LSU Law Center Diversity
Student Concerns with Racial Diversity
In mid-October 2014, the Louisiana State University Law Center announced it had selected seventeen legal practitioners from across the country to teach one-week intersession courses (called Apprenticeship Week) on a variety of practical subjects. The Law Center’s criteria for selecting the intersession faculty was not made public; however, many students noted the practitioners chosen were primarily white men. Students began to question the Law Center’s valuation of diversity in decision-making processes. After collectively considering racial diversity among faculty, gender diversity in the classroom, and the decision-making process that led to an almost all white intersession faculty, many students ultimately concluded there is little to no valuation of diversity at the Law Center.
On October 20, I wrote Law Center Chancellor Jack M. Weiss a letter discussing my personal observations of racial diversity at the school. That evening, Weiss acknowledged the letter but refused to meet to discuss my concerns and proposals. According to his email, Weiss planned to “give some thought how best to address [the letter’s] concerns.” Weiss said he would “be back in touch” with me after doing so. Weiss never again initiated contact with me about the letter, its contents, or my proposals.
On October 23, Weiss sent a school-wide memorandum appointing a diversity task force, one member of which was the lead organizer for the complained-about Apprenticeship Week. Unfortunately, Weiss did not reach out beforehand to the students he appointed to the task force, many of whom supported the faculty meeting I called for in the October 20 letter. Weiss did not address (or cc) his memorandum to me; and he never addressed my letter’s request for a faculty meeting, despite many faculty members writing to support the call for diversity. At least one faculty member, who was not aware of the task force until mid-day on October 23, when s/he was asked to serve, remained unaware of the task force’s power, scope, or budget, if any, for weeks.
In an October 27 interview with The Daily Reveille, Weiss acknowledged the proposals I made in the October 20 letter. “Everything the law center does is due to financial constraints and [on a] priority basis,” Weiss said. “I can’t commit to hiring a new administrator, but I will give it serious consideration if the task force proposes it.” Weiss’s interview suggested he was likely to prevent faculty from meaningfully considering my proposals unless the diversity task force were to adopt them. Although the diversity task force was a clear step forward for the Law Center, Weiss never released details on its budget, powers, schedule, or scope, which raised questions as to the Law Center’s commitment to reform.
On October 28, following Weiss’s interview with The Daily Reveille and after more than a week of radio silence between us, I reinitiated contact with him. Replying to Weiss’s October 20 email stating he would “be back in touch” with me, I thanked him for taking time to mull over my concerns and asked “whether faculty and administration ha[d] considered my meeting request and/or proposals.” Weiss responded on October 29, in pertinent part, “Mr. Alagood: As you know, within a few days after I received your letter of October 20, I responded to your letter . . . by appointing a broad based task force including students, faculty, and alumni to address your concerns . . . . [L]et’s give the task force a fair chance to do its work.” Weiss’s announcement of the task force did not, however, address my concerns. Rather, the announcement memorandum attempted to undermine assertions I made in the October 20 letter, and the task force appointment allowed Weiss cover to avoid considering my concerns until after I graduated in May 2015.
The Daily Reveille reported on diversity at the Law Center and the task force in a second article on November 3, 2014. In that article, an African American student member of the diversity task force retold his story as the victim of violence and racial epithets during a 2012 altercation with a white LSU Law student. The report highlighted the Law Center’s recent appointment of the diversity task force but noted that the alleged culprit of the 2012 incident was not subject to discipline because the Law Center student ethics committee had determined racial epithets were not violative of the Code of Student Professional Responsibility. The article’s substance was largely confirmed by an April 2015 memorandum from LSU Law Center Vice Chancellor Raymond M. Diamond to Weiss and Law Center faculty, proposing the honor code be amended to proscribe similar behavior in the future.
On November 7, 2014, The Daily Reveille‘s editor in chief, Chandler Rome, wrote a front-page column calling into question the veracity of the two earlier articles. Apparently drawing largely upon the memorandum Weiss sent when announcing the task force, the Reveille editor claimed the earlier articles did not “provid[e] both sides of the story.” The editor’s column, however, proceeded to present numbers and claims fed by Weiss and Law Center administration–more to come, including records, on that topic in a later update–without further investigating the Law Center’s dubious claims. Nevertheless, the editor did not assert the earlier articles on diversity at the Law Center were substantively incorrect.
Around the same time as the Reveille column, the editor in chief of The Civilian (a self-described student publication for the LSU Law Center community) ran a front page story similarly drawing upon Law Center administration data in an attempt to undermine earlier reports of student concerns with diversity at the Law Center. At the time suspecting Faulk was part of a propaganda and disinformation campaign against me, I declined to be interviewed. As the Faulk Files show, my reaction was correct. Faulk’s story was developed in collaboration with Karen Soniat, LSU Law Center Director of Communications and External Relations. Indeed, Soniat edited Faulk’s story. Faulk knew her story “may be personally attacking Alagood” but “fe[lt] like it needs to be said.”
LSU Law Professor Elizabeth Carter responded to Rome and Faulk in a November 14, 2014 letter to the editors. Carter, writing in her personal capacity, called into question the editors’ unquestioning reliance of numbers and data provided by Law Center administration. “By simply parroting these numbers without any context or skepticism,” Carter wrote, “you violate that very journalistic tenet you claim to support. You have done no better than the staff member whom you have elected to publicly shame with your unconvincing mea culpa. The only difference, by your own admission, is that you should know better.” Carter questioned why the editors implicitly agreed with Weiss’s comparison of LSU to other Southeastern Conference schools and whether the editors had fact checked the data provided regarding faculty diversity at the Law Center. Carter told Rome his “claim that the Reveille . . . did not reach out to anyone affiliated with the Law Center for comment [on the student altercation and epithet story] is simply untrue. [The writer] asked for comments regarding Mr. Barnes’ experience, as well as the experiences of other students and faculty members. When she reached out to me, I explained to Ms. Clark that she could not use my name in her article because I feared retaliation by the Law Center faculty and administration.”
Although The Daily Reveille declined to run Carter’s letter to the editor, it ran a similar letter from more than a dozen Law Center faculty (including Carter) on December 4. That letter, addressed to both Rome and Faulk, described Rome’s repudiation and Faulk’s story as “in many ways contribut[ing] to [a] pattern” of revictimization in which a student’s willingness to speak about his or her experiences is met with censorship, compounding discrimination, and fear of retribution.
In December 2014, the LSU Law Center asked Professor Emeritus Kenneth Murchison to investigate the use of demeaning speech at the Law Center. Murchison’s report, completed in April 2015, is available here. Among other things, Murchison found “disturbing” incidents and use of what he describes as “hate speech.” The Murchison Report includes a number of recommendations to curb offensive behavior in the academy.
For more information on the Murchison Report on Incidents of Demeaning Speech at LSU Law and the Diamond Memo on Epithets and Student Conduct, visit the LSU Law Info page.
In a press release issued July 3, 2015, LSU Law Center Dean and Chancellor Jack M. Weiss announced he would step down in August. According to the press release, Weiss’s resignation is the result of “major policy differences with a vocal segment of the faculty.” Weiss’s announcement came less than two days after I requested immediate inspection of a letter from faculty to LSU administration, which sources tell me expresses faculty’s lack of confidence in Weiss’s leadership. Among the policy differences with faculty Weiss cited as underlying his decision was his “strong support for reunification of the LSU Law Center with LSU,” which may come as a surprise to students enrolled at LSU Law during the fall semester 2012, when Weiss pleaded with students to protest the merger. He even provided students with talking points to support the Law Center’s independence.
The Diversity Task Force, appointed in October 2014, did not complete its investigation and report until months after its deadline. The Diversity Task Force Report, first released here, provides a broad overview of diversity complaints and successes at the LSU Law Center; and the report makes seventeen recommendations for reform. Although it is a good first step toward meaningful diversity initiatives at the LSU Law Center, the Diversity Task Force Report suffers from a number of drawbacks:
(1) By undertaking an unfunded review of diversity in an unscientific manner without a student survey or systematic input from students and alumni, the Report does not provide a benchmark for measuring the effects of any reforms that may be adopted.
(2) The Report praises recent reforms by the LSU Law Center, particularly regarding Title IX changes and the partial adoption of recommendations in the Diamond Memorandum, without providing adequate context. Many of the positive reforms the Report highlights were reflective responses to damning allegations of wrongdoing and potential unlawful activities at the LSU Law Center.
(3) The Diversity Task Force side-stepped the most salient issues by taking a narrow view of its scope and avoiding a thorough investigation of actual allegations of racism, sexism, and homophobia directed at LSU Law Center minority students.
(4) By not confronting discriminatory incidents and exposing wrongdoers, including administrators who knew for years that LSU Law minority students were being harassed and discriminated against, the Diversity Task Force Report does nothing to sanction bad behavior. In essence, the bad guys got away.
(5) And the Diversity Task Force Report unfortunately avoids using direct evidence, such as student experience surveys, and appears not to have used Louisiana’s strong public records laws to go beyond a superficial review.