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Message from Interim Dean Hughes to Emory Law community

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Note: This message was sent to the Emory Law community on Sept. 18, 2018

Dear Emory Law Community,

This is a follow up to the August 24 message you received from me, Provost Dwight A. McBride, and President Claire E. Sterk, to update you on the matter discussed therein. In that message, we indicated that I had asked Emory’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) to investigate the use of the “n-word” by a professor in a first-year torts class, and to recommend further remedial actions, if any. 

In the aftermath of the incident, I spoke with students, the professor (Professor Paul Zwier), faculty, staff, and alumni. I also received input from concerned persons outside of the Emory community, including members of the clergy, bench, and bar. I have also spoken with experts within the broader Emory community, including colleagues who were directly involved in the Transforming Community Project conducted at Emory during the first decade of the 2000s. As a result of these conversations, several things have become increasingly clear. 

Based on my most recent conversations with the students who were in the class, and Professor Zwier, there is no factual dispute as to what occurred in the classroom on August 23. Professor Zwier has taken or committed to take  several substantial steps: 1) he has admitted inappropriately using the “n-word”; 2) he has taken full responsibility for the harm its use has done to the immediately affected students, the Law School community, and the broader Emory community; 3) he has committed to take proactive steps to create a safe and inclusive environment in his classroom(s); 4) he has committed to engage in activities designed to repair his relationships within the Law School community; and 5) he has issued an unqualified apology to the Law School community.

As a result of these positive, impactful developments, I have prescribed several steps to be taken to address the harm that has been inflicted on our community and, I hope, to begin the healing process. Those steps are as follows:

1. For the next two years, Professor Zwier will not teach any course in which students do not have the ability to choose their professor (mandatory first-year courses).

2. Professor Zwier has volunteered to revise the teacher’s manual for his textbook(s) to include suggestions of ways in which faculty who use his text might avoid offending students when covering racially sensitive materials.

3. Professor Zwier will work with a small group of student leaders and faculty (with the assistance of experts from Emory’s Faculty Staff Assistance Program) to create opportunities to engage in dialogues focused on racial sensitivity, and he will agree to participate in the resulting dialogues. (This would be similar to some of the activities that formed a part of Emory’s Transforming Community Project.)

4. Professor Zwier will participate in sensitivity and unconscious bias training, to be prescribed by OEI.

Professor Zwier has agreed that each of the above actions is appropriate, and he is in full support of them.  Moreover, he has given me his express permission to share with the community this resolution.

We frequently refer to ourselves as the Law School “community”, and I believe that “community” accurately describes our relationship to each other. We are a diverse collection of individuals bound together by a common set of interests and values. We sometimes disagree among ourselves and disappoint each other, but the ties that bind us compel acceptance of our flaws and forgiveness of transgressions -- especially when mistakes are acknowledged, sincere efforts to make amends are made, and forgiveness is sought. At this moment, we are presented with an opportunity to demonstrate and enhance our strength by drawing our community closer together. Let us seize it. 

Warm regards,

James B. Hughes, Jr., Interim Dean
Emory University School of Law

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