Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

CUNY Law School Dean Resigns After Referring To Herself As A 'Slaveholder' At Faculty Meeting; She Pleads With University To Immediately Appoint An Interim Dean

Karen Sloan (, 'Slaveholder' Comment Prompts CUNY Law Dean's Departure:

BilekThe dean of the City University of New York School of Law has revealed that her decision to retire was precipitated by a racially offensive comment she made during a faculty meeting in November.

In a March 20 email to the law school community, Mary Lu Bilek explained that she referred to herself as a “slaveholder” during a committee meeting in which members were discussing the appointment of an associate dean. Bilek, who is white, earlier this year announced her intention to step down as dean and retire at the end of the academic year, but had not explained the reason for her departure. She also urged the university to move quickly to appoint an interim dean so she could leave the school before June.

Update:  Karen Sloan (, 'Slaveholder' Comment Roiled CUNY Law for Months Prior to Dean's Mea Culpa:

A New York law dean’s decision to retire after referring to herself as a “slaveholder” during a faculty meeting in the fall was preceded by months of escalating tension with the school’s faculty, stemming from her push to grant early tenure to a white professor ahead of several minority professors.

City University of New York School of Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek explained in a March 20 email to the law school community that her use of the offensive racial term during a personnel and budget committee meeting was the reason for her upcoming retirement—which she initially announced Jan. 19 with no mention of the incident. She apologized in the March 20 email, said she was in counseling, and urged university officials to name an interim dean before her planned departure in June.

But letters from faculty dating back to December suggest that her departure isn’t the result of a single offhand comment—some people on social media have decried the situation as an example of so-called “cancel culture” spiraling out of control. Rather, the correspondence indicates that Bilek’s handling of the tenure controversy and her delay in acknowledging and apologizing for her “slaveholder” comment eroded trust with many faculty members, who issued a series of accountability and governance demands they say were not met. (Bilek did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

“We are disappointed that Dean Bilek failed to respond meaningfully to the requests by faculty of color and allies for reparative action, and that she stalled the process of mending the harm,” according to a March 22 letter signed by 45 CUNY Law faculty. “Nonetheless, her decision to retire creates an opportunity to envision a future for the law school that more fully embodies our anti-racist goals and aspirations.”

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