Paul J. Zwier II

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Emory Law Professor Paul J. Zwier II, who was placed on paid administrative leave over a year ago after allegedly using the N-word on two separate occasions, will return to the University as a tenured professor before the end of the semester. 

Zwier’s return was announced in a March 4 email from Law School Dean Mary Anne Bobinski addressed to Emory law students. Zwier will be barred from teaching mandatory classes before Fall 2021, according to the email. 

Zwier’s case, which involved his use of the racial slur during a class lecture in August 2018 and a second time during office hours in November 2018, was referred to the University’s Faculty Hearing Committee

The committee is part of the University’s Faculty Council, and is charged with investigating and recommending the outcome of cases where a tenured faculty member’s employment may be in question. After saying the slur a second time in November 2018, Zwier was placed on paid administrative leave where he remained until today.

Bobinski started her position as dean on Aug. 1, 2019, replacing Interim Dean James B. Hughes Jr., who originally placed Zwier on leave.

The committee provided Bobinski and Zwier a “detailed set of findings” as well as specific recommendations regarding Zwier’s employment status. The committee’s procedures advise that its findings should “carry great weight.” Bobinski wrote that both she and Zwier are required to refrain from disclosing the committee’s full report on its investigation. 

In explaining her decision, Bobinski wrote about the sometimes conflicting values of academic freedom and inclusive learning environments. She noted the importance of recognizing the historical and social background of the racial slur and realizing the potential harm and disruption of its use, regardless of the speaker’s motivation.

Bobinski made clear that Emory’s dedication to the principles of academic freedom means that the University has not adopted a ban on particular words, but highlighted that there are limits to those freedoms.

“I have determined that a faculty member’s use of racially-charged, derogatory language — such as the explicit N-word — with students, and without a clear pedagogical objective, may lead to censure and other forms of disciplinary action under applicable University policies,” Bobinski wrote. 

In an October 2019 interview with the Wheel, Bobinski said that first-year law students receive training about unconscious bias during orientation and full-time professors can readily access resources about sensitivity in classrooms.

“Over the past seven months, I have had the opportunity to speak with many Emory Law community members about your concerns and about your hopes for the law school moving forward,” Bobinski wrote. “I recognize that we have conflicting views within our community about the appropriate balance between Emory’s core values relating to academic freedom, equity and inclusion.”

Correction (3/6/2020 at 4:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that the Faculty Hearing Committee advised that its findings should “carry great weight.” In fact, the committee’s procedures state that its findings should “carry great weight.”