Faculty members at George Washington University Law School pushed this week for the school to rescind the honorary degree it had bestowed upon alumnus Bill Barr following the Attorney General’s efforts to clamp down on protests in the nation’s capital, sources tell The Daily Beast.
The push, which one source described as “serious,” was met by opposition from other members who argued that Barr’s actions—while aggressive and controversial—did not merit such a punishment from the university. For now, it appears Barr will keep his degree, amid warnings that it could send the university down a slippery slope of politically motivated degree-rescinding.
Nevertheless, the angst among the law school’s faculty is yet another data point underscoring how much of a pariah Barr has become in establishment circles and how appalled those circles, and others well beyond it, have been with the Trump administration’s handling of the protests.
A spokesperson for the law school confirmed the conversations around Barr’s degree. The office of the law school’s interim dean, Christopher A. Bracey, declined to comment. However, in a letter to students, Bracey wrote, “We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening within our country, its impact upon our community members, or its connection to the multi-generational arc of justice that shaped our nation’s history. We must take this moment to engage–if not in protest, then in solidarity with the notion that we must preserve and protect the right to protest as an essential constitutional right that dates back to the founding of our nation.”
Barr took credit for the decision on Monday night to have a variety of law enforcement officials forcibly move protesters who had gathered near the White House to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and systemic racism in the criminal justice system writ large. The result was a chaotic scene, in which chemical irritants and flash-bang grenades were launched into the crowd and police used bicycles and horses to push back protesters. Later in the night, military helicopters were flown low over the remaining protesters as another means of dispersing them.
Barr, who stood outside the White House surveying the scene right before police moved in on the crowd, has defended his order. On Thursday, he told reporters that he had wanted to extend the security perimeter one more block around the White House and that the protesters had grown “unruly” and had been asked “three times” to move back. But the preponderance of evidence—from real time video, to on-the-ground-reporting, to contemporaneous recollections from the protesters themselves—shows a peaceful crowd, there before the city-wide curfew began, being subjected to physical harm for the purposes of clearing a path for President Donald Trump to have a photo op at a nearby church.
Since that photo op, several prominent political figures and retired military officials have condemned the administration for resorting to a proto-military state posture in order to trample on constitutionally-protected rights to assemble. Among some members of the faculty at George Washington Law School, the anger was particularly acute owing to Barr’s ties to the institution. Barr received his JD from the school in 1977 and was awarded an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws in 1992, during his first stint as Attorney General.
Additionally, there is a “William P. Barr Dean’s Suite” at the school that, according to the alumni magazine, “welcomes students and visitors into” one of its buildings on 20th street in Northwest Washington, D.C.