How Georgetown Law School Used Ilya Shapiro's Apology Against Him

Ilya Shapiro / YouTube
June 7, 2022

Ilya Shapiro may have thought an apology would save him when Georgetown Law School launched an investigation into one of his tweets. It did the opposite.

The embattled law professor resigned Monday after Georgetown concluded that the tweet—which criticized President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court—"denigrated individuals based on race, gender, and sex," according to a report from the law school’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Shapiro deleted the tweet within hours, calling it "poorly worded" and "inartful." But the report, submitted to the dean’s office on June 2, framed that apology as evidence of guilt.

Shapiro’s "plain words not only explicitly identified the race, sex, and gender of a group of individuals," the report said, "but also categorized Black women as ‘lesser.’ Though [Shapiro] did not himself describe his comments as offensive or acknowledge that his comments could reasonably be interpreted to denigrate individuals, he promptly removed the tweet and apologized after others expressed their criticism."

The report shows how contrition can empower the mob rather than placate it, legitimizing online outrage and creating cover for diversity bureaucrats. Shapiro only avoided discipline on a technicality: Though he’d accepted a job with the law school, he hadn’t officially begun working there at the time of his tweet. "Another, similar or more serious remark," the report warned, could create "a hostile environment."

The brouhaha began on Jan. 26 when Shapiro tweeted that the Court would "get [a] lesser black woman" as a result of Biden’s pledge, because the "objectively best pick," U.S. Court of Appeals judge Sri Srinivasan, is Indian American. Within 48 hours, more than 1,000 Georgetown law students signed a petition demanding Shapiro’s firing. The dean of the law school, William Treanor, called the tweet "appalling" and placed Shapiro on leave "pending an investigation."

As the outcry intensified, pundits across the political spectrum urged Georgetown not to punish Shapiro for his faux pas—in part, they said, because he had apologized.

Georgetown Law School declined to comment on the specifics of the report, saying only that it "followed the regular processes for members of the Law Center staff."

The 10-page report suggests that the university faced tremendous pressure to ostracize Shapiro—not just from students but from his fellow professors. A "lot of faculty" expressed "deep concern" and "outrage" about his tweet, according to the report, as did several administrators, who said they would "not participate in any program or activity" involving him. It would be "disruptive," they told the diversity office, if Shapiro were "physically present" on campus.

Some passages in the report are almost comically Kafkaesque. Asked whether students could trust his grading, for example, Shapiro told investigators that he only taught electives; those worried he couldn’t be fair didn’t have to take classes with him. To the diversity office, that answer implied a violation of the school’s anti-discrimination policies. Shapiro’s courses "may be less available to law students impacted by [his] tweets than to those who were not," the report reasoned, which "could have the effect of limiting Black women students’ access" to career opportunities.

The report even implied that allegations of "a hostile environment" are themselves proof of it.

"Many faculty, staff, alumni, and prospective students expressed their outrage, concern, and hurt," the report said. "The evidence establishes that [Shapiro’s] conduct adversely affected the Law Center’s environment."

With the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, Shapiro quit. "You told me when we met last week that you want me to be successful in my new role and that you will ‘have my back,’" he said in his resignation letter on Monday. "Instead, you’ve painted a target on my back such that I could never do the job I was hired for."