University President Apologizes Over Majority-Rule Comparison

February 4, 2020

George Washington University’s president has apologized for comments the university described as an “insensitive example used in conversation” with a student.

“Yesterday, in a conversation with a student, I attempted to emphasize a point and used an insensitive example that I realize could be hurtful to members of our community,” said a statement from the university’s president, Thomas LeBlanc. “I deeply apologize for using that example. The point I was making -- that majority rule should never suppress the human rights of others -- was obscured by the example I used. I regret my choice of words and any harm I unintentionally inflicted on a community I value greatly.”

LeBlanc’s statement didn’t spell out exactly what he’d said. But the university’s student newspaper, The GW Hatchet, reported his comments were captured in a video displayed on a Facebook page, Overheard at GW.

That video shows a waist-level shot. Someone identifying herself as a student approaches someone who acknowledges he is the university’s president and proceeds to ask him several things, including about a controversial research center criticized for ties to the fossil fuel industry. At one point, she asks whether LeBlanc would shut down the center if a majority of students supported such a move. He responds by saying the center was a “legitimately founded academic organization” and by citing academic freedom.

“What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here?” LeBlanc said in the video. “Do I say, ‘Oh, well, the majority voted?’ No. In this country we have rights. One of the rights is free speech and academic freedom, and I have to defend that.”

The environmental activist group Sunrise GW identified the student involved as one of its members.

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