Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Letter of Support from Former Law School Professor

Dear Members of the Michigan United Asian American Organizations:

I was saddened by news of the events reported in the September 21, 2005 Michigan Daily. I am heartened, however, by your efforts to use this incident as a creative opportunity for collective introspection and action.

I spent eight years on the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School (1995-2003). Like most members of the faculty, I am a white male. My partner of fourteen years, however, is Cambodian, so I am probably more sensitive to these issues than many. In your effort to document and better understand the educational environment at Michigan, I offer some of my own experiences.

At one point, I was directing the Law & Economic Workshop.
The Workshop brings in outside speakers and entails organizing a lunch and dinner for the speaker. The tradition was to have lunch at the Saigon Garden. One tenured colleague would repeatedly object to the location. Without any appreciation for how outrageous his comments were, he would explain that he loved his dogs and that the Vietnamese ate dogs. Since the Vietnamese supposedly ate dogs, he did not want to eat at the Saigon Garden.

At one level, this may just be an isolated incident of someone being culturally insensitive. It was perhaps particularly insensitive because of its failure to appreciate and honor the significance of my own family situation. The fact that the incident was repeated after gentle and not so gentle efforts to educate him as to how inappropriate his behavior was suggests some of the difficulties in addressing ingrained aspects of discrimination.

More troubling may be the fact that many other colleagues simply did not “get it” when I relayed the story. Similar disparaging comments made about African, Jewish or Irish Americans would have engendered a very different reaction. Many people (including educated faculty members at elite law schools) do not even know enough to know when they are making insensitive and inappropriate comments regarding Asian Americans.

The marginalization of the Asian experience and of Asian Americans is reflected in other aspects of the institution. The Law School’s Center for International & Comparative law has a distinctly Eurocentric focus. To its credit, Japan and China have long traditions at Michigan Law, but they are not afforded equal status. Other Asian countries are not even on the radar screen. My arguments that any serious study of comparative constitutional law would have to include a country like India fell largely on deaf ears. A country like Cambodia was viewed as an opportunity for student social work, but not worthy of serious academic study.

During my time on the faculty, there were no tenured or tenure-track Asian faculty members. A number of distinguished Asian American legal scholars, who were off-the-charts good, spent time as “Visiting” faculty members, but were not accorded the serious consideration they deserved. At the same time, white scholars (also eminently qualified) who spoke
Japanese or Chinese were viewed as strategic opportunities.

These are complicated questions and there are no easy answers. The point is not to cast aspersions, but to take opportunities like this to raise awareness and identify larger patterns within the institution that call for greater reflection and potential future action.

I wish you well in this important undertaking.

Sincerely,

Peter J. Hammer

3 Comments:

Blogger Seth Patinkin said...

Dear Oprah,

I am writing to you about discrimination which has been expressed by the selective enforcement of city ordinances against me with respect to my rental business in Southern Indiana once city officials discovered that I am a Jewish person.

More about me: I was named to the "30 under 30" list by my alma mater and did my PhD work at Princeton Univ. under John Nash. I am a applied mathematician/ entrepreneur in my day job.

In the years since I completed my undergraduate work at IU in 1998, I proceeded to buy a small number of rental properties in Bloomington, Indiana, which I have successfully run as a side business for a number of years.

However, about 2-3 years ago, the normal flow of my side rental business ran into some serious roadblocks.

It started when two housing inspectors made a number of explicit anti-semitic statements to me and to a Jewish tenant at one of my rentals.

Soon thereafter, four (4) groups of my otherwise law-abiding and happy tenants were threatened with $10,000 + fine (assessed PER tenant) for alleged ordinance violations.

Long story short, I was soon stuck with numerous vacancies and left paying the mortgage payments on these properties which were subsequently burglarized and vandalized. At the same time, the Housing Department caused complaint inspections to take place at these properties, identifying dozens and dozens of "defects" in the properties not otherwise noted in previous move-in inspections and causing me to incur thousands of dollars of needless "improvements".

And then the Legal Department went to work on me, filing at least five (5) lawsuits against me for alleged ordinance violations, and at the same time, the Legal Department Chief's wife, over at Student Legal Services, encouraged my erstwhile tenants to sue me for recovery of their security deposits, in spite of their breaches. I was soon dealing with about ten lawsuits at once.

So in April 2007, I filed a lawsuit against the City of Bloomington for violating my right to equal protection of the law, and a number of other civil rights violations. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I have become of the despotism of city government in small town Indiana. My attorneys have recently discovered that my case is not unique. Another Jewish landlord also has a case pending in federal court against the City, regarding the improper withholding of a building permit based upon the impermissible consideration that the prospective buyer of the commercial property in question was a Jewish investor from New York.

My life has been turned upside down by the systematic abuse of ordinances and
judicial proceedings. I find it outrageous that such a negative spirit still thrives in modern America. I would love the opportunity to talk about my story on your show, as I think it is in the public interest.

~~ Never Stop Learning ~~

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