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School of Law Dean and diversity champion resigns after referring to herself as a “slaveholder”

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Educators who end up saying something remotely controversial in a virtual meeting often end up facing calls to resign.

But a Dean at the School of Law in the City University of New York (CUNY) has decided to cancel herself and resign before anyone asks, following an incident where she used an analogy of her being a “slaveholder” during a faculty meeting.

She has apologized and claims she has started counseling sessions and classes to help identify her biases.

Last November, Mary Lu Bilek, a Dean at CUNY’s School of Law, described herself as a “slaveholder” in a faculty meeting discussing a proposal meant to advantage racial minorities. On Saturday, she sent an email to the CUNY community announcing her immediate resignation.

“In a misguided effort to draw an analogy to a model of reparations in order to place blame on myself, as Dean, for racial inequities at our school, I thoughtlessly referred to myself as the ‘slaveholder’ who should be held responsible,” Bilek wrote in the email.

“I realized it was wrong the minute I heard myself say it and couldn’t believe the word had come out of my mouth,” she added. “I am still shocked at what I said and have begun education and counseling to uncover and overcome my biases and further understand the history and consequences of systemic and institutional racism.”

The 65-year-old graduated from Harvard Law School, and joined CUNY as a faculty member in 1985. Between 2012 and 2016, she was the University of Massachusetts School of Law’s Dean, before returning to CUNY’s School of Law.

Her official website states that she has served on several panels focused on racial diversity. She served on the Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession of the New York City Bar. She was also the chair of the Section on Legal Education Diversity Committee.

Bilek has previously made headlines for defending the freedom of expression. Last October, she said that a law student who was threatening to burn an Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt was merely “expressing her opinion.” In 2018, she refused to punish students who interrupted a conservative law professor’s speech.

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