Georgetown Dean Lays Down for Activists Protesting His Office

Dean promises to reimburse students who want further action taken against professor who criticized Biden

Georgetown University
Georgetown University / Wikimedia Commons
February 1, 2022

The dean of Georgetown Law School bent over backwards to appease students conducting a sit-in outside his office on Tuesday morning, offering to reimburse them for food delivered to the protest and thanking them for their "helpful comments."

Students attending the sit-in, which was hosted by the Georgetown Black Law Students Association and organized to call for Georgetown law professor Ilya Shapiro to be fired, told the dean they have been unable to function following social media posts by Shapiro critical of President Joe Biden's pledge to nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court.

"Students are going to the bathroom to cry because they are scared," one student told William Treanor, the dean of the law school. When another student said, "We have food on the way," Treanor responded: "We will reimburse you for that."

The exchange captures the tone of the sit-in, with Treanor and other administrators taking a largely deferential tone toward the demonstrators. "These comments are really helpful," Treanor said at one point, assuring students he was "appalled" by Shapiro’s tweet. "For this to be at the start of Black History Month is particularly painful. I know what a terrible burden it is, and I’m grateful for you taking the time to talk."

Several demonstrators also mentioned an incident involving former Georgetown Law professor Sandra Sellers, who was caught on tape saying that black students tend to cluster at the bottom of their classes. "That took me away from being able to focus for a month," a student said. "And that was during Black History Month too."

To mark the occasion this year, one demonstrator suggested the administration send an email to "remind" white students that "they are only here because our ancestors" were enslaved. "This is something that these people need to be reminded of," the student said.

The protest comes even as Treanor publicly condemned Shapiro for his remarks, which criticized Biden for basing his nomination on identity rather than who is best qualified for the lifetime appointment. Treanor said the comments were "at odds with everything" the law school stands for, and promised an investigation into whether Shapiro violated the school’s policies "on professional conduct, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment."

Shapiro said that he is "confident" the university will conclude that his criticism of Biden "didn’t violate any university rule or policy, and indeed is protected by Georgetown policies on free expression."

But the law school’s enforcement of these policies has been inconsistent. In 2020, Georgetown Law professor Heidi Li Feldman tweeted that "law professors and law school deans" should "not support applications from our students to clerk for" judges appointed by Donald Trump. "To work for such a judge indelibly marks a lawyer as lacking in the character and judgment necessary for the practice of law," Feldman said. The tweets appear to violate Georgetown’s non-discrimination policies—and Washington, D.C.'s—which prohibit "discrimination and harassment" based on "political affiliation."

Feldman is still employed by the university, and there is no record of any administrative action being taken against her. Georgetown did not respond to a request for comment about why Shapiro’s tweets have been subject to greater scrutiny.

Another Georgetown professor, Christine Fair, tweeted in 2018 that supporters of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation "deserve miserable deaths" as feminists "castrate their corpses and feed them to swine." Georgetown said Fair’s tweets did not violate any university policy.

"Our policy does not prohibit speech based on the person presenting ideas or the content of those ideas," the school said at the time, "even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial, or objectionable."