a hard upbringing.”

Patricia Roberts, vice dean of the law school, said while McGlothlin’s lecture topics were unexpected, the school does not condemn or endorse any speaker at the law school.

Douglas sent an apology email to students after the second town hall meeting.

“I was wrong; I should have acknowledged the pain that students were feeling as a result of the comments from the speaker and recognized that the Law School played a role in exacerbating that impact when some students felt they couldn’t leave, and others were told to stand and applaud,” Douglas wrote. “This is not the community we aspire to be.”

Douglas said he would appoint a task force to evaluate how the Law School is failing to meet its values. The task force will be made up of alumni, students and faculty. Brian Whitson, William and Mary spokesperson, said Douglas is still in the process of making appointments to the group.

The task force will file monthly progress reports and submit its final recommendations by April 30.

In the end, William and Mary's administration apologized for failing students because the college’s actions did not match its values.

“We recognize that the promotion of diversity in our community requires opportunities for dialogue between people of different backgrounds and viewpoints; recently we failed to provide those opportunities,” a statement from Douglas said. “The Law School has made mistakes, and with your help, we will make a significant course correction that will improve our community for all of its members.”

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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