Chronicle Exclusive: Professor offends law students

By on February 28, 2007

A Quinnipiac law professor who wrote that law students will become “smug district attorneys wearing ill-fitting power suits” in an e-mail to students belonging to his reading list has sparked anger from at least two law students.

In an e-mail correspondence Feb. 4 to the approximately 80 students and five professors who subscribe to his “Suggested Readings” list, Professor Leonard Long derided Quinnipiac law students about their concepts of how poor people and ethnic minorities are represented within the American legal system.

Long, who is black, wrote: “With the exception of those few QUSL students who come from impoverish[ed] backgrounds, or who have actually worked in agencies such as the Department of Family and Children Services, neither the typical QUSL student, nor the typical QUSL faculty member, has even the beginning of a clue about how poor people live their lives. Yet both feel quite comfortable pontificating and opining about what, if anything, should be done to address the complex issues of poverty.”

He also wrote that “several QUSL students will go off to be smug little assistant district attorneys and such, wearing ill-fitting power suit, and thinking themselves as doing justice. . Oh, and whether it should or not, race matters very much in America. Americans are not color-blind, and neither [are] their laws.”

Long often prefaces his suggested reading selections by including his opinions about social and political issues. These frequent e-mails are known casually among some law students at the university as “Professor Long Spam.”

In this particular e-mail, after Long’s comments, he recommended four texts pertaining to similar issues of race and class.

Law student Adam Gutcheon took offense to Long’s scathing comments. He replied to the e-mail Feb. 5 to express his anger to Long and to suggest specific plans of action the law school could implement to facilitate discussions about the issues of race and poverty, both within the law school and in Greater New Haven. Among his ideas, Gutcheon proposed the establishment of a program that would send law school students to local middle schools and high schools to expose the younger students to the possibility of a career in law or public policy and the holding of study-group discussions among students and teachers at the law school.

“In my experience dealing with issues of race in other academic environments, the way to start a good-faith conversation about this very difficult and sensitive topic is not to alienate with fiery rhetoric your intended audience,” said Gutcheon, a first-year law student and a native of Windsor, where he is vice president of the school board and has worked for three years to close the achievement gap between white and black students. “My ethic is, it’s important to talk about problems openly, but that’s just the beginning. Once you talk about a problem, it’s your obligation to become part of the solution.”

Within seven minutes of receiving Gutcheon’s e-mail, Long responded with a terse dismissal of Gutcheon’s suggestions. Long wrote: “This is not even worth responding to.” Gutcheon says he immediately called Long at his office in the law school to continue the conversation, but Long neither answered the phone nor returned the phone call. Gutcheon stresses that he is not looking to engage in a personal attack of Long, but rather to dispute Long’s comments.

When asked in person to be interviewed by The Chronicle, Long’s response was: “I’m not interested.”

First-year law student Sean McGuiness was also insulted by Long’s characterization of Quinnipiac students as egotistical people whose motivations for pursuing legal professions are to become rich and gain prestige rather than work for justice.

“I’m offended by his comments and I think he should apologize to the entire academic community,” said McGuiness, who is from Colonia, N.J.

As for Gutcheon, he says that he is open to Long’s stimulation of conversation about sensitive issues but is baffled by the professor’s refusal to continue the conversation.

“I think Professor Long has an awful lot to contribute to the academic community,” Gutcheon said. “. But, I do not understand the willingness of Professor Long to devote thousands and thousands of words to talking about all of the problems that Quinnipiac Law has with respect to poverty and race and the culture of the students but not suggest any course of action to solve the problem.”

After a purposeful pause, Gutcheon added: “I think that when a pedagogue picks a fight with his students, my natural response is he’s asking for a little push back because a good teacher will do that to spark discussion. As for me, my door is always open.”


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