TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, January 9, 2017

Law Prof Objects To Vilification Of Nancy Shurtz, But Concedes 'Her Social Skills May Need Work': Tax Faculty 'Tend To Be A Bit 'Different''


David Barnhizer (Cleveland State), The Vilification of Nancy [Shurtz]:

I don’t know Oregon law professor Nancy Shurtz. But I do know that no American law professor at this point in time would knowingly or intentionally use racist language or dress up in “blackface” as a demonstration of personal racial bias against Americans of African ancestry. I believe her when she says what she was doing was intended as the opposite of racial disparagement and that it represented her intention to bring out to colleagues at a social gathering the continuing discrimination and denial of opportunity that blacks in America still disproportionately suffer. Professor Shurtz’s attempted message about the continuing effects of racial discrimination obviously fell flat.

Perhaps, unlike most law professors, Shurtz’s social skills need work. After all, she teaches tax and we know that many tax faculty members tend to be a bit “different”. One thing I have no difficulty concluding, however, is that while her execution wasn’t the smartest thing to do, her intentions were good (and perhaps even noble). I also have no doubt that given the attacks on her professional and personal character by some extremely vocal and hyper-sensitive law students, by the “usual suspects” who feed on accusations of racial bias, and by “trusted colleagues” at the law school and in the University of Oregon’s administration bleating about “sensitivity”, “inclusiveness”, “offensiveness” and the like that Nancy Shurtz has been dehumanized and objectified to such a degree that she must feel she is traveling the “road to Hell” regardless of her intentions.

As tragically demonstrated by the situation at the University of Oregon, our so-called social discourse about truly fundamental issues such as race has become dehumanizing, paranoid and malicious. Any word or action that can possibly be used as a means to gain and exercise power is now seen as a weapon by groups who may well have real grievances but are applying “ends justify the means” strategies that allow them to use innocent human beings as nothing more than “things” to advance their agendas. The vilification of an individual such as Nancy Shurtz, who may have done something well-intentioned but a bit unwise in the politically intolerant culture we now inhabit, particularly in an ultraliberal academic culture whose members are professional critics capable of “reading” others’ minds and the underlying intentions of their behavior, is a witch hunt.

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