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A Message from the Dean

Dean Mary Anne Bobinski |

Dear Students: 

Since I joined Emory Law two years ago as your dean, I have spoken with many students, faculty, and staff about the importance of ensuring that our learning environment is truly welcoming and inclusive for a diverse student body with a range of life experiences, perspectives, and beliefs. I have heard your anger and your frustrations about the pain and academic disruption caused by faculty members’ decisions about the use of derogatory language in the classroom, as well as your recommendations and your hopes for our community. 

I am writing today to provide an important update about the law school’s efforts to promote an inclusive learning environment. On Monday, the Emory Law faculty approved an amendment to our Faculty Handbook that requires annual mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programming for all faculty members. The programming will begin during the 2021-2022 school year. All faculty members making pedagogical decisions about classroom learning will now participate in programs and training to ensure their choices are informed by research into the learning needs of our diverse student body. The programming will include information about the impact of derogatory language on student learning.

Last month, as I wrote to you about the first stages of the law school’s response to a classroom incident, I noted that Emory University protects academic freedom and free expression. The university – and by extension this law school – does not ban the use of particular words or the expression of controversial ideas in the classroom where there is a clear pedagogical purpose. Since that time, concerns have been expressed about a second classroom incident, in which a faculty member has asserted a pedagogical purpose in using a derogatory term in the context of discussing a case directly involving that term. Although deeply and understandably upsetting to many in our community, this incident has not been found to be a violation of university policies.

There is broad, though not unanimous, recognition by our faculty that the fact that certain words can be said does not mean that they should be said, particularly given the impact on students and the law school as a whole. In addition, faculty members exercising academic freedom in choosing how to approach sensitive or challenging topics have a responsibility to learn about the impact of their choices on students and the learning environment. It is my hope that, in the vast majority of circumstances, a faculty member armed with this knowledge will be able to develop a pedagogical approach that does not involve the use of derogatory language.

One of my most important responsibilities is to work with my faculty and staff colleagues to foster a culture of courtesy and respect, with inclusive classroom environments that will allow our students to pursue intellectually challenging, rigorous, and transformative educational opportunities. This new initiative is an important step that reflects our faculty’s commitment to student learning. At the same time, we recognize the need for continued dialogue and action. We will continue to consult with students through the law school’s DEI Committee and student organizations on these and other important matters. 

I encourage each of you to join me in this important work of support and healing for our community.


Dean Bobinski