Roger Williams University Ralph Papitto School of Law in Bristol, R.I. has been in a whirlwind of controversy this month. The chairman of the board and largest donor, Ralph Papitto, used a racial slur in a board meeting back in May. This has all come out in the public this month. There was an outcry among the professors, NAACP, law students, alumni and legal community for his resignation. Papitto resigned. There was a petition for the law school to be renamed. Papitto decided he did not want to deal with the mess, so he stated that he wanted his name off of the law school.
I usually skim over e-mails I receive
from anything that says "Alumni" at my former law school, Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island (Class of '04). Although I love the school and have many fond memories, the e-mails are usually about job postings for employment in New England (I practice in Missouri), or events in Bristol. I am 1,300 miles away, and unfortunately cannot attend. However, I read the latest e-mail and it broke my heart.
It was a note informing alumni of the sad news about our alma mater. Ralph R. Papitto, for whom our law school is officially named (Roger Williams University Ralph R. Papitto School of Law) www.law.rwu.edu made a racial slur at a board of trustees meeting in the spring. Papitto is a millionaire and Rhode Island business leader who was essential in the proposal and upstart of the law school. He has contributed millions of dollars to the school and has promised to contribute millions more. In 1996, it was proposed to add his name to Roger Williams University School of Law (Roger Williams University has a separate undergraduate and masters program also) and his name was thus added.
Diversity has always been a concern for the RWU law community. At the board meeting, the members were speaking about adding more diverse members to the board and the community in general. Then Papitto spoke and used the "n" word. This was back in the spring. However, it did not come out in the public until this July when a fellow board member brought it out into the open. She called for his resignation, as did two others, and they were all removed from the board.
A petition circulated by students asked for Papitto's name to come off of the school. Members of the legal community were upset with Papitto. The national news media picked up the story. Papitto resigned from the board of trustees, a board he has served on for over forty years. When asked about his usage of the "n" word, Papitto, an 80 year old white man, stated he had never used the word in his life and he had only recently heard it in rap music and on t.v. (Really, could that be true?) Most recently, Papitto decided to request that his name be taken off of the school to "mitigate damage." www.projo.com
I along with my fellow alumni, present students, faculty, and legal community are heartbroken. Yet, some would argue that this is political correctness gone amuck. I would resound an emphatic no. I agree wholeheartedly with the calls for the name of the school being changed and Papitto resigning. A place of education is where people of all different backgrounds come together to learn from one another, exchange ideas, and be trained for the future. Keeping Papitto's name on the school would be akin to a stamp of approval for racism and prejudice.
Of course there is freedom of speech in this nation. If Papitto or any other person wants to spout racial epithets on the internet or in print then he is able to do so. However, Papitto forgot where he was and said it aloud during a board meeting. He has to face the repercussions of his actions. The "n" word has no place in this world. Loss of his job and loss of his name on the school, although by his own choice, are the proper choices of action.
Anything less would be a slap in the face to all of us who do not look like Papitto and have attended and/or will attend RWU School of Law. It's not political correctness. It's equality. Justice. Fairness. Doing what's right.
decision in asking to have his name removed from the school. There should be no place for racism in any institution and he should not have used the word he used in that board meeting. I don’t know what his motivation was for using the word and I don’t believe his statement on local radio shows that he had never used the word before and had heard it for the first time in a rap song. I find it ridiculous that an 80 year old man could claim that he had never heard it before, not to mention the idea that he got it from a rap song.
I do believe that this occurrence is indicative more problems than one man’s use of a racial slur. The issues that come to mind are artificial diversity, hypocrisy, and the nurturing of racism for political and/or financial gain.
The subject of discussion at the point of the slur was apparently the need to meet the diversity demands on the board. I regard quotas of any sort in the name of diversity as artificial diversity. I also cannot comprehend how members of groups represented in the quotas are not offended by them. For a board, a school, a company, a team, or any organized activity to have dictated to it that it must include a certain number of a certain group (race based, nationality based, gender based, sexual orientation based, religion based, etc.) is equivalent to claiming that the members of the particular groups aren’t capable of participating on their merits. Diversity should happen naturally. Employment requirements, for example, should not be about anything other than an applicant’s qualifications and aptitude. Quotas of any sort eliminate the possibility of equal opportunity.
It is hypocritical for anyone that enjoys music that includes several occurrences of the “N” word to be offended by a person saying the word. The word should not be used by white men in board rooms or black men in hip-hop songs.
I am not suggesting that there are not troubling situations that are caused by real racial tensions. One example is the horrible and not widely reported is the plight of The Jena 6. In Jena, Louisiana six young African-American men are being prosecuted in a manner that seems incredibly disproportionate to the white people that have been involved in the incidents that led to the beating in this case. Too often, though, race is used inappropriately in criminal accusations. Two glaring examples are the Tawana Brawley case and the Duke Lacrosse rape case. Al Sharpton made himself famous by championing the hoax spun by Tawana Brawley and while he sought an apology and a firing in the Don Imus situation, I don’t think he ever apologized for his role in falsely accusing six white policemen of raping the 15 year old Brawley. Mike Nifong tried to capitalize on the false claims of a black stripper against three white lacrosse players from Duke. Fortunately for society the truth came out. Unfortunately for society there proved to be an incredible number of faculty members at Duke that immediately jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to ruin the lives of the three young men whose lives and reputations were at stake.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both make a great deal of money using racism as a tool. How virtuous is a man like Jesse Jackson, who is paid by a company to protest its competitor? The actions and greed of these men should only serve to illuminate the artificial nature of nearly any cause they champion.
Liberal politicians also nurture racism and tend to treat minorities as helpless and hopeless. Without victim classes it is hard to imagine many people voting for liberal candidates, therefore these candidates must try to ensure racial (and gender) divisions for their own personal gain. There numerous examples of race-based issues that conflict with common sense. Some pander for votes by suggesting that the American taxpayers should pay slavery reparations to those that were enslaved. I honestly doubt anyone alive today was alive when slavery was legal. It has even been suggested that Hurricane Katrina was either caused by President Bush or he blew up the levee then didn’t respond because he is a racist. Of course the folks that float those theories tend to ignore the responsibilities of the mayor of New Orleans and the fact the when President Bush called Governor Blanco, she said she had things under control.
I would suggest that race will be an issue as long as there are those that seek to profit from the fact that they can make it an issue.
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