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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Professor affirmed

by Mike Masterson | January 11, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.


The myriad travails of late at the University of Arkansas' Bowen School of Law were justified after a university committee found Professor Rob Steinbuch was correct in having invited guests lead his classes during the Jewish high holidays.

Using guest lecturers was something Steinbuch had legitimately done without question for nearly 20 years.

After he again used a respected Arkansas federal judge last semester to cover his class during the two highest Jewish Holy Days, Bowen Dean Theresa M. Beiner wrote to say he could no longer use such temporary fill-ins, he said.

However, a three-person university committee found Beiner apparently acted against law school rules by restricting Steinbuch's future absentee scheduling.

Widely considered the state's pre-eminent authority on our Freedom of Information Act, Steinbuch said the committee specifically advised that not allowing Steinbuch to use guest lecturers would constitute religious discrimination, should Beiner refuse him in 2022.

Based on Bowen's own rules, I believe I (or any first-year law student) could have reached that same conclusion.

Here are the committee's key findings, which confirmed a similar earlier conclusion of the Anti-Defamation League, according to Steinbuch,

"Based on Academic Rule IV.C.5 and current practice in the law school by Ms. Beiner, Mr. Steinbuch should be allowed to have a guest speaker as an option when he is off work in observation of his religion," the committee determined. "Given that faculty may use all the options listed in Academic Rule IV.C.5 for other planned absences, including the use of guest speakers, to not allow Mr. Steinbuch this opportunity constitutes religious discrimination if not allowed for the 2022 spring semester."

To me, "religious discrimination" (their determination) sounds clear enough, even for those running a school of law. How about you, valued readers?

Steinbuch has maintained for months that, as in years past, he and other Bowen professors have the right under the school's rules to utilize guest speakers when deemed necessary.

Beiner, however, sent a message telling Steinbuch otherwise, he explained, which led to the ADL's involvement and the committee's formation and finding.

The administrative review committee consisted of three respected university faculty members--one chosen by Steinbuch, another by the dean and a final member by UALR's chancellor.

What Steinbuch still doesn't know following this determination is what the university administration will do with the committee's straightforward ruling.

"The rule indicates that the committee's findings are binding, but I don't know whether the administration believes their decision can be overruled," Steinbuch said. "Regardless, frankly, I believe the administration has a moral duty to publicly concur with the committee and rebuke the wrongful behavior."

I couldn't agree more. Why form a committee if you plan to ignore its findings altogether?

"More broadly," he continued, "what's noteworthy about this entire affair is how, after presenting the unassailable language of the law-school rule, these folks [Beiner and her administration] persisted in their fantastical assertions regarding my right to a guest lecturer during my observance of my Jewish Holy Days.

"Thereafter, they sought to avoid discussing the matter by invoking the presence of the committee that has now vindicated my position," he continued.

"Now that the administrative process has validated the obvious, not only is the continued discussion bemoaned, but the unanimous conclusions of the Anti-Defamation League and the internal committee, two-thirds of which was chosen by the administration, is sadly belittled [by some at the school]."

Steinbuch said his conflict with the Beiner administration actually preceded these events, when last summer he reported that a named professorship at Bowen had been quietly and improperly labeled as the "William J. Clinton Professorship in Constitutional Law," even though Clinton had previously withdrawn his name for the position.

That professorship had been held since its founding by Bowen professor and dean emeritus John DiPippa, who also was involved in the renaming, according to Steinbuch.

Steinbuch and others on the faculty refused to drop that issue, and eventually UALR's chancellor and a state Senate hearing into the matter vindicated Steinbuch's concerns over the Clinton professorship title.

I'll say one thing for this silver-haired firebrand of a professor, righteous thorn in the administration's side and transparency authority: He'll never be accused of being shy or retiring when it comes to expressing strong views about right and wrong.

And now he's been twice proven right.

Transparency, determination and tenacity; I'd say all are positive traits for any law school professor.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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