Paul L. Caron

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz Blasts University Of Oregon For Improperly Releasing Error Filled Report As 'Public Retaliation And Shaming'


Tax Prof Nancy Shurtz has released this statement in response to the University of Oregon's release of a report concluding that she violated the university's anti-discrimination policy by wearing blackface to a Halloween party at her home:


On Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, the University of Oregon improperly released a flawed investigative report into events surrounding a Halloween party that I hosted in my home. This release violated rights of employees to confidentiality guaranteed by law. In addition, the report contains numerous mistakes, errors and omissions that if corrected would have put matters in a different light. For example, it ignored the anonymous grading process, the presence of many non-students as guests, and the deceptive emails that created a firestorm in the law school.

I, and my legal advisers, were preparing a response to the draft report. Although the University was aware of our intention to submit our corrections by noon (local time) yesterday and to deal with its errors in-house, the Provost’s office or its advisers cynically decided to try to publicly shame me instead.

As the UO’s press release itself notes, the University is prohibited by law from disclosing personnel matters. But the press release and uncorrected Report act as a supremely public retaliation against me for seeking, even if clumsily, to raise issues of insufficient diversity in American professions. My attorney and I are evaluating our legal options.


(Note to reporters and editors: Pending the submittal of our comments to the UO, out of respect for all involved we will not comment any further on this ongoing process.)

Josh Blackman (South Texas), Oregon Law Professor Releases Statement: University Report Contains “Numerous Mistakes” and is “Supremely Public Retaliation”:

I am working on a followup post, with more analysis of the free speech implications, as well as a critique of the stunning silence of the law professors at Oregon, and elsewhere, in light of this troubling episode. For now, I am relieved to note that Professor Shurtz seems to be fighting back against this inquisition. ...

Good for Professor Shurtz. Every professor who cares about academic freedom and the Free Speech should be cheering her cause.

Register-Guard editorial, An Offense, Compounded:

Professor Nancy Shurtz’s boneheaded decision to wear a Halloween costume that involved putting on blackface makeup has caused a conflagration at the University of Oregon School of Law. But the response by faculty, students and administrators suggests that the tinder had already been laid — Shurtz provided no more than the spark. Elements of the response have been as dismaying as the initial offense, and the UO is now at risk of missing an opportunity to affirm what ought to be its core values. ...

Shurtz should have known that blackface evokes powerful stereotypes that no literary reference can obscure. A lab coat can’t cover her costume’s strong associations with racism and exploitation. The fact that she did not know this, or pause to think about it beforehand, is evidence that Shurtz is lacking in literacy of another kind — the cultural literacy that a professor in a 21st century school of law ought to possess. It is also evidence that she lives and works in an environment where it is possible to remain insulated from the historical and present-day realities of race in America. ...

The report also describes months of alleged turmoil at the law school, with students hurling racist insults, faculty members in tears and administrators not being “able to get a single other thing done besides deal with the aftermath of ... Shurtz’s costume.” Not a single thing? Tears? Racist insults? Anyone reading the report will finish it with the hope of never needing a lawyer. For the law school to be immobilized by an incident of racial cluelessness shows that sensitivities were already on a hair trigger before Shurtz planned her party. It shows a widespread inability to talk things through, to reason with others, and to deal with controversy — skills students should be honing in law school, and that faculty and administrators should already possess. ...

The UO needs to examine the insularity that breeds racial insensitivity, and it needs to find constructive ways to respond to racial incidents when they occur. Both needs can be pursued without diluting academic freedom or limiting free speech. They can be, and they must be — the path to understanding, in matters pertaining to race and anything else, will be found only if those values are vigorously defended.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education, Tax | Permalink


"I yield to no one in my opposition to racism. But making opposition to racism a caricature of itself only helps racists."

As a black person, I too am compelled to stand behind Ms. Shurtz in principle, precisely for the reasons so ably articulated in Mr. Seto's comment. Those wondering how Trump could have possibly gotten elected need look no further than the ethos embodied in Oregon's trite, cliche conduct.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 26, 2016 2:20:29 PM

Sue, Nancy, sue.

Posted by: John Steele | Dec 26, 2016 10:16:05 AM

Shurtz was going as "Black man in a white coat". How, exactly, do the perpetually offended propose she do that being as she has a natural white face. Political correctness continues to turn us into a passive society.

As I recall, this was a private party at Shurtz's home. In a rational society, the university would have nothing to say about this..

Posted by: Rick Caird | Dec 26, 2016 9:28:00 AM

Race (like gender) should be a personal preference. Maybe even more so since for gender there are only a couple of genetic options while for race there are many, many more. She should just assert that she identifies as black and go from there.

Posted by: Bob Read | Dec 26, 2016 8:19:54 AM

I stand with Nancy. At Oregon, offending others is now a strict liability offense -- no mens rea required. If one of a university's functions is to provide a forum for robust, uncensored debate, Oregon has failed miserably. This is political correctness run amok.

I yield to no one in my opposition to racism. But making opposition to racism a caricature of itself only helps racists.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Dec 26, 2016 12:25:09 AM

So, being white is now bad, but painting your skin darker is also bad. Unless you're born with dark skin, and then you can do no wrong. How far are we from gene therapy to give everyone that sought-after, natural-looking skin color of just the right amount of pigment so we all qualify for special treatment while being above suspicion of holding any racist thoughts?

Posted by: Tom | Dec 24, 2016 2:24:57 PM

Good for her! I hope she sues the hell out of that ridiculous school.

Posted by: lawprof | Dec 24, 2016 1:07:16 PM

the staff got blue pilled years ago.

Posted by: maw | Dec 24, 2016 10:37:33 AM