Georgetown Law Professor Fired After Comments About Black Students

“I am appalled that two members of our faculty engaged in a conversation that included reprehensible statements concerning the evaluation of Black students,” the school's dean said

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One Georgetown University Law Center professor was fired and another resigned following a conversation they had about the performance of Black students on a recorded video call. 

Professor Sandra Sellers was dismissed, school dean Bill Treanor told students. Professor David Batson was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. He resigned Friday afternoon, Georgetown Law confirmed.

The dean spoke out against the comments that were recorded during a Zoom call. 

“I am appalled that two members of our faculty engaged in a conversation that included reprehensible statements concerning the evaluation of Black students,” Treanor told students. 

On the call, Sellers and Batson appear at first to be speaking about students’ performance in general. Many of their ideas were “jumbled,” Sellers says with apparent frustration. Then her comments turn to the performance of Black students. 

“I hate to say this — I end up having this, you know, angst every semester — that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks. Happens almost every semester,” Sellers says. 

“Mmm hmm,” Batson says and nods.

“And it’s like, oh, come on,” Sellers continues. “Get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.” 

“Yeah,” Batson says as Sellers shakes her head. 

“So, I feel bad,” Sellers adds.

Student Mariame Dangnokho said she was angry about Sellers' comments, and that they weren’t accurate. 

“It’s really upsetting to me as a student who actually took this professor. And even though I did well in her class, I feel she is portraying a false narrative that is not true about Black students,” she said. 

The Black Law Students Association collected more than a thousand signatures from students, graduates and others demanding action. 

“We want review of current grading to see if there’s a conscious or unconscious bias, and commitment to hire more Black law professors,” said Maxine Walters, the president of the group.

Treanor, the dean, said the school will take a number of additional actions. 

“This is by no means the end of our work to address the many structural issues of racism reflected in this painful incident, including explicit and implicit bias, bystander responsibility, and the need for more comprehensive anti-bias training,” he wrote.

Sellers gave News4 the following letter of resignation. News4 called Batson several times with no response.

March 11, 2021 
Mr. William Treanor 
Dean and Executive Vice President 
Georgetown University Law Center 

I am deeply sorry for my hurtful and misdirected remarks. While the video of this incident is an excerpt from a longer discussion about class participation patterns, not overall grades, it doesn't diminish the insensitivity I have demonstrated. J. would never do anything to intentionally hurt my students or Georgetown Law and wish I could take back my words. Regardless of my intent, I have done irreparable harm and I am truly sorry for this. For that reason, I am immediately and voluntarily resigning my position as an adjunct professor. 

I want all my students to excel in negotiation and mediation, which is why I have taught these courses at Georgetown for almost 20 years. When this does not occur, it reflects shortcomings on my part, not just on the part of any single student. It is my responsibility to do all I can to correct this. My comments were the inarticulate reflection of long soul searching. I must do better to understand and address these issues. I am committed to doing this for myself and also looking for ways I can combat racism in the Georgetown community. 

It has been a great honor to be associated with an institution of Georgetown's quality and character. I appreciate that Georgetown has dealt with this unfortunate incident with the utmost professional integrity. I would appreciate it if you will share this letter with the Georgetown Law community. I think we share an interest in bringing closure to this terrible incident as soon as possible. 

Sandra Sellers 

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