After months of deliberation over GW Law School Professor Elizabeth Glass Geltman’s decision to use another professor’s old exam as her own, the GW Law School recently chose not to renew her three-year teaching contract with the University.
Geltman was hired in 1995 as an associate professor to teach environmental law classes. Her first class, however, was a property law class with more than 100 students.
Law School Professor Joshua Schwartz gave Geltman some old exams and other materials to use as library resources and teaching aides. When her students took the final exam, many recognized it as a slightly modified version of the one in the library.
The administration was notified immediately and Law School Dean Jack Friedenthal offered a written apology to the students, who were allowed to retake the exam, receive a “pass” in the class, or receive a grade equal to their average in all of their first-year classes.
According to a written statement obtained by the law newspaper Legal Times, Geltman told the faculty that her decision to use the exam was the “mistake of a young, overworked first-time teacher” and that the pressures of drafting an exam at the end of the semester became yet another “pressing responsibility.
“I mistakenly assumed that I had Professor Schwartz’ authorization to use the materials he gave me as I saw fit,” Geltman wrote.
But many law students have little sympathy for the young professor.
“Her actions showed poor judgment,” said Scott Mory, GW Student Bar Association president. “If I told my professors that I didn’t have time to study, they wouldn’t cut me any slack.”
In early February, the SBA passed a resolution supporting a decision not to renew Geltman’s contract. Although actual numbers on the vote were not available, Mory says the vote was not unanimous.
“The SBA usually does not take a stand on tenure and appointment issues,” he said. “But the student body was sufficiently riled that we should make a statement.”
The faculty decision, which took more than three hours of deliberation, did not come easily. Students who supported Geltman drafted a letter to the Tenure and Appointments Committee praising her overall performance as an educator as well as commitment to her students.
Geltman is the author of several books and founder of the Environmental Lawyer, a law journal supported by the American Bar Association and GW Law School.
Professor Arnold Reitze, head of the graduate program in environmental law who voiced strong support for Geltman, did not return several requests for comment on the case.
Although Friedenthal would not comment on the specific nature of the issues involved in the decision, he said the decision was not based on one or two things, but a whole range of issues.
“I can’t tell what the faculty members had in their minds when they cast the ballot,” Friedenthal said. “But it was a complicated matter.”
Friedenthal and other administrators would not comment on Geltman’s performance as an educator during the interim between the incident and the faculty vote, or whether students or colleagues have made any complaints.
Jerome Barron, chair of the Tenure and Appointments Committee, refused comment about the Geltman case.
Anonymous statements by a number of students in Nota Bene, the law school’s student paper, argued that Geltman was discriminated against on the basis of her sex. Geltman’s peers commented to Legal Times that if she decided to take legal action against GW, it could conceivably involve the issue of discrimination.
More than a year ago, Geltman retained a lawyer for reasons some in the law school believe may involve sex discrimination. Legal Times reported last month that Geltman implied to her colleagues that she may sue GW over her termination. Abe Weissbrodt, Geltman’s lawyer, has exchanged correspondence with GW.
GW Deputy General Counsel William Howard said no charges of the issue of sex discrimination have been made by Geltman.
“They have expressed some concerns and we have responded,” Howard said.
As to what those concerns were, Howard declined comment.
Friedenthal emphatically denies that sex discrimination played a role in the faculty’s decision. “As far as I know, there is absolutely no truth in such charges, absolutely none.”
The overwhelming student opposition to Geltman’s actions prompted the student body to implement an official code of academic integrity earlier this year. But whether the faculty’s ruling on the Geltman case will lend more credence to the code remains to be seen.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to promote the code at the law school,” Mory said. “But if the faculty had decided to retain Geltman, integrity would have been an issue.”
This article appeared in the April 13, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.