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Law school dean responds to legislator concerns about diversity training threat

Law school dean responds to legislator concerns about diversity training threat

Dustin Hurst
February 8, 2012
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February 8, 2012

University of Idaho College of Law Dean Don Burnett has responded to 20 Republican lawmakers who are concerned with what they perceive to be a threat from the school over student attendance.

In a message back to the group, Burnett apologized for the harshness of his tone in a message about diversity training, but says he plans to proceed with the workshops, slated for next week.

“By the way, I have apologized in two open forums with students for the seemingly harsh tone of the language you have quoted,” Burnett wrote. “My intent was simply to be open and transparent, but I could have chosen my words more carefully.”

Burnett is planning training, entitled “Dialogue on Professionalism and Diversity,” next week on its Boise and Moscow campuses and students, faculty and staff are required to attend unless the school approves absences for work or health reasons.

Any students who skip the course and are not excused will have it noted in their permanent records, which will eventually be turned over to the bar association, which certifies new lawyers.

Lawmakers felt the note in the record could make students appear bigoted or uncaring, which could hurt their careers.

As part of the school’s diversity plan, Burnett believes the training will be beneficial to all involved. “The plan seeks to foster an inclusive and respectful learning environment, and to assure a climate of professionalism in which diverse students feel welcome and in which all students understand their professional responsibilities,” he wrote.

In a phone interview, Burnett told IdahoReporter.com the trainings will be open discussions and not simple lectures. All views, including those opposite to those brought forth by the speaker being featured by the school, will be included. “The sessions … will be closed, ‘safe’ conversations in which participants are free and encouraged to express their candid views,” Burnett wrote in his letter.

The law student handbook, Burnett believes, permits the college to note if students don’t attend required meetings. “This section (of the handbook) promotes individual responsibility, and accountability, which are important values in a professional school,” Burnett said.

See a copy of Burnett’s letter to lawmakers here.

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