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Members Of George Washington University Law School’s Faculty Want To Strip William Barr Of His Honorary Degree

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Attorney General William Barr has defended his order to use riot police and chemical spray to … [+] disperse protesters.

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On Monday afternoon, as President Trump walked from the White House to nearby St. John’s Church to stage a photo op, Attorney General William Barr gave the order to law enforcement to disperse a crowd of peaceful protesters at the north end of Lafayette Square. Riot police and mounted officers used smoke grenades and chemical spray to clear the area.

Since that violent scene unfolded, members of the faculty of George Washington University Law School, where Barr earned his law degree in 1977, have been discussing whether the school should revoke his honorary degree, conferred when he first served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in 1992. The move to strip Barr of his degree was first reported by the Daily Beast.

After Barr’s actions were widely criticized and the President’s media event derided by religious leaders and mocked by late night talk show hosts, the Attorney General defended himself yesterday at a news conference, claiming that the crowd was “becoming increasingly unruly.” Cell phone videos of the incident suggest that account was false.

A GW Law spokesperson confirms that members of the faculty are in conversations with one another about whether Barr should be stripped of his honorary degree. Among the things faculty members are considering is whether Barr abused his authority.

To revoke Barr’s degree, a decision would have to be made at the university level. The law school is one of 10 schools at GW.

The university has revoked an honorary degree before. In January 2016 it rescinded a degree it awarded comedian Bill Cosby in the 1990s. He had been accused of rape by multiple women but he had not yet been convicted.

The previous October, GW issued a statement saying that it awarded Cosby the degree based on what was known about him at the time and that “it was not the university’s practice to rescind a degree in response to later information.” After Cosby was convicted on sexual charges in April 2018, dozens of other schools revoked honorary degrees they had awarded him.

Other public figures have been stripped of honorary degrees because of sexual misconduct charges and convictions. They include Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Steve Wynn.

It would be highly unusual for a law enforcement official to receive the dishonor suggested by the faculty at GW Law. In 2018 Lehigh University’s trustees rejected a vote by 83% of the faculty who wanted to strip Donald Trump of the honorary degree the private school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania had given him in 1988. A series of statements he had made were “antithetical to [the university’s] core values,” including his remarks praising white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, said the faculty motion rejected by the trustees. Lehigh revoked Cosby’s degree in 2015.

Writing in the legal publication Above the Law, former litigator Joe Patrice supports the revocation of Barr’s degree. “A law school doesn’t have to stand for much but it at least has to stand for the rule of law,” he writes. Gassing peaceful protesters, illegally bringing National Guard troops into Washington, and hiring… whoever the hell these paramilitary shocktroops are, all safely fall outside the confines of ‘respecting the rule of law.’”

In response to a query about the controversy over Barr’s honorary degree, GW law’s interim dean, Christopher A. Bracey, asked that Forbes read a letter he sent to students, faculty and staff this week. The letter addresses the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd. One passage says: “We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening within our country, its impact upon our community members, or its connection to the multi-generational arc of justice that shaped our nation’s history. We must take this moment to engage – if not in protest, then in solidarity with the notion that we must preserve and protect the right to protest as an essential constitutional right that dates back to the founding of our nation.”

He also wrote, “We are profoundly aware that law and legal action, whether the electoral process, legislation, or litigation, is the most powerful disruptive force at our disposal to combat the most retrograde of societal impulses.”

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