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A message from the Dean

June 02, 2020

Dear Law School community members,

Recent days, and weeks, and months have illustrated just how far our legal system is from achieving the ideals of justice and equal treatment that we claim to cherish. As a nation gripped by a pandemic, we have seen how longstanding systemic inequities and biases have produced disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities, and given rise to acts of hatred and violence against immigrants, Asian Americans, and others. And now, most recently, we are again reminded that this country’s 400-year history of racism continues to produce clear and present danger to the bodies and lives of Black people in every part of the United States.

The killing of George Floyd has provoked understandable outrage and anguish – compounding the outrage and anguish following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others. We extend our deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones to anti-Black violence. Our community is shaken as a wave of anger and pain has exploded across the country and around the world. As our University President Amy Gutmann wrote to the Penn community this weekend, we mourn together about these recent events.

While we strive to come together, it is important to acknowledge that we are not all experiencing these events in the same way. These killings are part of a long and brutal history of violence too often sanctioned by our nation’s laws and government practices. This anti-Black racism has provoked understandable outrage and anguish, and for our Black community members, this is a particularly challenging time. I join you in grief and anger while recognizing that you bear an undue burden that I will never experience. Violence at the hands of police and civilians requires our urgent attention, and that responsibility falls to each of us in the legal profession. I commit to doing more.

As a preeminent law school, it is our mission to examine, analyze, and advance justice. This mission includes acknowledging that our institution, like the society around us, has to date imperfectly and incompletely lived up to our highest ideals. I regard such imperfection as motivating, not paralyzing. Collectively we have the resources and the will to do better, and together we will work as an institution to take sustained action to catalyze meaningful change. As a starting point this month, I have asked our Office of Inclusion and Engagement, the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, and the Toll Public Interest Center’s Social Justice Programs to collaborate on leading a three-part effort to help our community grieve together, learn together, and work together to pursue systemic reform.

  • To honor the outrage and anguish in our community, we are partnering with University colleagues to host a virtual vigil on Friday, June 5th at 5:30pm. Details and a link will be forthcoming.
  • To redefine the conversation about police reform, with an emphasis on implementing strategies for real-world change, we are collaborating with leading scholars, practitioners, and activists to launch a series of conversations on topics including police brutality, systemic racial injustice, and life-saving criminal justice reform. We will circulate more details by next week.
  • To embrace our responsibility to lead the next generation of lawyers in repairing a justice system that has been plagued by repeated anti-Black violence, we will continue to implement an action plan for curricular and service opportunities that will enable members of our community to concretely engage in changing the trajectory of racism in this country.

We accept this call to action, and we look to our Penn Law community for partnership and solidarity in healing, learning, and working together to ensure that justice truly does exist for all.

Sincerely,

Ted Ruger