Law professors may be a highly educated bunch, but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally do or say something dumb—or outright offensive—that lands them in trouble. The latest professor to go down that road is Paul Zwier at Emory University School of Law, who said the N-word during a torts class last month.
Here’s a short list of legal educators who in recent times have courted controversy with their words or actions. (Note, we’re not including professors and deans who have engaged in harassment or sexual misconduct, who unfortunately could populate a separate list.)
Amy Wax, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 2018
The Amy Wax controversy at Penn Law was a slow burn, smoldering for months before the law school took formal action. Its origins go back to an op-ed piece longtime faculty member Wax co-wrote in the fall of 2017 that many found racist. The piece argued that a breakdown of cultural norms from the 1950s and 1960s has weakened the United States, and it singled out the “rap culture of inner-city blacks” and the growing “anti-assimilation ideas” among Hispanic immigrants as examples of negative trends. Some students were unhappy, but the administration remained out of the fray until this March, when a video interview Wax recorded with a Brown University economics professor months earlier made the internet rounds. In it, Wax claims black law students at Penn always land near the bottom of the class, which she argued was a “downside of affirmative action.” The school stripped Wax of first-year course teaching duties on the grounds that students should not be required to take her classes. (The school said she violated grade confidentiality rules, and denied her claims about the weak performance of black students.)
Nancy Shurtz, the University of Oregon, 2016
This one is strange. Professor Nancy Shurtz went to an off-campus Halloween party, attended by some fellow faculty members and students in 2016. Her choice of costume? An African-American doctor, complete with blackface. It did not go over well with some party attendees. Shurtz said she never meant to offend. She was dressed as the title character from the book “Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine,” a 2015 memoir by Damon Tweedy that highlights the challenges of being a black doctor, including being mistaken for a handyman by a medical school professor. The costume included a white lab coat, stethoscope and an afro wig. She apologized, but 23 faculty members signed a letter calling on her to resign. A university investigation concluded that she violated its anti-discrimination policy and she was placed on administrative leave. She returned to campus in July.
Donald Hermann, DePaul University College of Law, 2018
Here we are again, with yet another law school controversy revolving around the N-word. Last spring, it was DePaul professor Donald Hermann who was scrutinized for repeatedly using the racial slur in class. Hermann said he uttered the word during a lesson on provocation in order to make the point that words hold power. But some students weren’t swayed and complained to the administration. Students were then allowed to transfer out of the class—the majority did—and the class was canceled a week later. Hermann said he had been treated unfairly by the school.
Glenn Reynolds, University of Tennessee College of Law, 2016
Prominent conservative law professor Glenn Reynolds is no shrinking violet. He’s best known as the author of the popular Instapundit blog. But it was his Twitter account that generated some negative attention in September 2016. Reynolds tweeted “Run them down” paired with a news photos of protesters shutting down a Charlotte interstate. They were protesting the police shooting and death of Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American man. Twitter briefly suspended Reynolds from the platform. (He had more than 30,000 followers at the time.) The law school and university investigated the incident, but took no disciplinary action against Reynolds.
Paul Zwier, Emory University School of Law, 2018
We’ll wrap up with the aforementioned Zwier, who caused an uproar on the Atlanta campus in August when he used the N-word in his first-year torts class. The incident spurred a “unity rally” organized by the Emory Black Law Students Association and an apology from Zwier. The law school launched an investigation, and this week announced that Zwier would not teach mandatory first-year courses, for which students can’t choose their professors, for two years. The outcome closely mirrored Penn Law’s handling of the Amy Wax dustup.