Law Prof Drops Defamation Suit against Students over Racism Claims
Posted Nov 17, 2008 6:32 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A law professor who sued two former students for defamation has dropped his suit after the school’s interim dean said there is no evidence he is a racist.
Law professor Richard Peltz of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock told Inside Higher Ed that he sued to get his reputation back. “This suit was never about money,” he said. “I feel that now with the university’s support, I am on the road to repairing my reputation.”
Peltz had sued the Black Law Student Association and two of its leaders, Valerie Nation and Chrishuana Clark, claiming the association defamed him with complaints that his teachings on affirmative action were racist. He also sued the W. Harold Flowers Law Society and its president, Eric Spencer Buchanan, claiming that Buchanan has sought his firing, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports (sub. req.).
An agreement reached last month with most of the parties ended with no one admitting wrongdoing and no damages, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story. The student association had countersued Peltz and he dropped his suit against the group in June. Last week Peltz dropped his suit against Clark, the last remaining defendant.
Peltz has released a letter (PDF) from the law school’s interim dean, John DiPippa, that says “there is no evidence that you are or have been a racist or acted in a racist fashion during your employment at the law school.”
He has also released a memo (PDF) refuting the charges that he says were made against him in a March 2007 memo sent to the dean by the Black Law Students Association. Peltz says he did not lecture in a “rant” that affirmative action was not needed. Instead, he says, he referred to his participation in a panel discussion in which he took the “con” position.
Peltz said the students also took issue with an article in the Onion about the death of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. Peltz said the satirical article actually made fun of conservative politicians who think the civil rights movement is “behind us.”
He also claims the students said they did not think it a coincidence that he had passed out a grammar worksheet during the class on affirmative action. Peltz counters that he passed out the worksheet in response to complaints from the Arkansas Board of Law Examiners that writing skills were on the decline. “I have since fall 2005 discontinued the use of the handout and the consideration of writing skills in exam evaluation, lest I again be maligned for trying to improve student writing,” he writes.
Peltz told Inside Higher Ed that universities need to be a place where ideas can be discussed freely. “When I started teaching 10 years ago, I thought universities were the quintessential marketplace of ideas. I was so naïve, and so, so wrong,” he said. “I hope we can get back to that notion.”