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U. Oregon Law Prof Put On Leave After Wearing Blackface at Halloween Party

U. Oregon Law Prof Put On Leave After Wearing Blackface at Halloween Party

So much for free speech: Put on leave, but calls grow for resignation, including from fellow law professors.

Professor Nancy Shurtz of the University of Oregon is in hot water right now over her choice to dress as a black man for a campus Halloween party. In her defense, she claims she chose the costume based on a book she liked called “Black Man in a White Coat” which was written by a black doctor.

As someone who covers college news on a daily basis, I have to wonder how the professor didn’t know this would cause huge problems for her.

Paul Caron of the TaxProfBlog shared a letter to Shurtz from 23 Oregon law professors calling on her to resign:

Dear Colleague,

If these allegations are true, and you did in fact wear blackface to a Halloween party, you need to resign.

It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter if it was protected by the First Amendment.

Blackface is patently offensive. It is overtly racist. It is wildly inappropriate. It reflects a profound lack of judgment. There is no excuse.

We are angry that you would alienate our students, staff, and faculty of color. We are angry that you would destroy what others have worked hard to build.

Your actions implicate all of us and our community.

If you care about our students, you will resign. If you care about our ability to educate future lawyers, you will resign. If you care about our alumni, you will resign.

In another post, Caron outlines her defense citing a report from KEZI News:

Students are outraged by the incident and have even started a petition demanding her resignation. The petition needs 100 supporters before it can be delivered to the dean of the law school.

Shurtz sent a letter to students explaining why she chose her costume. She said she read a book and wanted to portray the character. She also said she apologizes and never meant to offend anyone.

“I chose my costume based on a book that I read and liked—Black Man in a White Coat. I thought I would be able to teach with this costume as well (or at least tell an interesting story).

When I asked my daughter who is at Brown Medical School the demographics of her medical school class, she said “they do not give those statistics out mom”, but later when she asked the administration, they said there was not one black male student in the class. She and others were outraged. She was able to get the administration to assign a portion of this book (the one where the black medical student was thought to be the janitor) out to students.

I am sorry if it did not come off well. I, of all people, would not want to offend.

Here’s a video report from KEZI:

Eugene Volokh commented at the Washington Post:

Oregon law professors call for colleague to resign for ‘Black Man in a White Coat’ Halloween costume

My view: There’s nothing inherently racist about using dress or makeup to pretend to be black, or white, or Hasidic, or what have you. Indeed, if someone wore blackface and imitated an accent in a way that mocked blacks, she could be faulted for mocking blacks (just as somehow dressing up as an Orthodox Jew to mock Orthodox Jews could be faulted for that). But the notion that making oneself up to look black is just somehow per se racist strikes me as very hard to defend, whether one is trying to play President Obama (or, for that matter, Othello) or the title character in a black doctor’s memoir (“Black Man in a White Coat,” which is apparently what the professor was dressing as) or Michael Jackson.

Indeed, the whole point of dress-up events is to dress (and make yourself up) as something you are not. The fact that some people have made themselves up as blacks in the past in order to mock blacks doesn’t tell us that all such makeup is improper — much less that it should be cause for resigning. And the policing of what people do at parties at people’s homes only makes matters worse.

Nor am I influenced by the notion that the professor should resign because her decision shows “poor judgment” because she should have known that this would be offensive. Perhaps she wasn’t as careful as she might have been — but it’s appalling that people should feel the need to choose how they dress for costume parties with such care.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed also covered the story, adding this:

Punishing a Professor for Blackface

If Shurtz does not resign, some legal experts believe her actions — however foolish — are in fact protected by the First Amendment.

“Simply dressing in blackface or as an African-American at a party is indeed constitutionally protected expression that UO, a government agency, cannot punish,” said Robert L. Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

He cited a 1993 decision by a federal appeals court to block George Mason University from punishing a fraternity that held “an ugly woman contest” fund-raiser in which some fraternity members posed as caricatures of black women. The appeals court found that this event, however offensive, was protected by the First Amendment. “If such a skit is protected expression, this professor’s expression surely is as well,” Shibley said.

John K. Wilson, an independent scholar who writes regularly about academic freedom issues, agreed. Via email, he said, “When dealing with an extramural activity, there’s generally no valid punishment unless it shows incompetence in doing their work. That obviously doesn’t apply in this case. There’s no reason why wearing an offensive costume makes you a bad law professor.”

What a mess.

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What says it all is how it does not matter what the intentions were nor how the action was protected by the First Amendment, but that this professor must still be fired for her actions. If this is that attitude, then just what protection does the First Amendment afford?
It has long been known that for a free society to survive that people must practice tolerance. Does this mean our extreme intolerance today reflects our impending collapse as a free society?

DieJustAsHappy | November 5, 2016 at 7:58 am

“As someone who covers college news on a daily basis, I have to wonder how the professor didn’t know this would cause huge problems for her.”

Indeed, Aleister, Shurtz must be either extremely dense or an eternal optimist to think this wouldn’t ignite an adverse reaction, especially at a Halloween party ON CAMPUS. We’ve become a frail, hostile people at offense, whether real or imagined.

In honor of Professor Nancy Shurtz and my hopes that the incident might rattle enough minds to awaken to reason and sanity, “Mammy” – Al Jolson (“Jazz Singer” performance):

The irony is that her guilelessness indicates she is among the best of teachers.

I don’t know … appearing anywhere on a modern American campus in blackface for any reason (short of a close escape from a very smokey fire) is the adult equivalent of playing in traffic. By her age she really should have learned to not do that.

Yes, it’s a pity that vehicular traffic tends to flatten things on the road, and it would be nice if that didn’t happen, but it does, so don’t be stupid.

So, does stupidity of that level disqualify one from a teaching position?

    MaggotAtBroadAndWall in reply to tom swift. | November 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

    If you exercise bad judgment or are distracted by other stimuli and carelessly step into traffic, drivers will instinctively swerve to try not to hit you.

    Here, as in most of these cases, the SJWs purposefully try to destroy someone for violating the cultural and societal norms claimed by the SJWs. They actively seek to ruin the perpetrator’s standing within their career field, force them out of a job, ruin them financially, etc. It’s an evil, intolerant, oppressive, totalitarian, illiberal, mindset that says, “you have no agency. No right to violate my worldview. When you do you will pay an enormous price and ruin you financially and professionally.”

    You have better odds walking into traffic. Most drivers are not sociopaths who will purposefully try to run you over.

It’s a over reaction as usual by the so called liberals.
Doubt we would have any problem in “Whiteface”
I am white and once in the 70’s went as fat Albert, never thought if it as racial, just funny, and so did everyone else.

I think we need more people who are willing to give the PC world a big FU. OooRah!

legacyrepublican | November 5, 2016 at 10:57 am

Another liberal example of Trial by Fury.

“As someone who covers college news on a daily basis, I have to wonder how the professor didn’t know this would cause huge problems for her.”

I’ll bet that she is a Leftist. It’s my experience that professors on the Left have huge blind spots re their own racism, sexism, bigotry, etc. Non-leftists are constantly checking their own bias, because they are constantly accused of being “racist sexist homophobes”, so it’s unlikely they would do something so blind.

OTOH, I’m getting tired of racial grievance-mongering. Yes, racism is evil and should be stomped out, but when did it become the Great Satan? We have bigger problems than this.

How is blackface the least bit offensive to anyone? It only means that how the person acts with the blackface on, at least when they are acting “in character,” is a representation of what they think about black people, or about what it would be like to be a black person. Surely it is the substance of the act, what they say about blackness, that is offensive or not.

The problem is that black popular fulture is dominated by the massive criminal black sub-culture, so acting black usually ends up depicting the criminal-talk illiteracy jive-bitch nonsense that is the ACTUAL DOMINANT BLACK SUB-CULTURE. Of course that is embarassing to blacks, but knly because the reality is embarrassing.

If blacks are going to embrace criminal-subculture ugliness and stupidity they OUGHT to be nade fun of all day every day. Whites are just too nice to inflict the deserved embarassment, with the result that the truly embassassing REAL black criminal subculture persists because no one is making fun of it and putting it in its proper place.

But this woman was not even making the tiniest foray in that normal beneficial fun-making direction. She wanted to present blacks as victims in the usual PC fashion. Instead she gets to be the white victim in real life: the only role actually allowed to her.

ugottabekiddinme | November 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Rachel Dolezal, that white woman who pretended for years that she was black, when outed was fiercely defended by the left.

This professor dresses up, in a costume for Hallowe’en, as a black male for a few hours, and the SJWs are howling for her destruction.

Good old Leftists and their incredible consistency.

    “The Left doesn’t really believe in the things the lecture the rest of us about”

    This is key because it helps you understand where to attack them. They don’t really believe blackface is that big a deal, so attacking their hypocrisy on the issue is a waste of time and energy.

    Find out what their real motivation is and attack that instead.

[class] diversity is institutional racism. The Left is notoriously Pro-Choice.

How can “tolerance” go only one way?

“UO law professor put on leave for blackface costume is former diversity committee chair”

And how’s that diversity thing working for you?

The left has neither mercy nor grace.

The justice worshiping left sees sin and decides people other than themselves must be punished.

God sees sin and decides his sinless Son must die so that all people can have the opportunity to be forgiven.

Those forgiven people see their own sin and decide they must die to self.

Henry Hawkins | November 5, 2016 at 2:50 pm

I do believe Professor Shurtz’s civil rights have been, or are about to be, violated.

I suspect she did consider that going out in blackface would be offensive to some, but maybe she felt her liberal identity was so strongly established that her colleagues would understand she only did so to honor a beloved author of hers, not as any racist statement. I believe she felt she should be held immune from any accusations of racism, because it is Leftist 101 that ends (honoring a black doctor/author) justify means (wearing blackface, a SJW no-no for decades).

I’m a tennis playing white guy whose hero is Arthur Ashe. One of the greatest honors of my life was to meet him one year at the U.S. Open.
Now who here has the guts to tell me that I can’t honor Ashe by dressing up as him for Halloween?

    DieJustAsHappy in reply to hankdag. | November 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    I’m not going to tell you that. However, there are those who would, because, according to their words and deeds, their interpretation is the only one that matters, regardless of your intent.

    I’ve found that there is no room in their contrived, little worlds for any other view than their own ideological-driven one.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to hankdag. | November 5, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    You can’t honor Ashe by dressing up as him for Halloween.

    Now a question for you. Did it take guts for me to tell you that or just a keyboard and an internet connection? Nobody went and punched this professor in the mouth for wearing blackface. They use keyboards and the internet to write and send email letters, tweets, and the like. They get people fired and ruin them professionally and socially, and if they see you wearing blackface to honor Arthur Ashe, they’ll take you down, too.

I am against PC over the top reactions, but at University of Oregon what did she expect?

Roberty Downey Jr. did it in Tropic Thunder and most people laughed. But that was satire and skillfully done. You can do it under the right circumstances, but given the history of racial mockery, you are walking a very tight rope.

The PC police and social justice warriors are offended about the use of black face at a private costume party! News flash: costume parties are where you dress up as someone else. Would it have been ok if Professor Shurtz wore a mask? What if she was acting as Othello, Obama, or Michael Jackson in Thriller? That might be particularly appropriate for Halloween. The Constitution says all citizens have a right to free speech. There is no right to not be offended. As diverse adults we are all offended by others everyday. I’m offended that there would be calls for Professor Shurtz to lose her job over this non-work related activity. Such respect for diversity insults and injures me. Don’t worry, I will retreat to my safe space, have a good cry, a nap, and be up to go to work tomorrow. Same for after the election, no matter how it turns out. Grow up.