University of Oregon Law Professor Who Wore Blackface Issues Apology

Nancy Shurtz, who is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, says she wanted to start a conversation about racism.

University of Oregon School of Law professor Nancy Shurtz wore blackface to a Halloween party she hosted at her home Oct. 31. University of Oregon Screenshot

A University of Oregon law professor who came under fire after reportedly wearing a blackface costume to an off-campus Halloween party issued an apology Friday.

While the University of Oregon has declined to reveal the faculty member’s name, citing employee confidentiality, news and media organizations based in Oregon have identified her as Nancy Shurtz, a 68-year-old expert on tax policy and estate planning who has been on the school’s faculty for 34 years.

On Monday, Shurtz hosted a Halloween party at her home that was attended by fellow faculty members as well as students from the school. As previously reported by The Root, after word spread about the offensive costume, 23 faculty members from the law school wrote a letter asking for Shurtz to resign.

Shurtz has been placed on administrative leave by the university, pending an investigation. She issued her apology Friday through a public relations agency, The Register-Guard reports:

During a Halloween party I hosted at my house, I wore a costume inspired by a book I highly admire, Dr. Damon Tweedy’s memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat.” I intended to provoke a thoughtful discussion on racism in our society, in our educational institutions and in our professions. As part of my costume, I applied black makeup to my face and wore a white coat and stethoscope.

In retrospect, my decision to wear black make up was wrong. It provoked a discussion of racism, but not as I intended. I am sorry for the resultant hurt and anger inspired by this event. It is cruelly ironic that this regrettable episode began with my admiration for a book that explores important aspects of race relations in our society, but ended up creating toxic feelings within our community. I intended to create a conversation about inequity, racism and our white blindness to them. Regrettably, I became an example of it. This has been a remarkable learning experience for me.

I hope that all who are hurt or angered by my costume will accept my apology. I meant no harm to them or others.

Out of respect for all involved, I will make no further comments to the media until the University’s investigation is completed.

According to The Register-Guard, Shurtz is a highly regarded expert on tax law who has served as editor-in-chief of the Oregon Bar Association’s estate planning newsletter. A feminist scholar, Shurtz teaches the law school’s courses on women and the law.

Shurtz makes an annual salary of $163,588 and holds the honorary Bernard A. Kliks professorship, an award given to “law school faculty with demonstrated strength in teaching, high ethical standards and having made significant contributions to the legal community.”

Ironically, according to her résumé (pdf), Shurtz once served as chair of the law school’s diversity committee.

A 68-year-old woman who has been teaching law for 34 years and chaired a law school diversity committee should know better than to wear blackface. There are better ways to start a conversation about racism than committing an egregious act of racism.

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