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GWU professor leading campaign against Bill Barr denies they want his honorary degree yanked

Contrary to published reports, ‘I didn’t sense any enthusiasm on the faculty as a whole’

The vast majority of law faculty at George Washington University are calling on Attorney General William Barr, a prominent alumnus, to resign his office. They are less unified on whether Barr should lose his honorary law degree from GWU.

One of the professors behind the resignation campaign dismissed media reports that law faculty were pressuring the university to revoke Barr’s honorary degree, conferred in 1992.

“The idea of revoking an honorary degree was raised by one or two people concerned about the attorney general’s actions,” Stephen Saltzburg told The College Fix in a phone interview.

“But I didn’t sense any enthusiasm on the faculty as a whole for even pursuing that or talking about it any length,” the law professor said.

The Daily Beast reported that the degree revocation effort was “serious,” and a law school spokesperson told Forbes that faculty were discussing whether Barr (above) should lose the degree for “abuse of authority” or another charge. Both reports were from early June.

MORE: GWU president apologizes for saying he wouldn’t shoot black people

Last week the legal blog Above the Law reported that a GW law official was telling “inquiring alumni” that the revocation option “has been elevated to the university Board of Trustees.”

Neither GWU media relations nor Kara Tershel, who handles media relations for the law school, responded to email or phone inquiries from The Fix. 

Not everyone in the law school is on board with either effort.

At a House hearing Monday over the disputed clearing of Lafayette Square June 1 – a key incident in the faculty resignation letter – Jonathan Turley testified that no evidence suggests Barr ordered the removal of Black Lives Matter protesters “simply to give President Trump a photo op in front of the church” that had been vandalized.

Though he’s a longtime friend of Barr’s, Turley (below) told lawmakers that “I would immediately call for him to step down” if evidence did show Barr ordered the operation for a photo op. The law professor cautioned that the operation may have still been unlawful.

MORE: Reports say GWU law faculty trying to get Barr’s honorary degree stripped

‘It isn’t even news; it’s not a new stance’ that they find him ‘unacceptable’

The other law professor coordinating the resignation campaign, Catherine Ross, contacted The Fix June 23 about the report on efforts to rescind Barr’s honorary degree, claiming it was “incorrect.”

She asked for coverage of “the real story”: a 10-page statement, released on the eve of a Justice Department oversight hearing in the House, endorsing Barr’s resignation. Ross declined to specify what was “incorrect” in The Fix report June 10.

Above the Law columnist Joe Patrice said the resignation letter “can’t be viewed as independent of the early effort to do something within the school about his honorary degree,” which faced some “initial informal pushback.” Instead, “the renewed criticism puts the powers-that-be right back on the spot,” he wrote.

According to the June 23 press release from Ross and Saltzburg, “nearly 80% of the active full-time faculty with voting privileges, joined by 17 emeritus professors, deans, and legal professionals,” signed the statement. They also called on Congress to investigate Barr’s conduct and censure him, and for the department’s inspector general to launch a “formal inquiry” into his conduct.

Barr received his juris doctor from the law school in 1977, served on its Board of Advisors, “and has been honored by the law school and the university,” the press release reads: This makes the faculty statement a “highly unusual rebuke of a leading alumnus.”

The faculty “feel a special obligation to speak out because of the long relationship Attorney General Barr has with our law school and our university,” the release reads: Barr’s conduct as President Trump’s attorney general has “undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms, and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice.”

MOREBarr calls schools ‘ground zero’ for attacks on religious liberty

Though the statement cites Barr’s reported participation in the June 1 “forcible removal of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square” near the White House as its impetus, Saltzburg told The Fix that contempt for Barr’s actions has been steeping for a while among several faculty.

As the statement notes, “there should be consequences” for Barr’s actions that the faculty found “unacceptable,” Saltzburg said: “It isn’t even news; it’s not a new stance. That’s a view a number of us have had for a while.” He added that this was just the latest statement from GWU law faculty and alumni, including former Justice Department officials, denouncing Barr’s conduct in office.

Saltzburg hopes the official statements made will leave a lasting impact on the future political landscape.

“I don’t know whether any of these statements that have been issued are going to change the behavior of Attorney General Barr, or whether they’re going to affect the behavior in the future of other government officials,” he said. But he hopes that “serious people” will take a “hard look” at the “defects” and “perceived flaws” that they highlighted.

Turley’s concerns about efforts against Barr go back further than the Lafayette Square incident. Four months before the faculty resignation letter, he wrote an op-ed for The Hill criticizing an earlier resignation letter signed by 1,100 former Justice Department officials.

That effort stemmed from the Justice Department withdrawing a sentencing recommendation in the prosecution of President Trump’s associate Roger Stone. “[T]hese lawyers did not feel it was necessary to learn critical details about the underlying controversy before warning of ‘future abuses’ and ‘unlawful orders,’” Turley wrote. “They show the same lack of interest in a fair process they accuse Barr of committing.”

While he agreed from the start that “these concerns were legitimate and that an investigation is warranted,” Turley said “the calls for summary judgment ignore three key elements in reaching any conclusion: the timing, the merits, and the process.”

MORE: Turley speaks out against ‘trivialization’ of racism charges

IMAGES: CBS News/YouTube, ABC News/YouTube

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About the Author
Christian Willbern is a Loyola University New Orleans graduate in journalism with a minor in film studies. Her work has been published by The Loyola Maroon, Wolf Pack News, Nola.com, and Nolamessenger.com. She plans to attend graduate school for documentary filmmaking.

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