The George Washington University administration has opted to stand by US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas amid student protests calling for his dismissal.
Apart from his position on the court, Thomas is an associate professor at the university’s law school, where he teaches a seminar on constitutional law. Highlighting Thomas’ ceding opinion in overturning Roe v. Wade, his wife’s role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results, and his stated intention to reconsider judgments regarding same-sex marriage and contraception, more than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling for his dismissal.
According to the petition, Judge Thomas is deliberately endangering the lives of thousands of students in the school, as well as thousands of campuses across the country.
The School’s Administration Stands with Clarence Thomas Amidst Criticism
Christopher Alan Bracey, the university’s provost, and Dayna Bowen, the dean of the George Washington University School of Law, addressed the petition and confirmed that the institution had received termination requests from “certain members of the university and external communities.” Bracey and Matthew wrote, referencing the university’s intellectual freedom principles, that Thomas would not be released.
According to Bracey and Matthew, Justice Thomas has been a frequent opponent of the Court’s legal doctrine on substantive due process for decades. Because the administration staunchly promotes the rigorous sharing of ideas and deliberation, and because debate is an integral part of the university’s academic and educational mission to gear up leaders of tomorrow to address the world’s most pressing problems, the university will not fire Justice Thomas nor cancel his class because of his legal opinions.
Students Express Dissatisfaction with the School’s Stance
However, the school’s position on the issue has left many students dissatisfied, according to Jon Kay, a promising junior who initiated a petition calling for Thomas’s dismissal. In less than a week, the petition garnered almost 9,000 signatures from GW students and non-students alike, and organizers are contemplating alternative methods to exert pressure on administration to change direction.
According to Jordan Michel, a recent law school graduate from GWU, there is consensus among law students on the importance of varied viewpoints. However it becomes troublesome when someone who is supposed to be educating students fails to adhere to or respect the ethical, legal, and moral commitments that students are attempting to uphold.
Just Another Flash Point in the College’s Free Speech Debate
The disagreement is just another flash point in the college free speech argument, as students seek a larger voice in determining who should be paid by a university and what opinions may be permitted on campus. Students at Georgetown University’s law school fought with administrators over Ilya Shapiro, a former staff whose comments regarding President Biden’s pledge to select a Black woman to the Supreme Court sparked a months-long probe. Shapiro was cleared of guilt after being placed on paid administrative leave, but he quit due to a hostile work environment.
Administrators are under growing pressure to portray their institutions as places where students and staff may dispute freely, while simultaneously ensuring that community members feel comfortable and welcome. In reference to the school’s academic freedom principles, George Washington University leaders stated that it is not the university’s responsibility to shield individuals from ideas and viewpoints they find undesirable, distasteful, or even terribly insulting.
According to the university’s administrators, Thomas’ opinions do not reflect those of the institution, and, like other professors, he has academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of research.