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Georgetown University Law Covid

What Happened at Georgetown Law with Covid?

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For questioning Covid restrictions, Georgetown Law suspended me from campus, forced me to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, required me to waive my right to medical confidentiality, and threatened to report me to state bar associations. 

The Dean of Students claimed that I posed a “risk to the public health” of the University, but I quickly learned that my crime had been heretical, not medical.

Just before I entered Georgetown Law in August 2019, I watched The Paper Chase, a 1973 film about a first-year Harvard Law student and his experiences with a demanding professor, Charles Kingsfield. 

The movie has the standard themes of law school: teaching students how to think, challenging the premises of an argument, differentiating fact patterns to support precedent. Kingsfield’s demands represent the difficulty of law school, and the most important skill is articulate, logic-based communication. “Nobody inhibits you from expressing yourself,” he scolds one student.

“Nobody inhibits you from expressing yourself.” 

Two years later, I realized that Georgetown Law had inverted that script. The school fired a professor for commenting on differences in achievement between racial groups, slandered faculty members for deviating from university group-think, and threatened to destroy dissidents. Students banished cabinet officials from campus and demanded censorship of a tenured professor for her work defending women’s rights in Muslim-majority countries. 

Unaware of the paradigm shift, I thought it was proper to ask questions about Georgetown’s Covid policies. 

In August 2021, Georgetown Law returned to in-person learning after 17 months of virtual learning. The school announced a series of new policies for the school year: there was a vaccine requirement (later to be supplemented with booster mandates), students were required to wear masks on campus, and drinking water was banned in the classroom. 

Dean Bill Treanor announced a new anonymous hotline called “Law Compliance” for community members to report dissidents who dared to quench their thirst or free their vaccinated nostrils. 

Meanwhile, faculty members were exempt from the requirement, though the school never explained what factors caused their heightened powers of immunity.

Shortly thereafter, I received a notification from “Law Compliance” that I had been “identified as non-compliant” for “letting the mask fall beneath [my] nose.” I had a meeting with Dean of Students Mitch Bailin to discuss my insubordination, and I tried to voice my concerns about the irrationality of the school’s policies. 

He had no answers to my simple questions but assured me that he “understood my frustration.” Then, he encouraged me to “get involved in the conversation,” telling me there was a Student Bar Association meeting set to take place the following Wednesday.

I arrived at the meeting with curiosity. I had no interest in banging my fists and causing a commotion; I just wanted to know the reasoning – the “rational basis” that law schools so often discuss – behind our school’s policies. There were four simple questions:

  1. What was the goal of the school’s Covid policy? (Zero Covid? Flatten the curve?)
  2. What was the limiting principle to that goal? (What were the tradeoffs?) 
  3. What metrics would the community need to reach for the school to remove its mask mandate? 
  4. How can you explain the contradictions in your policies? For example, how could the virus be so dangerous that we could not take a sip of water but safe enough that we were required to be present? Why are faculty exempt from masking requirements?

I feared there were simple answers to my questions that I had overlooked: these administrators made hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, surely they must have had some reasoning behind their draconian measures. Right? The contradictions appeared obvious to me. The data seemed to be clear, but maybe there was an explanation.

I delivered the brief speech without a mask, standing fifteen feet away from the nearest person. I awaited a response to my questions, but I realized this wasn’t about facts or data, premises or conclusions. This was about power and image. 

Arbitrary. Irrational. Capricious. Students learn in their first days of their legal education to invoke these words to challenge unfavored laws and policies. I figured that I was doing the same, and I thought the school would welcome a calm, albeit defiant, student asking the questions rather than loud and angry crowds.

But this assumption turned out to be an incorrect premise. Nobody cared about my points regarding rationality – they cared that I had been reading from the wrong script. Even worse, not wearing a mask had been a more objectionable wardrobe malfunction than Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance. 

Nor did they care about public health. The week of September 19, 2021, (when I gave the speech), Georgetown Law administered 1,002 Covid tests. Two came back positive. A positivity rate of less than 0.2 percent. The students were predominantly under 30, and all had received school-mandated shots for Covid. Fentanyl, traffic accidents, and random acts of violence from the city’s homeless were far more dangerous to law school students, but we hadn’t implemented draconian measures to counter those threats.

Banning water seemed severe. Forcing healthy young adults to get shots that they did not want seemed intrusive. If the school was willing to implement those policies to mitigate the effects of the virus, then why should it stop there? 

But none of these questions seemed to reach the audience. None of my attempts at humor had broken through the fourth wall. I was simply cast as a new character: the anti-Covid, anti-mask, anti-science, unfavorable, unlikeable, unwelcome antagonist. 

The speech ended in an anti-climatic silence. I asked the crowd what I had been missing, but there was no response. There were no answers to my questions or acknowledgements of the policies’ absurd contradictions. 

I thanked them for their time and walked out of the small auditorium. I figured I might get a follow-up email about the speech, perhaps something from the administration, but it all seemed settled. It appeared to be quintessential DC: a speech with zero effect.

But the calmness ended two days later when Dean of Students Mitch Bailin informed me that I was indefinitely suspended from campus. 

Bailin told me that I had to submit to a psychiatric evaluation, that I had to “voluntarily” waive my right to medical confidentiality, and that the school could discuss the incidents with state bar associations if I ever hoped to practice law. 

Bailin told me I would have to attend hearings and provide written statements on why I had asked my questions in order to “secure permission to return to campus.” Additionally, I had to provide “a statement explaining why you no longer pose a risk to the community of defying that policy or otherwise creating risks of disruption and risks to the public health.” 

The disruption was asking questions – which happens to be the basis of law school. Cold calls and the Socratic method are the hallmarks of the legal classroom. I was at a trade school for a skeptical profession, but I was banished for asking questions.

As I write in “Shouting Covid in a Crowded Theater,” censors conflate dissent with public endangerment to maintain control over speech and to slander dissidents.

Hollywood for Ugly People

While I waited to hear my fate at the school during my suspension, I thought back to The Paper Chase

“Nobody inhibits you from expressing yourself.”

This was not just a different fact pattern; this was the movie’s mirror image. Georgetown had the worst qualities of Hollywood. It was all superficial. The actors were conceited. The people worshiped power to advance mediocre careers. The least impressive men were self-obsessed, the people in charge were spineless, and the actors were vapid. Everyone worked in the same web of people, nobody was from the city originally, and once-beautiful parks were full of drug addicts. 

But Georgetown was far worse than its West Coast sister city. Instead of golden tans, faces were fluorescent from hours spent scrolling through Twitter and Politico. Looks didn’t impress people; proximity to power was the town’s principal aphrodisiac. Instead of Muscle Beach and Santa Monica bungalows, young adults talked about unimportant legislation at bars where Teddy Kennedy once groped the wait staff. 

The characters stuck to the script, turned a blind eye when convenient, and valued power of principle. The old adage was suddenly obvious: Washington, DC is just Hollywood for ugly people. 

This wasn’t the town I had expected upon arrival. The new ruling class had replaced formerly sacrosanct educational principles with an ideology based on power and image. This fostered a culture that rewarded misrepresentations and disregarded honesty. COVID provided a pretext to implement a new system of demanding conformity and quashing dissent. 

Bailin understood this system. For him, socially fashionable talking points were far more important than principles like free expression. In a separate incident, a student confronted him providing “safe spaces” in response to Ilya Shapiro’s criticism of President Biden; Bailin promised her that he would find her a “place on campus to cry” if necessary. 

He claimed my suspension was, in part, for the “well-being of the students and community.” 

My character was not welcome in this script. It was disruptive to the plot line: the leaders were experts, and the students were there to obey their innate virtue. Questioning ineffective mask policies was not part of the Washington-Hollywood script; Georgetown considered that a cause for hillbillies and Trump voters in flyover states and Florida. 

There was no challenging the blatant irrationality underpinning Bailin’s institutional discipline. Submission triumphed over logic, hierarchy over rationality, institutional power over individual inquiry.

So I logged onto Zoom the following week for my series of mandatory administrative hearings, shrink sessions, and meetings with Bailin. 

Bailin enjoyed a general theme of institutional domination and submission. 

“I will tell you when you go in. I’ll let you know who we’re meeting with,” Bailin told me. “I want to be really, really clear. This isn’t a negotiation at this point. I’m instructing you the minimum steps you can take if you wish to return to campus.”

When I asked for answers to my simple questions, he snapped back: “Our job is not to convince you of the rightness, the sensibility of the policy.” He then told me to try to “escape [my] echo chamber.”

Unknowingly, this had been an instructive session. I had naively relied on Enlightenment principles in my arguments, but this was a simple power struggle. 

So I called my professors and informed them I would not be able to attend class because the school had banned me from campus. I began receiving calls from civil rights lawyers asking to hear more about my case, and I started to discuss the story with journalists that I knew.

The reactions across the political spectrum were unanimous – Georgetown had overplayed its hand. I had taken Bailin’s advice: after consulting with people outside my echo chamber, the script didn’t portray him as the hero. 

There had been a plot twist:. I could tell my story with complete confidence: I questioned the irrational, and Georgetown suspended me and sent me to a shrink. This wasn’t about me. I was a nobody – an extra on the set. But Georgetown had a brand that the producers had to maintain. 

I informed Mitch Bailin that journalists, lawyers, and television programs were interested in speaking with me. Later that evening, Fox News covered the story without using my name.

Fourteen hours later, Dean Bailin notified me that my suspension had been lifted. 

I do not know if the coverage had any effect on the process. I learned that a group of alumni heard the story and contacted the school to voice their displeasure. Perhaps the issue would have gone away without those pressures, but I was not inclined to give Georgetown any benefits of the doubt.

It was a fitting lesson for understanding our ruling class’s Covid hysteria.

On March 8, 2022 – two years after the school left for its 17-month corona vacation – the school announced that it would lift its mask mandate. That week, 4 out of 407 Covid tests at the Law Center came back positive. – a 0.98 percent positivity rate. This was twice as many cases as when I gave my speech and forty-nine times the positivity rate. There were also far more Covid hospitalizations in DC than when I had spoken to the crowd of vaccinated young adults in September. 

The data hadn’t changed for the better, so what prompted the policy switch? 

The week before, 38 million viewers tuned into the State of the Union. The plotline was remarkable: the science had lined up perfectly with the speech. States removed their mask mandates the same day that President Biden addressed the nation, and the Capitol allowed attendees to remove their masks just one day before the speech.

Over the last year, we’ve had some costume changes. Masks turned to I <3 Abortion Pins and Ukrainian flag decor

Two weeks after the 2022 State of the Union, DC’s sister city adhered to the new script at the Oscars. There were no masks in sight, but celebrities dawned their favorite blue and yellow attire.

Mr. Putin is a more identifiable antagonist for the President to attack than millions of Americans who choose not to get Covid vaccines. We’ve elected to destroy European allies’ access to natural gas rather than deprive unvaccinated people of medical services

These scripts were important to the people in charge, and they were willing to destroy individuals in their pursuit of maintaining the production.

It had been the mirror image of my Paper Chase expectations. “Nobody inhibits you from expressing yourself” turned to a demand for sycophantic conformity. Individual expression shifted to the politics of personal destruction. 

My drama ceased at the end of the suspension. There were dirty glances and whispers from peers who had been at the meeting, but my character arc had finished. This was nothing to take seriously: it was just Hollywood with a less glamorous cast. So when the unattractive, overweight woman with a “the future is female” sticker on her laptop glared at me, I had no right to be upset. She was just playing her part. It was little more than a Netflix limited series: Law School, sponsored by our friends at Pfizer. 

The masks, the people, the script: it was all a production. Mitch Bailin wasn’t an educator, he was a low-level set manager concerned with power, not inquiry. 

Georgetown Law continues as an incubator for an unimpressive ruling class, teaching its pupils to nod along to the script. As they say, the show must go on.

Author

  • William Spruance

    William Spruance is a practicing attorney and a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. The ideas expressed in the article are entirely his own and not necessarily those of his employer.


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