Student organizations at Georgetown University are divided over what the future should hold for incoming administrator Ilya Shapiro after he came under fire for comments he tweeted about the race and gender of President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court justice nominees.
Shapiro, who was hired as the executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, deleted tweeted comments he made about the president’s commitment to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. The dean of the law school has called these comments “appalling.”
The Georgetown Black Law Student Association called for the university to revoke Shapiro’s employment contract, while the Conservative and Libertarian Student Association said it favors retaining Shapiro.
“Our concern and frustration is not rooted in Shapiro’s opinion that someone else is more qualified for the position,” the executive board of the Georgetown Black Law Students Association wrote in a letter to the administration. “Instead, our anger stems from Shapiro’s suggestion that any Black woman, regardless of their qualifications, would be a ‘lesser’ choice for the court.”
Shapiro has since apologized for his statements, calling his tweet “inartful.” But the Georgetown Black Law Students Association, with the support of 20 other student organizations, called the string of tweets more than “inartful.”
We, the Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association, write on behalf of the Georgetown University Law Center student body, to demand the revocation of @ishapiro employment contract and to condemn his racist tweets. @GeorgetownLaw pic.twitter.com/fQCzUxUXce
— Georgetown BLSA (@GeorgetownBLSA) Jan. 28, 2022
“They were offensive, racist, sexist, misogynistic, inflammatory, deplorable, insensitive and unprofessional,” the organization said.
Other student organizations, including the university’s Conservative and Libertarian Student Association, support retaining Shapiro, citing his reputation as a scholar and a lawyer while marking his comments as inappropriate.
“From its administrators down, the Georgetown Law community has failed to live up to this most basic standard of human decency over the past 72 hours,” Conservative and Libertarian Student Association Co-President Luke Bunting wrote on behalf of the organization.
The organization also defended Shapiro, stating administrators “have also ignored the undeniable reality that Ilya Shapiro is not a racist.”
Bunting told WTOP that the law school discourse has had “gasoline poured on the fire” and that conservative students were ostracized for their calls to retain Shapiro for acting the way adults are expected to behave.
“I think we were all happy to see him apologize for the way he worded those tweets,” Bunting said, “We were glad to see that he clarified them. But then we do not support his being fired at this point.”
As students return to school from virtual learning, he added that he hopes peers will recognize the work that lawyers and political advocates do and that “cooler heads can prevail.”
“When you’re at a law school or involved in the law, you’re advocating on one side or the other,” he said. “Especially when you’re working in the political sphere, think tanks and the like.”
Outside of the school, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education cited Georgetown’s academic code, highlighting its focus on “untrammeled expression.” The foundation said that freedom of expression protects both incoming professors and university community members from repercussions for perceived “wrong or offensive” comments.
“(The university’s) commitment to freedom of expression bars it from acceding to demands that Shapiro be disciplined on the basis that others find his speech offensive or wrong,” attorney Adam Steinbaugh said in a statement to WTOP. “Allowing untrammeled speech about our national political leaders and difficult issues surrounding race and identity is critical to the democratic process.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has since sent a letter to the law school’s dean, William Treanor, asking the university to maintain its connection with Shapiro.
Georgetown Law has yet to release a statement on their hiring plans for Shapiro.