Describing the administrators as having failed students and faculty, a letter from concerned students at the Alexander Blewett III Law School at the University of Montana asks the law school leadership to stop threatening them and start threatening them. provide support, such as specific information about reporting sexual misconduct. .
“I’m not afraid to say that I really think law school would be better without Weaver and Kirgis,” said Everett Johns, law student and one of the editors of the letter to the dean of the school. law Paul Kirgis and associate dean of students Sally Weaver.
Annie Holland, another law student who wrote the letter, agreed. In a phone call on Friday, she said administrators were ruining the reputations of law students and professors.
“There has to be a change in administration,” Holland said.
Weaver declined to comment on the letter sent Thursday or the request for a change in leadership. Kirgis provided the response he emailed Friday to the Blewett School of Law community.
Following:UM law students: Dean and associate dean discouraged reports of sexual misconduct
“I am writing to acknowledge the concerns students have raised about not feeling supported by me and other leaders,” Kirgis said in the letter. “It is my responsibility and I am sorry that the administration of the law school and I did not do a better job of ensuring that the students, and especially the female students, feel they can raise issues. safely. “
The students sent their letter to law school administrators Thursday night before a scheduled walkout at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday, October 5. Holland and Johns said plans for the walkout had been in the works for about a month as a way for the students. to express their support for peers, staff and faculty who have experienced sexual misconduct on campus and retaliation from administrators.
“The administration’s response to allegations of sexual violence weighs on survivors and hinders investigative procedures,” the letter said. “By enlightening survivors and choosing to remain silent, the administration continues to sow fear and confusion among students and faculty.”
This week, the Daily Montanan reported that three students said Kirgis and Weaver discouraged them from bringing allegations of sexual assault, including rape, to the Office of Equal Opportunities and Title IX on campus. Kirgis and Weaver both denied intervening.
In his email to the legal community, Kirgis said the administration took action in the spring and summer of 2020 after hearing concerns about the Title IX reports. He said those steps included training, a briefing to allay concerns that the Title IX statement would impact bar admission, and the creation of a resource guide.
“Despite these measures, media reports this week made me realize that we must do more to improve the institutional well-being of this law school,” Kirgis wrote. “To make sure that students have accurate information about the Title IX processes, I have asked the EO / Title IX office to organize briefings for each of the 1L, 2L and 3L classes during the months to come. Watch your email for dates and times. We are also reorganizing the hierarchical structures within the law school to ensure that students know it is safe to raise issues.
“Most importantly, the law school will engage an independent external reviewer to assess the climate of the law school and make recommendations for change. Faculty will be heavily involved in determining the scope of the review, reviewing recommendations and implementing changes.
Holland said the students began planning the walkout after hearing that the administration ignored reports of a predator, mistreated allegations of sexual assault and made threats against the students’ admission to the bar. She said trying to get a professional degree from a school that “has consistently ignored or even retaliated against survivors” makes it difficult for students.
“They think they are saving face by burying these allegations, when in reality this stuff always comes out, and it ruins our reputation, and it hinders our employment opportunities as students, and new ones. professors won’t want to come here, ”said Holland, a sophomore law student.
A September 2020 memo from Kirgis and Weaver to two law students acknowledged that students were concerned their bar applications would be affected if they made a complaint, including sexual assault, to the Title IX office. In a statement Friday to the Daily Montanan, the National Conference of Bar Examiners said students should know that reports of harassment and discrimination do not affect their admission to the bar.
“While NCBE does not rule on personality and suitability on behalf of courts or bar review boards of jurisdictions, we can unequivocally state that filing a Title IX complaint does not preclude not admission to a US jurisdiction, ”said NCBE President and CEO. Judith Gundersen in a statement provided by the organization’s communications office.
Johns, also a sophomore, said at least 10 people worked closely on the letter, which is signed by “concerned students.” In a phone call on Friday, he said students generally wanted to notify the administration of the walkout, and he said he and others contacted not only professors to attend the protest, but also lawyers for the community.
He said the students discussed a request letter, but he also said it was difficult to identify requests due to the administration’s lack of transparency: “A big problem is that we don’t have no idea what they are doing so it is very difficult for us to tell them what to do.
However, the letter calls on leaders to take action to resolve the issues and notes that the Law School “has a monopoly on legal education and the legal profession in Montana.” Kirgis’ base salary is $ 201,630 and Weaver is paid $ 72,828, according to their contracts with UM.
“It is time for the administration to respond in a substantial way to the concerns of the students,” the letter said. “You’ve swept this under the rug with threats and retaliation for too long. Once again, you have failed us.
In a statement, UM spokesman Dave Kuntz said the university had addressed concerns about the law school over the past year and that ongoing efforts include mediation, investigations and new training adapted to law students.
“Despite these efforts, concerns and unresolved issues remain and deserve immediate attention,” Kuntz said. “Therefore, the administration of the law school will engage the law school faculty to identify an independent external examiner to thoroughly assess the learning and working environment of the law school, including how whose school supports students and allows them to access university resources.
Holland said an apology from the administration to the students would only be the start. She also said law school needs leaders who understand the seriousness of sexual and domestic violence on people and how it affects their lives. She said she was concerned that students would be academically affected and even drop out, as some freshmen said they were considering.
Additionally, Holland said the school needed administrators who would properly report Title IX incidents and direct students to the office: “Alicia and Hilly are amazing. They are good people. They’re here to help, ”she said of Title IX director Alicia Arant and investigator Hilly McGahan.
In his letter, Kirgis said he was “committed to making positive changes to ensure a safe learning environment for all students”. He has also directed students who need resources to the resource guide, Title IX office, or the Student Advocacy Resource Center.
“Please know that I am taking this opportunity to find ways to better promote a healthy and inclusive learning and working environment for all; I am also working with campus partners to learn how I can better serve you all as future lawyers and legal educators, ”Kirgis said in the letter.
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