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A Washington Post opinion piece by a Georgetown University professor Monday criticized the university’s reinstatement of Ilya Shapiro with the headline “Free speech can’t trump every other value on campus.”
“How does a school react when freedom of speech and matters of equity collide?” asked Alicia Plerhoplesy, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “Now, we have an answer — but not a good one,” she said before arguing Georgetown’s decision to reinstate Shapiro “trampled over values of equal educational opportunity.”
According to Plerhoplesy, “On campuses and in other public squares across the country, free-speech rallying cries typically come at extraordinary costs to marginalized groups. Elevating freedom of speech while discounting every other value often means accepting the denigration of women, people of color and Indigenous people.”
Shapiro was originally put on paid leave from his position as executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center for the Constitution pending an investigation after he posted a tweet in February about President Biden’s pledge to only nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court. Shapiro lamented that a “lesser Black woman” would be chosen rather than his preferred choice, Obama-appointed Judge Sri Srinivasan, to fulfill a racial and gender quota.
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Although Shapiro apologized and removed his tweet, he was continuously criticized by liberals and even shouted down by California law students during a lecture.
Plerhoplesy framed the issue as one that pit “equity” and “nondiscrimination” against free speech, and said that sometimes “statements cause enough institutional harm and personal pain that they make a person unfit for a job in educational leadership.”
She wrote, “Retaining Shapiro in the role would have closed off the center’s offerings to our Black female students — and probably to many other women and students of color — who saw and understood his tweet to mean that Black people and women are of ‘lesser’ intelligence and import.
“These students would have not only suffered mental anguish as they internalized yet another authority figure belittling their capacities based solely on race and gender but also possible adverse career consequences should they have avoided Shapiro’s center, as might have any rational person who wished to avoid amplifying the discrimination they already face,” she continued.
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She complained that for all the defense of Shapiro, “little was devoted to Black women’s right to…untrammeled speech.” She claimed, “His characterization of Black women — and his presence — could easily have had a chilling effect on the speech of these students, who already have far too many complexities and challenges they must consider when they speak in law school.”
Although Georgetown University finally allowed Shapiro to resume his position last week after an investigation, Shapiro announced on Monday that he would officially resign after the lengthy controversy.
Plerhoplesy attacked this move as it appeared to prove Georgetown’s “free speech” commitment was meaningless and suggested focusing instead on respecting individuals as a higher value.
“Teaching Georgetown Law students is a privilege. And all students deserve to walk into our lectures, our conferences and our classrooms knowing that they will be respected as individuals — not judged by their race or gender. For all free speech is worth, this is the most basic and essential value of higher education that Georgetown should uphold,” Plerhoplesy concluded.
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A Washington Post piece penned by Georgetown professor Paul Butler in February defended the Georgetown Law’s original decision to put Shapiro on administrative leave in February. Like Plerhoplesy, Butler insisted that Shapiro was “unfit” for the position due to his tweet.