Self-Cancellation: CUNY Law Dean Resigns And Seeks Counseling After Referring To Herself As A “Slaveholder”

CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek is back in the news in what people are calling a case of “self-cancellation.” After referring to herself as a “slaveholder” in a faculty meeting, Bilek announced her early retirement in response to what she called as momentary but serious lapse of judgment last year. We previously discussed Bilek’s troubling view of free speech after conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech.”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. She has now effectively ended her own speech, at least as the Dean of CUNY. She has also sent herself into counseling to overcome her “biases.”

Last October, Bilek also made news when she insisted that a law student threatening to set a man’s Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt on fire was simply “expressing her opinion.”  The student was accused of not just making the threat but holding up a lit lighter. Critics asked if Bilek would have taken the same view with a sweater for other causes or groups.

Dean Bilek sent an email to the CUNY community announcing she would be quitting her job after the November incident. She explained that she referred to herself as a “slaveholder” in a discussion of a proposal that some believed would have a disparate impact on racial minorities. There is no transcript of the meeting or verbatim quote offered in the correspondence or coverage. Bilek wrote:

“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. I realized it was wrong the minute I heard myself say it and couldn’t believe the word had come out of my mouth.”

…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.”

She decided to take early retirement “because the work it would take to repair the trust necessary to lead the Law School is a burden I don’t want to impose on the faculty or the community.” It is not clear why Bilek waited for almost four months to announce her own self-cancellation for a statement that she immediately regretted at the meeting. She had already stated an intention to step down in June. So this move occurred near her scheduled date for retirement.

It is also not clear why Bilek felt an apology would not be sufficient since she was using the term for self-criticism in dealing with what she viewed as inequities at the school for minority professors.  Bilek is sending a message that intent is immaterial and that an apology is insufficient when addressing an unintended offense in the use of a word in a faculty meeting.

As we recently discussed, there is an increasingly common position that intent no longer matters if the use of terms are considered offensive, even when used as the basis for termination. Recently, a New York Times editor was fired for the use of the “n word” even though it was agreed that he was using it in response to a question and not as an intended slur. Veteran reporter Donald McNeil Jr., was fired after the newspaper bowed again to a cancelling campaign.  does intent not matter, any utterance is potentially a one-strike offense. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn declared in a memo that “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”

Similarly, we have discussed professors investigated for using the “n-word” in classes for purely pedagogical reasons. Recently, faculty have been targeted for using the term as an acronym or using the censored version of the term.  Not only did intent no longer matter, but neither did free speech or academic freedom in such cases.

The message sent by Bilek is that you can have a non-racial intent (indeed an intent to advance anti-racist policies) but that you should still resign even after an apology for the use of such a word. Four months after the use of this word in a faculty meeting, Bilek is saying that a resignation is needed to repair the harm that she caused.

In my career, I have seen occasional incidents of offensive language used by faculty. Professors like all people are imperfect. They make mistakes, including using ill-considered or offensive terms. There was a time when faculty could discuss such controversies and resolve (and learn from) them in good faith as part of a community. Over 20 years ago, I intervened in one such case with a professor after students complained.  He was honestly shocked and apologized to the students. He worked hard to avoid any other sexist comments and the students told me that they were impressed and gladdened by his effort.  Of course, that was before the rise of a cancel culture on our campuses.

Obviously, Bilek can hold herself to her own standards in both resigning and starting counseling sessions. Every academic can reach their own conclusions on whether they can continue to function in their positions after such a controversy. However, the concern is that many are likely to cite this resignation as a basis for demanding the resignations or terminations of faculty members who find themselves in similar positions. Indeed, such demands are common like the recent campaign to compel the resignation of University of Vermont Professor Aaron Kindsvatter after the making of a video arguing that antiracism program on campus amounted to racist treatment of white faculty and students.

Once again, if we are honest about calls to “talk about race,” we need to allow room for discussion, including unintended but offensive statements as part of those discussions. I have been a critic of Dean Bilek over her views of free speech. However, I do not believe she is a racist and I believe that she honestly and profoundly regrets her use of this word. We need to have some margin for error in our discussions and interactions. We need a dialogue rather than a diatribe if we are to come together as a nation and address racial justice issues.

76 thoughts on “Self-Cancellation: CUNY Law Dean Resigns And Seeks Counseling After Referring To Herself As A “Slaveholder””

  1. One would think that the university would at least require from the dean a declaration of manumission for her charges before she retires.

  2. “Once again, if we are honest about calls to “talk about race,” we need to allow room for discussion, including unintended but offensive statements as part of those discussions.”

    – Professor Turley

    Freedom of speech allows Americans to discuss any and all subjects, or to ignore any and all subjects, and to insult anyone or everyone, including “the king.”

    Manners, etiquette and mores may cause speakers to be socially ostracized, but all Americans enjoy and retain the freedom of speech.

    Freedom of assembly simultaneously establishes the freedom of segregation.

    The entire American welfare state is unconstitutional communism.

    People must adapt to the outcomes of freedom.

    Freedom does not adapt to people, dictatorship does.

  3. Here we are again today viewing the fruits of the pompous left. This current movement is reminiscent of 100 years ago and the then progressive movement. Senator Warren Harding in 1920 gave a speech and in part said, “America’s present need is not heroics; but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.” In response William McAdoo called the speech “an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea.” The progressive movement was pitched to the public as good government, better roads, public health, social welfare, but the movement metamorphosed into moral righteousness and conformity and ended up representing narrow-mindedness. Daily we are subjected to the hypersensitivity of Woke left and their hurt feelings. These irreconcilables should grow a spine. Regarding the educational part of today’s subject I quote in part John Locke from “Some Thoughts Concerning education” …” The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it, into which a young gentleman should be entered by degrees, as he can bear it; and the earlier the better, so he be in safe and skilled hands to guide him. The scene should be gently opened, and his entrance made step by step, and the dangers pointed out that attend him from the several degrees, tempers, designs, and clubs of men. He should be prepared to be shocked by some and caressed by others; warned who are like to oppose, who to mislead, who to undermine him, and who to serve him. He should be instructed how to know and distinguish them; where he should let them see, and when dissemble the knowledge of them and their aims and workings. And if he be too forward to venture upon his own strength and skill, the perplexity and trouble of a misadventure now and then, that reaches not his innocence, his health, or reputation, may not be an ill way to teach him more caution…”

    1. George that is an excellent post I liked the quotes

      Nonetheless it is clear this is a political battle, and one that is fought to degrade and demoralize us.

      The enemies are not the teeming hordes of bureaucrats– it is those who pay and direct them from the top. They are just mercs

      Sal Sar

    2. It’s no accident that these people are “teachers”, or “educators”.

  4. She had to be cancelled because she told the truth. The first rule of slaveholding is to never identify slaveholding.

  5. She is old and educated enough to know who she really is. Trust her words. Now afraid of cancellation will do the fake motions to “redeem” herself and guarantee the martinis cocktail invitations from her lib friends.

  6. …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.

    She was the dean of the law school. I doubt she’s begun her education and counseling, but rather she’s begun her reeducation.

    Why isn’t the university under fire for paying a pension to an admitted racist.

    1. She falsely accused herself. But facts be damned! Cancel the pensions of everyone who has ever or will ever commit wrongthink.

    2. She is a racist because she fears and hates “white” people, even if she is (??) one of them.

    3. Olly. Here husband is a big shot white collar crime defense lawyer and they don’t come cheaply. I make him for a thousand dollar an hour guy
      He used to be an assistant AUSA. If anybody has ‘white privilege,” it’s her!

      NYT writes about her rich lady problems:

      She probably does not have a slave, but you can be sure she’s got a domestic to clean her posh dwelling there in gentrified Brooklyn. Wonder if they filed a 1099 for the cleaning lady. HMMMM No worries when you got connections like that.

  7. Leftists should be encouraged to self-cancel. This woman sets a good example of how all the institutional racists (aka Democrats) should behave.

  8. As the descendant of Eastern European refugees, I consider myself – along with the massive number of descendants of Italian and Irish immigrants, among a host of others – to be more like today’s Mexicans trying to cross the border than antebellum slave owners.
    Of course, back then nobody insisted that signs be posted not just in English but Italian, Gaelic, Russian, Polish, or Yiddish. “For Ukrainian, please press 9”.

    Technical question: how many letters can you use before you cross the line with respect to the silly “n-word”? In some cases it seems the answer is zero. This is a failure of White Privilege that screams for correction. Black people can use it without consequences. That’s Black Privilege.

    Great drinking game: watch a comedy routine with a Black comedian and take a shot every time time they use this “slur”. You’ll be drunk in 10 minutes. Comedian is White, Hispanic, Asian, etc? You can be the designated driver.

    1. Many thanks from a 100% Lithuanian-American! In the Pittsburgh PA area, there were no such efforts to aid the immigrants from eastern, southern and northern Europe; rather, they made sure their children learned English – just as they did so, either on-the-job or from their children or in classes sponsored by churches and other immigrants; when they became citizens, ballots were printed in English. Unlike a dozen or so Spanish channels on cable TV, those immigrants and others heard their native language only in sermons at Mass (the rest was in Latin), the occasional Sunday radio broadcast and social/church groups. Their only “privilege” was making it boat to the USA!

    1. Ten bucks her ancestors are from the Pale of Settlement. Tell us what that means Michael?

    2. Is it ironic that the word “slave” comes from “Slavic” in English and a number of other languages?

      1. Let’s find out more about the privileged Ms Bilek

        Hubby used to be an assistant AUSA and now is a successful white collar criminal defense lawyer. Most impressive.

        In that article she whines about her travails managing a homeowner’s board in gentrified Brooklyn. Oy, she suffered!

        Reply to Tennant: Nobody in her family was “going to Mass.” This is an Orthodox name and I don’t mean Russian Orthodox either.

        1. She’s a former catholic, educated at a catholic all-girls HS in Chicago, and an all-girls catholic college in South Bend, and was an insufferable brownnoser at both schools. I know, because I was there, knew her.

  9. The Academy is undergoing its own version of a Maoist cultural revolution. Not only is self criticism is required to all who deviate from the party line, but self banishment become mandatory. Perhaps, the Stalin purges of the 1930s is another analogy. Perfectly innocent party members sent to the gulag or worse based on an arbitrary accusation by some commissar. Because the party is always correct, the innocent accused still confesses and essentially self cancels. What the US is now undergoing is what some call :”soft totalitarianism” But if the Courts are compromised it might not stop there.

    1. ” if the Courts are compromised it might not stop there”

      Bad news, they’re already compromised

      Various state courts — no names mentioned– have self-denounced as racist. Really, I’m not going to dig out the statements, the reporters missed it, but if you’re a lawyer in one of those jurisdictions, you saw it. An incredible ‘admission against interest” that boggles the imagination for a government struggling to maintain legitimacy in the first place

      but realistically, courts are always affected by the shifting winds. in every society. America is no exception. We were fools to believe in the vaunted “independent judiciary” in the first place.


  10. “It is not clear why Bilek waited for almost four months to announce her own self-cancellation for a statement that she immediately regretted at the meeting. She had already stated an intention to step down in June. So this move occurred near her scheduled date for retirement.”
    Likely delayed because of a pension vesting requirement (they never sacrifice the cash for mere virtue signaling). That said Massa Bilek needed to go a lot sooner. Any lawyer that doesn’t know the difference between a heckler’s veto and free speech is about as useful as a bull at a milking contest.

    Dean? Quite amusing.

    1. Mespo, I agree with you all the way. When reading this insane tribute to self-hatred my first thought was vesting of her pension. How easy is it to virtue signal with a full pension and a cushy early retirement. The cop, fireman or even (the dreaded teacher) can retire early and collect their retirement funding as the poor slobs in the dreaded private sector cannot collect until at least 62. I can work in the private sector from the day I get out of college or graduate school at the age of 25, work for 35 years at the same place and yet still not be able to collect one cent for at least two years. Meanwhile the teacher gets into the job at 22 and works until he or she is 57 (35 years, same as me) and they can collect FULL RETIREMENT right away, five years before I can collect the MINIMUM. I have to wait until I am 66 to collect full retirement and that is NONE YEARS after the teacher.

      Sorry, I went of course a bit but my main point is that this “Dean” is a poseur who has to be asked if she would have resigned in abject humiliation if she did not have a vested full retirement.

  11. Let’s keep distinguishing people based on their race. That is the only way for people to live in harmony as history proves.

  12. Mary Lu (Lou?) Belik. Interesting name for a slaveholder. Belik is most likely an Anglicized form of Belic or Belic(t)h, so possibly from the Balkans, or of Belik, from eastern Poland or Russia.
    In the latter case, unless her family had serfs, they were not slaveholders, and if they did own serfs, they were white, not black, unless they came to the States before 1865 and settled in the South, bought a plantation and grew cotton (I know, stereotypes as enduring as Tara, and who gives a damn?).
    If the former, then her ancestors might have paid child tribute to the Ottomans or been oppressed by people from the religion of peace (a historical anomaly, of course) or become Grand Viziers (with a nod to Said, who considered the entire West ‘other’).
    John McWhorter is on to something when he characterizes the ‘woke’ as the Elect, a species of religious cult. Certainly, the desire to suppress speech and to punish those who dare utter a forbidden word is reminiscent of those who favor blasphemy laws and, if the word is directed at someone in high office, of lese majeste (not necessarily religious, unless one assumes Joe and Kamala had a divine right to office).
    Then there are the shaming and shunning, and the proselytizing and excommunications, and the rituals and the processions . . . .
    John is definitely on to something.
    Not sure about M.L.B.

    1. Anybody want to bet her ancestors come from the Pale of the Settlement? And now she’s beyond the Pale.

  13. That dean clearly had mental problems long before she opened her mouth. Self-loathing, masochism…she doesn’t need race counseling, she needs a psychiatrist.

  14. It is clear that Bilek needs help, but I believe the help she needs is more critical than she thinks. She appears to need mental professional help, to see why she believes what she does. The “early retirement” nonsense is part of her problems, which appears to be more of a political statement, than a realistic one, since she was about to retire in any case.

    To think that people like Bilek are teaching our law students, to believe as she does, is a terrible thought. Her statements about systemic racism, just show how eager she is to conclude things, with no proof, but only a conclusion based upon the politics of the day.

    Law students need to be taught to think rationally and to have facts and law to back up their arguments, quite the opposite of what the Bilek method appears to be.

  15. Woman is unbalanced.

    Glad that she is gone, but raises the question of how she rose so high.

    Her legacy is vitriol and confusion.

  16. She went in dumb, come out dumb too. Tell her to go to the Queens in her alligator shoes. She’s keeping the students down.

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