November 28, 2020

Editorial: Empathy, the law and the pounding of fists

There is an old saying among lawyers: when the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law. And when the law and the facts aren’t on your side, pound your fist on the table louder than the other guy.
It is unclear whether David Schwartz, former Webster University student, has the law or the facts on his side. What is clear is that Schwartz is planning on pounding his fist on the table very, very loudly.
When The Journal learned last week that Schwartz filed suit against the school, we weren’t surprised.  When we began to read the details, we found a few eyebrow-raisers.
Schwartz alleges in his suit that the university unfairly terminated him from the MA counseling program for “lacking empathy.” Schwartz complained this was the first time he had received anything less than sterling reviews. Schwartz’s suit asks for more than $1 million in damages for “significant losses in the form of delayed pursuit of education.”
If Schwartz is telling the truth, this is an issue of concern. No student should be informed that they are being terminated from a program without the proper opportunity to correct damaging or incorrect practices.
But it doesn’t end there. Schwartz claims that his termination was based on a letter written anonymously to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Schwartz’s letter complained of a romantic relationship between a professor in his department and the program director of the MA counseling program. Schwartz claims it was after his letter that his reviews became poor and he was terminated from the program.
A few days later, when the story of the lawsuit broke in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Schwartz made another fist-pounding announcement. Schwartz’s plan was to hold an open workshop on empathy at the St. Louis Zoo, outside the polar bear exhibit. Schwartz chose an empty, exhibit. The zoo’s polar bear, Hope, died in 2009. Empathy abound, Schwartz hoped that others might share his sadness for the lost creature.
Schwartz was counting on a little fist pounding in the court of public opinion. Sadly, zoo officials informed Schwartz’s attorney the event was against policy and would have to be canceled. His attorney, Albert Watkins, gave a statement on the cancellation.
“My client was extremely empathetic to the potential for interfering with the ‘zoo visitor experience’ and elected to cancel what was expected to be a very lightly attended workshop. Perhaps the exercise proved to be the workshop itself?”
If Schwartz was terminated because he complained about his teachers, then the facts are on his side. If Schwartz was terminated because his teachers failed to provide him with an equal opportunity to learn, the law is on his side.
But if Schwartz was terminated because he failed to take proper steps, learn proper tools and involve himself fully in the process, then he is just a guy pounding his fist on the table.

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