FSU law school's `Archie Bunker' delivers tough lessons
Students say professor William McHugh's behavior is
harassment; he says he's just giving them a taste of a difficult
By Leonora LaPeter and Gary Fineout
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITERS
All content copyright 1998 The Tallahassee Democrat
- Whether the issue is classroom decorum, treatment of students or
inappropriate influence in law school admissions, Florida State University
professor William McHugh is a lightning rod for controversy.
- McHugh, a tenured member of the law school faculty for two decades,
agrees that he can be combative. He also uses a lot of profanity in his
- But McHugh, who teaches contract law, arbitration and employment law,
says it's all part of an effort to prepare law students, particularly
first-year students, for a tough career.
- "I'm a working dinosaur and when I run into them, I'm a buzz saw,"
McHugh, 64, said Tuesday. "The question is, do I create a hostile
environment? Yeah, I do. I get real hostile if you're not prepared for my
- McHugh's style and behavior, however, have placed him at the center of
several law school controversies. And some current and former students are
accusing FSU of ignoring the behavior of a man they say has a history of
harassing students and employees.
- FSU law student Mark Holten, who filed his own grievance against
McHugh, was so frustrated at the university's response to his and other
complaints that he decided to expose the problem by posting more than 100
pages of documents about the professor on the World Wide Web.
- "When I learned I wasn't the only one who had complained and they
weren't doing anything about anyone's complaint, I felt compelled as a
future lawyer to stand up and do the right thing and fight for what is
just and true," Holten said Tuesday.
Comment: Mark Holten received top honors in his class in professional
responsibility. The lesson learned here is that if you attempt to apply
the ethical principles learned in law school, its going to be ignored and
not appreciated. I have not been able to locate his Web site.
- Consider McHugh's history:
- FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte -- the law school's
former dean -- sent McHugh a letter in June following the investigation of
a 1996 complaint by a black female law student.
- "Your periodic use of profanity and occasional off-color remarks (i.e.
references to anatomical parts of the body) in the course of classroom
dialogue with students is unacceptable and is clearly counter-productive
to your mission as an educator," D'Alemberte said in the letter.
- The 1996 complaint against McHugh alleged that he not
only made sexually inappropriate remarks but also said he did not think
the student was black because she did not have "black hair" and was so
- McHugh was a member of the 1992 admissions committee
that allowed the daughter of then-legislator Robert Trammell to be
admitted to the law school despite mediocre grades and a low test score. A
report about Meredith Trammell's law school admission concluded that it
had been orchestrated by McHugh who "displayed unusual zeal."
Comment: Here, students learn how the lawyer's good old boy system
- His advocacy came at about the time lawmakers were considering -- and
ultimately approved -- renewed funding for a legal center directed by
McHugh that paid him $26,000 a year in salary. The university changed the
law school admission policy after the Trammell incident.
- A staff assistant who worked for McHugh at the law center was paid
$1,000 in 1989 by the university to settle a mistreatment complaint she
filed against the professor.
- McHugh said he was unaware of such a settlement. He also dismissed
other controversies raised by his critics.
- "These are old complaints and the university did its investigation,"
he said. "There's two sides to that thing (the 1996 complaint). . . . The
real genesis of this thing is that I want my students to be prepared."
Comment: Prepared to be sleaze balls like him.
- Candace Kollas, whose complaint led to D'Alemberte's warning letter to
McHugh, said she wasn't satisfied with the university's action in her
- "In my opinion, he's a vile, obnoxious man who calls himself the
Archie Bunker of contracts," said Kollas, who was allowed to drop McHugh's
class in mid-semester in spring 1996. It's highly unusual for students to
be given permission to drop a class in mid-term.
Comment: The university would rather bend its rules than take action
- In her complaint, Kollas, now an Atlanta lawyer, said that McHugh
targeted her specifically with belittling remarks. She also said he
created a hostile educational environment with his racist and sexist
- One time, Kollas recounted, McHugh berated her for 32 minutes, saying
she was irresponsible, lacked professionalism and would fail as an
- Kollas also said McHugh told an employment law class: "If a woman is
wearing Spandex and a tube top, she deserves to be, or more likely will
be, sexually harassed."
- In another class, Kollas quoted McHugh as saying: "If a woman is not
wearing underwear and she is standing on a ladder, and I (the professor)
hasten to look there, she's asking to be harassed."
- FSU's Office of University Human Resources investigated Kollas'
complaint and concluded that "some form of corrective action was required"
because McHugh's actions had been discriminatory and "caused a hostile
- McHugh, who earns $86,824 a year, denied Kollas' allegations Tuesday
and wondered why an allegation from two years ago was being dredged up. He
pointed to a number of letters written by his students to the university
stating that none of the events occurred and that Kollas was hostile and
confrontational toward him in class.
- "I did not observe a single incident of sexual harassment, sexual
discrimination or racial harassment in Professor McHugh's employment law
survey class," one student wrote. "I believe such charges based upon what
I personally observed are both spurious and unfounded."
Comment: This future lawyer has learned his/her lesson well-- lie to
discredit others and get ahead.
- Still, the university's investigator, Cheryl Gonzalez, noted that many
of McHugh's students failed to respond to her calls because they feared
retribution. Some refused to talk until the end of semester grades had
been officially recorded, the report states.
Comment: Learning the find points of intimidation.
- About nine months after Gonzalez' report came out, D'Alemberte met
with McHugh and then sent him the letter.
- "We do not need to accept the extreme views of political correctness,
but we ought to understand the negative impact of insensitive remarks on
our teaching method," D'Alemberte told McHugh in the letter.
- D'Alemberte said Tuesday his letter spoke for itself.
- He said he's prohibited from discussing any complaints against McHugh
prior to 1995 because universities were allowed to keep confidential any
records involving the performance of a professor. In 1995, the law was
changed to require the release of complaints after they had been
Comment: I would assume by this language that this information could have
been released at the option of the University president and former law
school dean. Another lesson for law school students. Its the good old boy
system looking after its own again.
- Still, it's clear that Kollas was not the first to complain against
- "Such reports are not new to the university regarding (McHugh),"
Gonzalez' report says. "Whether or not substantiated, they have had the
effect of repeatedly utilizing valuable financial resources, time and
effort because no university action has caused the reported offenses to
- The report mentions two first-year law students who reported "similar
concerns" and were allowed to withdraw from McHugh's classes in 1995.
Comment: Again, just bend the rules rather than do anything.
- And a source who asked to remain anonymous said that, while the
university was investigating McHugh in a sexual harassment case in the
mid-1980s, 19 women came forward to offer testimony about his
- There's also the case of Cherlynn Horvath, who worked as McHugh's
staff assistant for 10 months in 1987 and 1988. Records indicate Horvath
reached a $1,000 settlement with the university for "alleged treatment of
Ms. Horvath by her immediate supervisor at the time."
- Holten, who put the McHugh information on the Internet, said he filed
a grievance against McHugh for his conduct in his first-year contracts
class in 1995. Holten said he was allowed to withdraw from that class
along with three or four other students.
- Holten said he was extremely offended by McHugh's continuous barrage
of sexually offensive jokes and off-color remarks.
- "It was so outrageous that I was not able to concentrate on the study
of contracts, because I was reeling from incredibly offensive comment
after comment denigrating women and minorities," Holten said. "I mean it
really affects your ability to learn in the classroom and I'm a man. I
know it affected women and they left the class."
- But Victor Saymo, one of McHugh's students, had a different
- "Speaking from my personal experience, I know that professor McHugh
has never treated me any differently, on account of my race or the color
of my skin," said Saymo, who is from the Philippines. "He's not singled me
out for negative treatment on account of my race. Never."
Comment: Perhaps this future lawyer has learned how to get ahead.
- Posted at 12:46 a.m. EDT Wednesday, June 10,
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Schools Teach Ethics? --FSU in the Web site entitled Legal Reform through Transforming the Discipline of Law
into a Science .