Statement from Law School faculty member

Dear fellow faculty colleagues:

I hope you will join with me and other faculty across the University in signing the Open Letter to the Faculty Senate in the link below.  I have been a member of the GW Law faculty for the past 19 years and view the GW Law community as a family. I feel blessed to be a part of this institution and very grateful to have a job during this time when so many do not.

Three and a half weeks ago, those of us who attended the faculty meeting on Tuesday, July 28, learned that 64 events staff throughout the GW community, including 6 staff from the law school, had just been given notice that they were no longer going to be part of the GW Law family. That week, Natalie Fields, Fred Wilder, Wanda Wilder, Jay, Ashley, and Cecil joined the millions of Americans who are currently unemployed. They were told that they and the other Events and Planning staff across the University could apply for 13 centralized Events and Planning staff positions. Apparently, a few weeks later, on August 10, the University announced that it had decided not to go forward with the 13 centralized Events and Facilities positions that many staff had interviewed for the previous week, cancelling those positions until further notice. We have been warned that this is just the first round of furloughs and that the Administration plans to continue furloughing other staff as part of its centralization model.

On August 12, at the same time that it was laying off GW staff, this administration announced that it had hired Heather Swain to serve as GW’s new Vice President for Communications and Marketing. Swain, who was supposed to start in early September, withdrew after over 1,000 signed a petition demanding her removal because of her role as the Vice President of Communications for Michigan State University in purposely withholding and burying evidence against Larry Nassar, the former USA National Gymnastics Team doctor who was accused of assaulting at least 250 young women and girls dating back to 1992 and is now serving a 60 year sentence after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

While I know several people have spoken privately with our new Dean about how troubled we are about the layoffs of our Events staff, to date, there has been a deafening public silence surrounding these layoffs. I want to break that silence. Natalie Fields worked in Events Planning at GW Law for 20 years before she was given notice. Fred Wilder worked at GW Law for the past 16 years. Jay, Ashley, and Cecil had all been at GW Law for the past 10-12 years. Natalie Fields devoted countless hours to her job, often working late into the evening. When she was told that the budget for our holiday party had to be reduced, she brought in her own personal decorations to make sure the Faculty Conference Center still looked festive to save the law school money. Fred Wilder and his staff helped me each time I moved offices, not only moving my desk and chair, filing cabinets, and bookcases, but also helping me to hang my diplomas and plaques and photos on the wall so that my office environment was comfortable and setting up the bookcases for me. They were the ones who set up the FCC every time we had a faculty lunch workshop or a faculty meeting. They were the ones who cleaned up messes in the stairwells or the hallways. They kept our classrooms stocked with dry erasures and pens for the whiteboards. They stocked our classrooms with Purell in the spring. They made sure furniture that got moved out of classrooms were put back where they were supposed to be. They cleared old flyers from our bulletin boards. They fixed broken furniture so we wouldn’t have to buy new furniture. They helped prepare the law school for a fall reopening with covid, putting arrows on the carpets and signs on the elevators and bathrooms, taping off toilet stalls and bathroom sinks to make sure we ensured social distancing. And right after they helped get the law school covid ready, they were let go. This is shameful.

Recently, this Administration spent approximately $30,000 to pay the Disney Corporation to study the “culture” at GW.  As part of its “Culture Initiative,” this Administration strongly encouraged many (perhaps all) of us to attend workshops put on by the Disney Corporation at which we were told, “Only at GW, we change the world, one life at a time.” We were told that we should all “support a caring environment by greeting, welcoming and thanking others” and “frequently and regularly show appreciation for others” and “empathize with others.”  We were told that “Our GW Values” includes “Respect”: “We value people as individuals and treat them with fairness, compassion and care.”

It is not respectful, nor compassionate, nor caring, nor empathetic to lay off the least fortunate of us and toss them out into the world where they are not likely to easily secure other work during a pandemic.  The 6 staff who were the first to be laid off happened to all be Black.

I know that the beginning of the semester is a busy time. I know that most of you probably don’t want to rock the boat publicly. I was taught by my parents to not rock the boat, but I am speaking up now and I have signed the letter below because I believe what the Administration is doing is wrong.

As the late Congressman John Lewis said, “”When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

So, even though it is not my usual custom to do so and I know that there is some risk to doing so, I am speaking up. I ask that you, my fellow tenured faculty members, join me by adding your name to the Open Letter that our colleagues in other departments have couragely drafted. Those of us who are tenured are truly privileged to be in a position to speak up for those less fortunate than us. I hope you will join me and rise to the occasion. We at the law school are not unaffected by what is happening across the University. It is time to join with our fellow colleagues in the other departments. I hope you will join me in signing the Open Letter.  We are stronger if we stand together than if we stand alone.

Published by GWUFA

GWUFA is a grass-roots, faculty-run organization and has no official relation to the university administration or the Faculty Senate.