Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Washington University Law Review's Response To Michael McConnell's Use Of The N-Word In His Stanford Class

Statement by the Undersigned Editors of Volume 97, 97 Wash. U. L. Rev. i (2020):

Washington U. Law School Logo (2014)On May 27, 2020—two days after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota—professor and former judge Michael McConnell, the author of one of the following Articles, used the n-word in a class at Stanford Law School while reading a quotation he attributed to Patrick Henry. As members of the first legal journal to publish Professor McConnell since May 27, the undersigned editors of Volume 97 of the Washington University Law Review condemn Professor McConnell’s use of the n-word in the classroom. We believe that the use of this word in the classroom is unacceptable and unnecessary, as it significantly disrupts the learning environment and places a burden on Black students that other students do not face.

Michael W. McConnell (Stanford), Statement By Michael McConnell to Stanford Law School Community (May 29, 2020), 97 Wash. U. L. Rev. v (2020):

On Wednesday, in connection with the debates over ratification of the Constitution in Virginia, I quoted an ugly racial epithet used by Patrick Henry. I make it a priority in my class to emphasize issues of racism and slavery in the formation of the Constitution, and directly quote many statements by supporters and opponents of slavery. This was a particularly ugly incident, where the speaker sought to build opposition to the Constitution by stoking the racism of his Virginia audience. I presented the quotation in its historical context, emphasized that they were not my words, and condemned their use. It is vitally important to teach the history of the American Founding warts and all, and not to bowdlerize or sugar-coat it.  ...

I conclude with two points. First, I hope everyone can understand that I made the pedagogical choice with good will – with the intention of teaching the history of our founding honestly. Second, in light of the pain and upset that this has caused many students, whom I care deeply about, I will not use the word again in the future.

John Inazu (Washington University), Scholarship, Teaching, and Protest, 97 Wash. U. L. Rev. vii (2020):

The preceding protest stems from Professor Michael McConnell’s use of an unredacted historical quote containing the N-word in one of his classes at Stanford Law School. Professor McConnell began the quote with a warning and followed it with a condemnation. He intended to show how this nation’s founders were not unblemished heroes but also embodied deeply racist attitudes that have been part of our country’s history since its inception. In other words, Professor McConnell was making an anti-racist teaching point. After talking with concerned students at Stanford, he has said that he will not use the N-word again.

Some members of this Law Review determined this should not be the end of the matter, and this protest ensued. Parts of the protest statement highlight a desire to address racial inequities at our law school and within the Law Review. I applaud that desire. ...

While I stand with the protesters in their desire to address racial injustice, as the faculty editor of the symposium that follows, I object to this protest for four reasons.

First, the protest does not belong in a symposium on law and religion. Second, there is disagreement as to whether Professor McConnell actually violated an academic norm. Third, the protest creates ambiguities for current and future classroom norms. Finally, because Professor McConnell has already committed to changes in line with what the protesters presumably demand of him, the protest appears more punitive than change-oriented.

A decent society should also be committed to racial justice. That work remains an urgent matter for this country and for this law school, and I hope that the zeal behind this expressive protest carries over into concrete action to alleviate inequities and injustices. But I also hope that this kind of punitive protest—and the lack of grace for those with whom we work, and from whom we learn—will soon pass.

Legal Ed News, Legal Ed Scholarship, Legal Education | Permalink


What's next? Deleting the word from all historical references so that no one reading them will be offended? Prohibiting the English Department from ever assigning Huckleberry Finn or a certain Joseph Conrad novel whose title contains the word?

Posted by: Guy Helvering | Nov 17, 2020 8:35:34 AM