September 7, 2020 - A Statement in Support of a Colleague

Recently our University has been the subject of criticism for offering a first-year writing seminar entitled "How to Overthrow the State," taught by Professor Matthew Gildner of the History Department. Prof. Gildner's department has defended his academic freedom to offer the course while denouncing the harassment and intimidation to which he has been subjected.  President Dudley wrote to our community earlier today, and I joined my fellow deans and the provost in issuing a statement reiterating our commitment to freedom of expression

I write separately now because another individual who has received harassing and even racist messages in reaction to Prof. Gildner's course is our colleague on the law school faculty, Brandon Hasbrouck.  In the initial article relating to the matter, Prof. Hasbrouck was the only W&L professor whose name actually appeared in the article, which highlighted Prof. Hasbrouck's prior commentary on W&L's institutional history and our namesakes.  Consequently, Prof. Hasbrouck was erroneously connected to the undergraduate writing course, resulting in numerous hateful messages directed at him.   

To be clear, Prof. Hasbrouck had nothing to do with this course, and the connection between a class entitled "How to Overthrow the State" and a Black faculty member carries disturbing racial overtones in the current social climate.  This connection is wholly unjustified, and it has led to unwarranted harassment of Prof. Hasbrouck which our community condemns.  

This leads me to a broader point.  When Prof. Hasbrouck previously published his opinions relating to our institutional history and our namesakes in particular, he anticipated that he would receive considerable negative feedback.  Yet he unquestionably possesses the academic freedom to express his opinions on these matters, issues that are in line with the broader societal reexamination of historical figures and symbols.  Regardless of what one thinks of Prof. Hasbrouck's published views, our law school and our university are richer for fostering the expression of diverse and varied opinion - even opinions that may be particularly challenging.  Unfortunately, Prof. Hasbrouck has received letters and messages that go beyond any line of decency and which at times are expressly racist.  Our commitment to freedom of expression requires that we denounce feedback intended to harass, intimidate, or silence, which I unequivocally do, and express our support for Prof. Hasbrouck as a vital member of our law school and university community.  

I am confident that my colleagues on the faculty share in the spirit of this message.

Brant Hellwig
Deand Professor of Law