Opinion | Ilya Shapiro is back at Georgetown Law. Freedom of expression cannot trump any other concern.

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This part has been updated.

Alicia Plerhoples is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

How does a school react when free speech and equity issues collide?

That’s exactly what happened in January when law scholar Ilya Shapiro, who was days away from assuming a leadership role at the Georgetown University Law Center, tweeted that any of President Biden’s potential Court nominees Supreme would be “minor black women”.

Now, we have an answer, but not a good one: After an administrative review, Georgetown Law last week ended Shapiro’s paid leave and reinstated him as executive director of its Center for the Constitution. In doing so, the law school trampled on the values ​​of equal educational opportunity. And for what? Shapiro resigned from his post Monday morning, arguing in a letter and accompanying the Wall Street Journal. opinion piece that the university abandoned freedom of expression because it can sanction him the next time he “transgresses[es] progressive orthodoxy.

This is not the first time we have seen the kind of thinking that took place in Georgetown. On campuses and in other public squares across the country, the rallying cries for free speech often take an extraordinary toll on marginalized groups. Elevating free speech while discarding every other value often means embracing the denigration of women, people of color, and indigenous peoples.

I have been at Georgetown Law School for 10 years and am one of three Vice Presidents of the University’s Faculty Senate. After Shapiro posted his tweet, many faculty members, including myself, called for his employment contract to be terminated. Shapiro had not yet started working in law school, and we felt that he had already challenged the “commitment to more fully embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

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Others came to Shapiro’s defense, citing Georgetown. speech and expression policy, which advocates the “unfettered verbal and non-verbal expression of ideas”. These supporters were the expected conservatives and libertarians, but also liberals; the exaltation of freedom of expression cuts across ideology.

Ultimately, the university found that Shapiro did not violate its nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies because he was not an employee of the school at the time of his tweet, and therefore not subject to those policies. (It’s unclear how he could be protected by the university’s free speech policy, but I digress.)

So how should Georgetown maintain its commitment to fairness while still valuing free speech? The line between non-discrimination and freedom of expression is not always clear. But in some cases, the statements cause enough institutional damage and personal pain that they make a person unsuited for educational leadership work.

Shapiro reportedly spearheaded a major program at Georgetown Law that lectures and lectures on constitutional law, sponsors students, and serves as a clearinghouse for judicial internships. These are critical opportunities for law students. Retaining Shapiro in office would have closed the center’s offers to our black students, and likely many other women and students of color, who saw and understood her tweet to mean that black people and women are of “lesser” intelligence and importance. .

These students would not only have suffered mental anguish from internalizing another authority figure who belittled their abilities based solely on race and gender, but also potential adverse career consequences if they had avoided Shapiro’s center, as any rational person might have. I wanted to avoid amplifying the problem. discrimination they already face.

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And for all the talk about Shapiro’s right to speak freely, little was devoted to black women’s right to do the same. Shapiro’s tweet added to the stereotypes our Black law students face on a daily basis. Her characterization of black women, and her presence, could easily have had a chilling effect on the speech of these students, who already have too many complexities and challenges to consider when speaking in law school.

Some point to the fact that Shapiro deleted his tweet and apologized as evidence that our black students would not have suffered educational losses in Georgetown due to his presence. After all, mindsets are not fixed. With self-reflection, dedication, and hard work, people can learn from their mistakes and correct the damage those mistakes caused.

Of course, we should all be able to make mistakes, question our own biases, and work to do better. But is that happening in this case? Shapiro’s post-reinstatement victory lap in the form of the Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week perpetuating dangerous notions of victimization indicated otherwise. His last resignation proved it.

Teaching Georgetown law students is a privilege. And all students deserve to walk into our classes, our lectures, and our classrooms knowing that they will be respected as individuals, not judged based on their race or gender. Because everything is worth freedom of expression, East it is the most basic and essential value of higher education that Georgetown must uphold.