Ample evidence of serious problems at FSU Law
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 11, 1998
By DIANE RADO
Gator Manuel by Stephen Manuel, designed,
programmed, and hosted by DreamStates
- TALLAHASSEE -- As early as 1990, Florida State University had ample
evidence of serious problems at its law school.
- A student survey depicted a sexist, racist atmosphere where professors
made vulgar and derogatory comments about women, blacks, Hispanics, Jews
- Today, the university faces some of the
same allegations. The spring 1990 survey was done a year after Sandy
D'Alemberte left the dean's job at the law school, and students' comments,
in part, relate to the years in which he served.
- Now, D'Alemberte is president at FSU, and is accused of mishandling
and hiding allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against a
veteran law professor, William McHugh. In addition, FSU refuses to release
complaints made prior to July 1995 about the professor, saying they are
exempt from public records law.
- D'Alemberte said he is following the advice of his general counsel. He
also says he always has responded to problems he's known about, and that
he wasn't aware of the 1990 survey because he had already left the law
school after five years as dean.
- "I have some general memory of dealing with a number of professors
having problems with people in various ways," he recalled. "I don't think
it's right to go back and talk about that now, in part because I
understand it's not something I'm supposed to talk about."
- But students did plenty of talking in the 1990 survey, when they
didn't have to identify themselves or mention faculty members by name.
- The survey was commissioned by a faculty committee formed to address
whether FSU had an academic climate hospitable to women and minorities,
said Donald Weidner, interim law school dean.
- Generally, students described an environment so bad that they cried,
considered dropping out of law school or tried to hide from faculty
members they described as "sleazeballs."
- Profanity was common in class.
- "The instructor uses the F-word frequently and is generally rude,
crude and the epitome of why tenure is dangerous," one student wrote.
- One professor "continually spoke of the strip bars he attends. He
continually referred to heterosexual activities and how much he enjoyed
it, all the time staring at the closest, young female," another student
- During class discussion, one professor told a joke with a punch line
referring to a woman's crotch.
- One student also recounted when a professor "extolled the virtues of
black athletes as opposed to the "incompetence' of black intellectuals. I
believe that was the same class in which he commented that Jews have a
"genetic propensity' to study law."
- Outside the classroom, male professors routinely made advances to
female students, according to the survey.
- One student said she was told by a male faculty member that "admission
to his office required me to take my top off."
- At a moot court competition out of state, one professor tried to kiss
a student on the lips repeatedly. "He also complained that she was wearing
pantyhose, because he likes women to wear stockings, so he can reach up
their skirt . . ."
- It was clear from the survey that the complaints are made against more
than one law school professor.
- "The list of professors whom my classmates and I intend to avoid at
virtually any cost . . . is not short, at least six or seven out of the
total regular academic faculty," a student wrote.
- Several students complained of a cavalier attitude by faculty who
joked about inappropriate behavior and didn't take complaints
- "The conduct which is tolerated by this institution would be grounds
for disciplinary action or even dismissal where I used to work," one
- D'Alemberte said he was in constant contact with students as law
school dean. "I think I handled problems that came to me." Weidner said
the survey "created a picture of our law school that not everyone thought
- Today, he said, the law school is a different and far more diverse
- The full-time law faculty is 29 percent female and 13 percent
minority, higher than some comparable universities, he said. The
University of Florida's law school faculty is 24 percent female and 15
percent minority, he said.
- But not everyone thinks times have changed.
- Candace Kollas, now an Atlanta lawyer, complained in 1996 that
professor McHugh made sexist comments in class, questioned whether someone
"so articulate" could be black and repeatedly belittled her in front of
classmates. While a university investigator concluded that the incidents
"had the effect of illegal discriminatory harassment," and recommended
disciplinary action, D'Alemberte gave McHugh a warning letter.
- "Obviously, my complaint was not handled properly. If that's
indicative of how the law school acts in general, it's not gotten any
better," Kollas said.
- The old and new allegations against FSU have moved into cyberspace.
FSU law student Mark Holten created a Web site and posted Kollas'
complaint, as well as the 1990 student survey.
- "They (FSU) have absolutely failed to do anything to protect
students," Holten said.
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Schools Teach Ethics? --FSU in the Web site entitled Legal Reform through Transforming the Discipline of Law
into a Science .