When an organization chastises honest people for performing their duty in good faith, there is a problem.
The Georgia State University office of provost recently removed long time-distinguished clinical professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Michael Shapiro, from his position as Georgia State’s Pre-law Faculty coordinator for the Center for the Advancement of Students and Alumni program (CASA).
CASA’s stated goals are to inspire students to pursue advanced degrees and professional careers, support the concrete steps required to enter into graduate and professional programs and sustain relationships with alumni.
As CASA’s Pre-law coordinator, Mr. Shapiro, who has taught on the collegiate level for over 20 years and has been a prestigious member of the Georgia bar since 1981, has provided access to various immersive law school initiatives for current and prospective law students.
He has been responsible for organizing tours to highly esteemed law schools such as Emory University. He regularly facilitates educational conversations with law school students, graduates and legal field experts.
In addition, Mr. Shapiro has shown a demonstrated capacity for motivating students to enroll in LSAT programming to increase their likelihood of being admitted into U.S. law schools.
His removal comes as a shock especially considering how it occurred. In good faith and in his desire to provide a great learning opportunity for Georgia State’s current and prospective law students, Mr. Shapiro sought to have, as a guest, defense lawyer Robert Rubin for a 25-minute virtual conversation.
In this conversation, Mr. Rubin would answer students’ questions about his recent high-profile case in which he defended Travis and Gregory Michael, Ahmaud Arbery’s now convicted killers. Both Travis and Gregory Michael are currently serving life sentences.
After Mr. Shapiro posted the flyer for the meeting with Mr. Rubin publicly aired, some students felt the flyer, which juxtaposed a picture of Mr. Rubin and Ahmaud Arbery, was racially insensitive, given the freshness of the case.
These students pressed Mr. Shapiro to remove or alter the flyer.
Students then called for an apology from Mr. Shapiro for being racially insensitive. Mr. Shapiro told the students that he would if the university asked him to apologize.
I assume this is because he felt he had done nothing that required an apology. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree.
Apologies given for dubious claims of wrongdoing rarely satisfy those demanding the apology. At this, the university provost removed Mr. Shapiro from his position as CASA’s pre-law director.
Some students expressed that they would have preferred if Mr. Shapiro had instead brought the prosecutor from the Arbery case to speak or only used Mr. Rubin’s face on the flyer.
Perhaps the student body might not have been so upset if Mr. Shapiro had implemented these ideas.
However, we don’t know this to be true. Maybe there would have been as much pushback if the flyer only contained Mr. Rubin’s face.
After all, many students felt that simply having the defense attorney for Arbery’s killers address the law school was foul play. This situation is where we must separate emotion from rationality, painful though it may be.
The simple fact is that Mr. Shapiro arranged for an overwhelmingly experienced criminal defense attorney to speak to those in the CASA cohort about a high-profile case.
This fact exemplifies his role as a clinical professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. Organizing this meeting is what one would expect someone in his position to do.
His removal was uncalled for; certainly not a total expulsion from a position he has held and excelled in for a considerable time.
While there is nothing wrong with asking someone to change or alter a flyer, it is wrong to pressure them to do so under the pretense that their intentions are racially motivated. Mr. Shapiro has never demonstrated, at least in his capacity as CASA director, racist tendencies.
There is no way to tell if Mr. Shapiro has a preferential predisposition towards the white race. If he does, would his use of both Mr. Rubin’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s faces on the marketing flyer prove this? No.
Most of the students who protested Mr. Shapiro most likely did not know that Mr. Rubin defended Dana Evans, a Black Atlanta principal and educator accused and convicted of RICO and making a false statement.
Mr. Rubin has defended people accused of serious crimes as a former public defender. His job is to represent them respectfully, no matter their crime.
This fact is what the students overlooked when they fought against Mr. Rubin’s forthcoming.
Several prospective law students privately wrote to me that Mr. Rubin’s virtual meeting with students was a rare learning opportunity and would have been highly beneficial.
These students felt the fleeting emotions of others sabotaged their legal education. Valid emotions? Yes.
Nevertheless, students who wished to further their legal education through Mr. Rubin’s trial wisdom were robbed.
In addition, those students offended by the flyer and Mr. Rubin’s scheduled meeting could have protested simply with their absence and chosen not to attend.
To rob one’s fellow students of a prime educational opportunity demonstrates selfishness and disregard for others’ preferences.
I would see the office of the provost return Mr. Shapiro to his position as CASA’s coordinator, assuming he would take it back and that the university step in next time to change the flyer themselves.
There are certain advantages conferred upon the office of the provost. It should utilize them.