Noteworthy E-mails

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This page provides a listing of noteworthy e-mails, both official and student. Only correspondance are historical interest should be listed here.

The following three message concern the Nigaleian scandal of 2004.

September 10, 2004

To the Williams Community,

While there is so much about Williams that we can be proud of, one area in which we clearly need to do better is in becoming fully welcoming and supportive of every member of our increasingly diverse campus community.

Yes, we've made progress in recent decades and in recent years. I acknowledge this and am thankful to the many people who have worked hard to realize those gains. But I have to say that there have been too many reminders, including the letter from Dean of the Faculty Bill Lenhart that's included below, that we haven't yet reached this important goal.

Today, with the strong support of the Board of Trustees, I call on all of us at Williams to contribute to a special initiative this academic year toward ensuring that our community be one in which all members are accepted and respected.

I am consulting with the Committee on Community and Diversity, the Multicultural Center, the Office of Human Resources, and others on campus on how best to mobilize the community for this effort. To launch it, I will be inviting all students, faculty, and staff to a gathering to be organized with the Chaplain's Office. I will report back to you on this soon.

As a college, our emphasis should be on education. The light of knowledge and understanding is our most effective tool.

We value the free and vigorous exchange of ideas. At the same time, every member of the campus community should know that we reject personal harm as a part of that exchange. A civil atmosphere of mutual respect is critical to our educational mission. We therefore insist that public discourse not be undermined by personal attacks, especially when they reopen the many wounds of historic discrimination that burden our culture even today. Breaches of those limits will face serious consequences.

This is a national (even an international) issue but we take no comfort in that. At Williams we set for ourselves the highest possible standards including, critically, in the promotion of civility, tolerance, and community.

We can do better. We will do better. It will take the efforts of all ofus.


M. Schapiro President

Schapiro's e-mail included this message from Dean Lenhart.

September 10, 2004

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to inform you about an occurrence that resulted in sanctions against a faculty member.

At the end of the spring semester, a meeting took place in which a group of faculty members, one of whom is African-American, was conducting department business. One of those present raised a concern about the status of her own field of professional work relative to the fields of the others. At one point, she made a heated statement to the effect that she did not want her field to be "used as a nigger."

The matter was promptly brought to my attention by several of those present at the meeting and a formal complaint was made against the faculty member who made the remark. Upon investigating, I concluded that the faculty member's behavior warranted the serious step of imposing sanctions on her, which I have done. I believe that the statement made at the meeting was a use of racist language that was meant to provoke or hurt the African-American colleague who was present.

Over the summer, I and other administrators have been working with the department to determine how best to move forward toward the goal of ensuring an environment that is respectful of all the department's members.

In recent years there have been a number of discussions concerning the extent to which various members of our campus community feel it to be one that is sufficiently welcoming and supportive of all. President Schapiro's letter addresses these broader issues.

I am confident that a community as strong as ours can seize this challenge to make Williams a better place for all its members.


William J. Lenhart Acting Dean of the Faculty & A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Computer Science

The following e-mail was sent on by Dean Lenhart to all faculty and staff (but not to students) on November 1, 2004. It is the last official College communication on the topic.

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to update you on the matter of the discrimination grievance proceedings that I spoke about at the Faculty Meeting in September. The faculty members involved -- Professor Laylah Ali and Professor Aida Laleian -- have come to an early agreement. The process that led to this agreement was initiated by Professor Ali and accepted by Professor Laleian.

I have been asked by both faculty members to make public the apologies of Professor Laleian. Her two letters -- to Professor Ali and to the college community -- are printed here below, in full.

Dear Professor Ali:

In the studio honors meeting held on May 17, I conducted myself toward you in a manner which was unconscionable. I used racially charged language that was enormously hurtful. What I did was profoundly wrong and was completely unprovoked. Your statements were reasonable and professional, and I responded in a manner that was unreasonable, angry, emotional, and deeply offensive.

There is no excuse for that sort of expression in any discourse, and certainly not in the context of an academic institution. As a result of my behavior, the atmosphere in the room became so offensive that you were essentially forced to leave the room. As a result, you were excluded from participation in an important aspect of your work within the department. In this you were doubly wronged, first by the hurt that I caused, and secondly by your being prevented from taking part in departmental discussion and decisions. I accept responsibility for creating a climate in that room most inhospitable to you as a colleague: a climate that interfered even with your ability to do your job.

Both for the pain which I caused and for the manner in which I have compromised your ability to effectively work within the department, I have the deepest regrets. I want to offer to you a sincere apology for this.


Aida Laleian

To the College Community,

I have not addressed the Williams community before this because I was asked to maintain confidentiality, but also because I remain deeply ashamed of my words and behavior. I am immensely grieved to recognize that the hurt, which I caused, is now felt by the whole of the community. Continuing to this day, I feel terribly saddened and enormously sorry for having caused this harm to Professor Ali, to the other members of my department, and to the college as a whole. I want to make my most sincere, heartfelt apology to all.


Aida Laleian

In response to Professor Laleian's apology, Professor Ali has asked that the following statement also be released:

My reason for pursuing the discrimination grievance procedure was to see that the gravity of the incident was recognized by the person responsible. I felt that it would only be possible for us to work together in the future if Professor Laleian took responsibility for her actions at our May meeting. She has made a statement of apology that offers a sense of the fundamental breach that occurred at our meeting, and I accept that apology. By her acknowledgement of the seriousness of what happened, we can begin to move on, and I hope that some trust can be rebuilt over time.

At this point, Professors Ali and Laleian have agreed to bring this matter to a close. I am hopeful that this agreement will allow the community to move forward.


William J. Lenhart Dean of the Faculty