“Doesn’t matter,” LeBlanc responded Saturday. “What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here? Do I say, ‘Ah, well the majority voted?’ No.”
In a statement issued Sunday, LeBlanc apologized for his comments.
“I attempted to emphasize a point and used an insensitive example that I realize could be hurtful to members of our community,” LeBlanc said. “The point I was making — that majority rule should never suppress the human rights of others — was obscured by the example I used. I regret my choice of words and any harm I unintentionally inflicted on a community I value greatly.”
The Regulatory Studies Center has come under scrutiny, particularly by Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that reported the center advocates for government deregulation and receives funding from billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch. The center, on its website, says it “does not take institutional positions on issues” or “accept funding that stipulates predetermined results or that limits dissemination of its scholarly activity or research.”
The president’s comment attracted swift backlash from students, some of whom condemned it as racially insensitive and tone deaf and called on LeBlanc to resign. Other students said the comment was an innocent blunder, said Raina Hackett, a sophomore and history major.
“There’s a spectrum of responses,” Hackett said. “I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t shocked. At GW, we’ve had a pattern of racially insensitive events that have occurred on our campus and sometimes, at this point for certain communities, we expect it.”
Quentin McHoes, vice president of the university’s chapter of the NAACP, compared this most recent controversy to an incident last summer, in which a student posted a photo with a racist caption on Snapchat. That episode was first reported by the GW Hatchet, the student newspaper.
Before LeBlanc made the controversial comment, he defended academic free speech on campus.
“I hear the people who are concerned about it, but from everything I know about it so far, this is pure academic free speech,” LeBlanc said, referring to the Regulatory Studies Center. “I’m not shutting down every voice that the students disagree with.”
The student who questioned LeBlanc in the video is affiliated with Sunrise GWU, a student group that focuses on reducing fossil fuel dependence. But the student’s identity has not been made public, said Joe Markus, another member of the group. Members are encouraged to confront leaders and question their stances on policies related to climate change.
Markus said he was glad another student caught LeBlanc — who “notoriously makes it very difficult for students to meet with him directly” — on camera.
“The fish smells from the head,” Markus said. “If the university president is using language like he is using in this video then, clearly, the problem of racial sensitivity and racism on this campus is clearly something that is deep-seated and requires serious self-reflection from the decision-makers of this university.”
LeBlanc said he did not know the conversation was being recorded, according to Crystal Nosal, a school spokeswoman.
McHoes said he met with LeBlanc and other student leaders and school officials Sunday, fewer than 24 hours after the video was posted to Facebook.
“The analogy was an extremely poor choice of words, given how it exists against the background of real violence against black and brown people in the country,” McHoes said. LeBlanc “continued to express remorse for it.”
McHoes said he is looking for ways to work with administrators. The school’s chapter of the NAACP plans to publish a list of priorities and wants to collaborate with LeBlanc, McHoes said.
“We gain more by working with him as a partner toward these goals than by rallying students for protests and displays of great aggression or frustration with the university that might lead to more tension,” McHoes said.
LeBlanc in the video said the university is working on a plan to divest from holdings in fossil fuels, which total about 3 percent of the school’s endowment — more than $50 million. The school has an endowment of about $1.8 billion, according to the most recent data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.