Business school deans and faculty have plenty to say about the conviction yesterday of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
After the murder verdict was announced, statements and tweets from a number of prominent deans rolled in, a rare display of commentary from higher education officials who don’t generally comment on criminal trials or verdicts.
But in this high profile case and in this volatile time, stakeholders in the business school community are increasingly speaking out on societal issues. And most of the statements acknowledge the pain experienced by many and the ongoing struggle against systemic racism. The core message? Much more needs to be done to erase inequality.
There were, however, some notable exceptions. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School Dean Erika James, the most prominent Black dean of a business school, did not comment publicly on the verdict. “Wharton has no plans to release a statement,” a spokesperson told Poets&Quants. “We stand by behind the statement made by Penn President Amy Gutmann.” In a three-sentence statement, Gutmann said the verdict is an “important step towards justice in this case.”
Charles Kerwin, the Guyana-born dean of Yale University’s School of Management, also did not release a public statement, though he had commented during the trial, noting that the case is “a reminder, if one were needed, that race relations remain a flashpoint in our society.”
‘THERE IS MORE TO BE DONE TO ENSURE THAT NO ONE IS A VICTIM OF THIS BRUTALITY’
‘Idie’ Kesner, dean of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, issued the strongest statement yet. “A verdict in a murder trial is at most imperfect justice,” wrote Kesner. “It does not erase the pain that accompanied George Floyd’s death, and it does not return him to his loved ones. Today’s result signals some accountability in this instance for this particular officer. Yet there is more to be done to ensure that no one is a victim of the sort of brutality to which George Floyd was subjected and to which Black men and women, as well as indigenous people and other people of color, are disproportionately subjected.”
The case has unleashed a surfeit of emotions, from anger to sadness, that have divided the country ever since the cell phone video of the murder went viral. It showed Chauvin kneeling for more than nine minutes on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, while he lay handcuffed and face down on the ground, until his body went limp. More than 20 times, Floyd uttered, “I can’t breathe.” But even as he cried out for his dead mother and his children and gasped “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times, Chauvin refused to remove his knee.
Kesner, who has been at the forefront of combatting inequality in the business school community, also cited more recent cases making headlines. “Coming so closely on the heels of the deaths of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo at the hands of police officers; the abusive traffic stop of Caron Nazario; and the string of mass shootings across the country, including the Atlanta and Indianapolis murders that deeply impacted Asian/Asian American and Sikh communities respectively, the jury’s verdict lands in a moment when we are nonetheless reminded of the necessity that we recommit to fighting systematic racism, wherever it exists. As a community, the Kelley School stands firm in its support against systemic racism, bigotry, discrimination, marginalization, and all forms of oppression. We ask each member of our community to stand in solidarity, opposing discrimination of any type and recognizing that discrimination due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, class, or ability is anathema to our values and principles.”
‘LET THE EVENTS OF THE LAST YEAR INSPIRSE US TO WORK TOWARD A MORE JUST & EQUITABLE FUTURE’
In noting the guilty verdict, Stanford Graduate School of Business Jonathan Levin had a similar message. “A single verdict does not solve the larger societal issues that have led to the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans,” he wrote. “The tragedy of his murder and the horror of witnessing it will remain with all of us. There is still a lot of work still to be done in the country, and here at the GSB. Over the last year, we have made real progress against the goals set forth in the GSB Action Plan for Racial Equity, which was created with significant input from our Black students, alumni, staff, and faculty. We know that this work is ongoing and collective. We remain committed to the goals laid out in the APRE and invite you to continue to partner with us in this important work. As we move forward from today, let us remember the events of the last year — so that they inspire us to work toward a more just and equitable future.”
In Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Dean Sri Zaheer said “justice and accountability won today” in the immediate aftermath of the verdict.
“Many in our community and around the world are relieved the jury came to the right decision, including me,” she wrote. “It does not erase the fact that too many Black lives have been lost at the hands of the police for too many years…There remains much work to do. As we move forward, I encourage each of us to be kind, compassionate, and respectful of others.”
‘A DIFFICULT, PAINFUL AND EMOTIONALLY DRAINING TIME’
At Harvard Business School, which has come under heavy criticism in the past year over the lack of progress for Black Americans among its student, staff and faculty populations, newly installed Dean Srikant Datar noted the verdict in a communication, echoing a message sent by Harvard’s President, Provost, Executive Vice President and Deans. “The work to build a just society—one in which everyone’s rights and safety are protected, and everyone’s dignity is honored—must be a shared commitment,” he wrote. For George Floyd’s family, today’s verdicts are a step toward that aspiration.” Dean Datar has put equity on his list of three top agenda items.
Dean Mark Taylor of Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis expressed the view that much work to achieve racial equity has yet to be done. “While you may find some solace with today’s decision, this remains a difficult, painful and emotionally draining time for many of our community members, especially our students, staff and faculty of color,” he wrote in a message to the Olin community.
“In the months since George Floyd was murdered, painful tragedy has compounded upon painful tragedy: continuing violence toward Black and Brown people, a wave of anti-Asian violence, the mass shooting in Atlanta, a recent shooting in Indianapolis killing eight—including four in the city’s Sikh community.
‘Whatever you are feeling today, please know that I am here in solidarity with you and our community is here to support you…As the past months have affirmed, the jury’s judgment today is not the final word. We remain duty bound to strive toward solidifying our commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and access at WashU Olin.”
D&I B-SCHOOL OFFICIALS WEIGH IN AS WELL
Some deans merely acknowledged the verdict publicly. At Columbia Business School, Dean Costis Maglaras sent out a community-wide email with a brief message: “To the Black members of our community, and those who are affected daily by systemic injustice, I cannot begin to imagine the exact ways this trial and corresponding verdict affects you. I want you to know that your CBS community is here for you in any way possible.”
At some schools, officers who direct diversity and inclusion initiatives reacted to the verdict. “I had been worried and anticipating the verdict, given previous outcomes, so I’m feeling relieved now that at least the jurors were able to find him guilty on all three counts,” wrote Élida Bautista, interim chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “I think that it just gives a little bit of hope, given how many times that hasn’t been the case. But, you know, we just had another murder last week, so it’s not full relief in the sense that this is over or anything. I’ve been in tears. It’s been emotional. Justice would have been for him to not be murdered. I hope that we begin to actually address the practices of policing, that we stop targeting Black and brown folks — pulling them over in traffic for minuscule things, frisking them, over-policing our communities — and that more resources are provided to community members, instead of the police being called.”