December 21, 2016
Dear members of the University of Oregon campus community,
A decision by Professor Nancy Shurtz to wear a Halloween costume that included black makeup on her face and hands at a party she hosted for UO law students, former students, and faculty members forced our campus to face some very difficult truths about racism, ignorance, and the state of inclusivity on our campus. Her costume mimicked the historic stereotype of blackface, and caused offense to many who witnessed it.
Today, I write with news of the disposition of the investigation led by the UO Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity as a result of complaints made to the law school following the event at her home on October 31. The investigation into whether Professor Shurtz violated any law or university policy was conducted by the Barran Liebman LLP law firm in Portland under the direction and guidance of the AAEO office and UO general counsel Kevin Reed.
Although the findings of such investigations are not usually released, in this case the public nature of the act, the resulting public outcry, its impact on campus climate, and the fact that Professor Shurtz already released a letter that identifies herself and her intentions, the university has determined that it best serves the public interest to release a redacted version of the report. A copy has been posted online.
Though the report recognizes that Professor Shurtz did not demonstrate ill intent in her choice of costume, it concludes that her actions had a negative impact on the university’s learning environment and constituted harassment under the UO’s antidiscrimination policies. Furthermore, the report finds that pursuant to applicable legal precedent, the violation and its resulting impact on students in the law school and university outweighed free speech protections provided under the Constitution and our school's academic freedom policies.
In all cases where the university is advised that an employee violated university policy, the matter is reviewed under the appropriate disciplinary process. I have read the report, and accept its conclusion. Any resulting disciplinary action remains confidential under university policy.
My hope is that both the law school community and the broader campus community can shift focus from Professor Shurtz to the much-needed process of healing and growth. We all need to work together to make this university one that is inclusive and welcoming to all. It is only through that process that we will ensure that similar incidents do not take place in the future.
Provost and Senior Vice President