Outcry at law school quiets

Delahunty’s hiring raised concerns over his role in Bush’s flouting of precedent.

Karlee Weinmann

After igniting a controversy last fall that turned the Law School upside-down, adjunct professor Robert Delahunty quietly assumed his post as a first-time University instructor last week.

Delahunty’s appointment, announced after Thanksgiving break, spurred a collective outcry from students and faculty when they discovered he co-authored a memo to President George W. Bush detailing his legal justifications for not applying Geneva Conventions precedents to prisoners held in the Iraq War.

Delahunty replaces professor Dale Carpenter, who took a leave of absence, in teaching constitutional law for the semester. First-year law students are required to take the course.

Students organized a petition and nine of Delahunty’s colleagues signed a letter addressed to the Law School’s community denouncing the deans’ decision to hire him. Media outlets bombarded the University’s hot-button acquisition with questions and criticism.

Now, with school back in session, Delahunty’s class is running as smoothly as any other, according to his students.

Even first-year law student Lucas Tomsich, who spoke out in opposition to Delahunty’s hire, said class has been far from a heated debate.

“So far, it’s been pretty uneventful; class is proceeding as normal. He’s teaching in a style familiar to us and there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary,” he said.

Delahunty drew little attention to the controversy surrounding his hire. He did not specifically reference the memo in class or respond to repeated interview requests. Law School officials could not be reached for comment.

The first day of Delahunty’s class, three protesters, at least one sporting an orange jumpsuit and black hood mimicking Abu Ghraib prisoners, showed up at the law building.

According to class members, the protesters weren’t combative, and one who entered the classroom left at a security guard’s request.

For the duration of the first class, security guards remained posted outside the classroom.

Prior to the beginning of the term, Delahunty hosted an open forum-style discussion, affording students an opportunity to understand his perspective, raise questions and voice concerns.

Roughly half of Delahunty’s estimated 100 enrolled students attended.

First-year law student Jon Taylor, an outspoken critic of the hire, said the meeting generated mixed feelings among attendees.

“When he spoke to us, some people felt like he was very open and other people didn’t. They felt like his answers weren’t satisfactory at all,” he said. “It really depended on your perspective.”

Delahunty extended a further invitation to students on the first day of class, telling them he was receptive to lingering questions and concerns, or even critiques of his teaching.

Taylor said he and Delahunty have plans to engage in one-on-one conversation over coffee.

Noreen Johnson, a first-year law student who has been attending a Delahunty-run Bible study for area law students since September, said she continues to stand by the deans’ decision to hire Delahunty and is impressed with his in-class conduct.

“He runs (class) very professionally, and I haven’t seen anything that suggests there are any problems between him and his students,” she said.

Following the announcement of Delahunty’s hire, the law building’s hallways served as stages for debate, but Johnson said the division between students largely seemed to wane.

“I think everyone knew we had to put this behind us and I think we’ve successfully done so,” she said. “Law school is inherently a competitive place, but we have a real sense of camaraderie and cohesion you wouldn’t necessarily find in other law schools.”

But first-year law student Zainab Akbar wanted to clarify that concerns “about the University hiring someone about whom there are such serious allegations about his ethics, particularly in his interpretation of the Constitution when he’s teaching a constitutional law class,” have not diminished.

“We haven’t changed our minds or forgotten about it or gotten over it,” she said. “It is not going to come in the way of our learning or his teaching, but we are still concerned.”

Taylor said concerned students will continue raising issues surrounding Delahunty’s hire by planning events that encourage students to more closely examine “the issue of torture and the ethics of the memo (Delahunty) wrote.”

For now, though, Delahunty’s students are taking class one day at a time, with some seeing potential benefits of the tumult that shrouded their instructor.

“I have respect for those on both sides,” said Johnson. “Everyone’s been very professional and we’ll have richer political debate and richer intellectual discussion as a result of this.”