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. There was significant discussion on mass killings. This is an interesting article because it also talks about how the media tries to point the blame in the wrong direction. He was called a right wing white extremists, but it turns out it was left wing Jihadist. A mass killing by the left often disguised as something else.

    JF or Anonymous the Stupid in the future will pick out an early article that mistakenly identified him as a right wing white supremecist. That is the problem with both of them. They are superficial and wrong on a continuous basis.

    Boulder Shooter is ISIS Sympathizer, Leftists Hardest Hit

    Another opportunity to shore up their sagging “white terror threat” narrative is lost.

    Wed Mar 24, 2021
    A man murdered ten people in a Boulder, Colorado supermarket Monday. No details were immediately released about the shooter, but Leftist “journalists,” working from a photo of the shooter, seized upon the shooting to shore up their sagging narrative of “white supremacist terrorism.” There was just one problem: the massacre was actually, after a four-year hiatus, a new incidence of Islamic jihad on American soil.

    Even after the shooter’s name was revealed as Ahmad Al Issa (which is how he himself wrote it on his Facebook and Twitter accounts), establishment media reports continued to give his name as “Alissa,” which of course is a common first name for women in the U.S., and thus gives the impression that he is an American non-Muslim. Were “journalists” trying to obscure the fact that he is a Muslim migrant ISIS sympathizer? Of course they were.

    And that was after they had already decided that he was one of those “right-wing extremists” who are, according to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the “most lethal and persistent” threat the U.S. faces today. Julie DiCaro, a senior writer and editor at Deadspin, tweeted: “Extremely tired of people’s lives depending on whether a white man with an AR-15 is having a good day or not.” As of this writing on Tuesday afternoon, DiCaro has not taken down the tweet, as some media hacks are still, like a captain going down with his sinking ship, insisting that Al Issa is white. Prominent race baiter Tariq Nasheed tweeted: “White supremacists are trying their hardest to deflect from the fact the Boulder suspect is WHITE. Syrians in America are legally, politically & socially WHITE. Their white status is well documented in court cases Terms like ‘muslim’, ‘Arab’, ‘islamic’ doesn’t change whiteness.”


  2. Its very easy to drop the ‘r’ word into any conversation.
    You know you’ve gone to far when you claim that math is racist.

    Here however, its very damaging when a professor condones threats of violence including the ‘brandishing’ for lack of a better term of a lighter.

    While the act of burning an American flag or something else in protest is considered free speech, the act of taking the property from someone is assault and theft and is not protected.

    When you have a law professor who should know this and act better… you need to question the abilities of the school.

  3. I once called my wife a slave driver because she wanted me to mow the lawn instead of taking a nap. Should I get racial justice counseling?

    1. Talk to my ex, who I still live with, all these years later. 🤣 bc life is comical like that, and he would tell you that you deserve the best counselor, but not for racial justice, for your complaint against your wife for forced labour, in North Korea. 😉

  4. I watched this video where the professor says that anti-racist ideology is often racist towards whites. He takes a long time to say that. Of course I would agree. I would say to him however, nobody is going to listen to you bro. It was a brave video but now you marked for further demotions and abuse. Better quit making videos and hit the gym and lose that babyfat, bro..

    People who work in institutions like colleges better toughen up and quite asking for liberal tolerance and all that. Look instead to other white people stuck in “institutions.” See how they survive.

    Look to jails. See how people survive there. By sticking together, not by asking the jailers for favors. Sticking together is not the problem, it’s actually the solution. We know this deep down. Better figure it out before it all jumps off.

  5. As a youngster, I often heard the comment “good riddance to bad rubbish” from my parents – children of immigrants from northern Europe (not USA slaveholders). The saying applies to this law school grad who tried being a law school dean at UMass and CUNY. What will she do now to earn a living (if her contracts with the 2 taxpayer-supported law schools don’t pay enough)???

  6. There are so many big picture problems in the world right now. And this is what is getting a subset of people worked up?

    Scrooge was told that Ignorance and Want spelled the Doom of mankind. We have a lot of Want right now–the want of encouragement, of stability, of Truth. We have a lot of Ignorance right now, too–of history, of the tenets of a free society, of reality hidden in the fog of politics and manipulated media. Etc etc

  7. “Biden Considering Executive Action on Gun Control”

    – Fox News

    Joke Biden should resign and seek counseling after referring to himself as an official with sufficient authority and one capable of infringing on and nullifying the 2nd Amendment.

    The only officials who can’t understand the Constitution are the ones sworn to support it: The Supreme Court and judicial branch.

    Seems pretty clear to me: Shall Not Be Infringed.

    The inmates have taken over the asylum.

    2nd Amendment

    “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    1. It is obvious that the “bear arms” part of the 2nd Amendment must refer to only those folks who wish to walk around in a sleeveless shirts or dresses.

  8. So, Bilek is virtue signaling on her way out the door that she was already planning on using anyway.

    She’s also displaying how extremely important she thinks she is as she makes her exit.

    Ms. Bilek would make a great slaveholder. She has all of the necessary neoliberal virtual plantation attributes already in place.

    1. Bravo to commenter Walworths. I was about to make a similar comment until I read this one–better articulated than mine would have been. I also wish to complement the good Prof Turley, it will be a sad day when he retires, as he has become a true endangered species among/within academia.

  9. Until the government especially under the socialists stops promoting the ‘isms and the USA as a whole stops destroying American Standard English it’s going to be the same or get worse.

    Sample. Black to the rest of the world means a color.Same as white. It’s just a color. Maroon is the word in Spanish for people of a ‘certain’ African descent. I have yet to meet a Red indigenous from the first settlers to the the people of of the Indus Valley region illiterate forms, as long as social idiots keep using sexist words like perSON .As long as people put up with this bigoted garbage as long as the government keeps promoting it on their forms. The whole biased objective is divide and conquer or perhaps make the users look really stupid.

    1. Sure they are busy at divide and conquer. This protects the billionaires as we all fight over peanuts.

      But communities do have differences. Speaking of the Maroons, I wonder if people know the story of them. These were the escaped slaves of Haiti. They went into the hills. In some places Maroons also mixed with indigenous. But back to Haiti. They organized a rebellion against the French. People have often heard of it and the famous Toussaint Louverture

      But have they heard of Dessalines? When the war against the French was won, what did he do to all the vanquished French?

      He slaughtered all of them, man woman and child, save for a handful of priests. Yes, really, he stayed his hand and spared the priests but not the babies.

      See, Philippe Girard, “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Atlantic System: A Reappraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly (July 2012).

      I wonder, what should we white people make of the BLM types who celebrate Toussaint L’overture? Might we not fairly suspect that they know also of Dessalines, and his retribution?

      Ah history, what a gift you give to those who know you. Sal Sar

      1. Great, i think its an admirable thing for Professor Bilek to cancel herself both because she is genuinely out of touch with society because she has no concept of Free Speech, i served in the USN so that everyone (Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Gays, Republicans and Democrats) could express their opinions. As so many scholars among her aging and senile group, Ms Bilek fails to recognize the rights of professors who disagree with her or have expertise in the issue. Furthermore, would she be that quick to denounce the law student threatening someone wearing a hoodie with the words “Women Oppressed by Islam” or better yet “Death to all Christians” or “Islamic State of Syria rules”? Lastly, as a hispanic female married to a white male, i am appalled at the behavior of the left extremist minorities demanding greater rights (reparations, greater representation for blacks at all levels) for ourselves which is in direct contradiction to equality. I thought that is why we elected President Biden, yet blacks (and only half bc she is Asian) hold the VP, as opposed to Asians or Hispanic who will never be considered for higher posts, only white Jewish people. A Democratic colleague of mine defined white as WASP, but i thought whites included anyone from European descent including our jewish colleagues. Perhaps we (brown hispanic women and men, Asians and other woefully underrepresented minorities) will have to keep fighting harder to be considered for Secretaries of State, Defense or Treasury and D/CIA or DNI.

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