Racist, Sexist, Whinist

So the Dean of your law school gets murdered. Regularly. As part of an example by your criminal law professor.  Who’s a white male. And the Dean is a black female. And this makes you feel bad. Discuss.

From DelawareOnline , this is no caselaw example, but what happened at Widener Law School:

During a spring 2010 criminal law class, Lawrence Connell shot and killed Linda Ammons — hypothetically speaking.

Connell considered the pretend notion of his murdering the Widener School of Law dean an absurd example meant to help students remember a legal principle.

But at least two students filed complaints with administrators, calling it violent, racist and sexist, according to Connell’s attorney, Thomas Neuberger.

Now, the controversial classroom imagery has left the associate professor fighting to keep his job of 26 years and alleging Widener violated his right to academic freedom.

For any reader who didn’t enjoy the pleasure of law school tuition bills, Orin Kerr, a lawprof himself, explains the norm:

One of the common ways that law professors keep students mildly entertained in class is by posing hypotheticals involving their professors and the Dean. I ‘m not sure why this is so funny, but students just love it. If you teach first-year criminal law, which typically focuses heavily on homicide crimes, that means you spend a lot of time imagining your colleagues meeting horrible fates. If A kills B out of revenge, that’s just a boring hypothetical. But if the hypo involves the students’ Torts Professor killing the Dean out of revenge — or better yet, a conspiracy in which the Dean and the students’ Torts and Contract Professors agree to kill their Criminal law Professor for beer money — well, that’s serious entertainment. It may seem a bit morbid at first. But it’s the opposite, I think. Putting Professors or the Dean in the place of real criminals and real victims makes the scenario so absurd that it adds a bit of levity to what is otherwise a very depressing topic. As a result, it’s a common tool Criminal Law professors use when teaching first-year students the basic doctrines of criminal law. I suppose over the years I’ve murdered pretty much every 1st-year teacher — and certainly all my Deans — and they’ve all murdered me, too. (All during in-class hypos, mind you.)

It’s all in good fun, and intended to keep students engaged and interested.  For anyone inclined to wretch when they hear the word “blackacre,” you understand. 

But law students, apparently, have both become more “sensitive” and simultaneously more assertive in complaining when something offends their delicate sensibilities.  Two students were sufficiently offended by Connell’s hypotheticals that they went to the Dean and complained.

In the description of the complaints provided to Connell, the unnamed students accuse him of using Ammons, a black woman, as the shooting victim in his class examples “at least 10 times,” Neuberger said. In one instance, a student alleged Connell used a hypothetical situation describing how he “blew her head off,” Neuberger said. His examples ranged from the gory to the intentionally absurd, according to Neuberger, such as when Connell asked students to imagine Ammons dealing drugs out of her office.

As  Orin later notes in reaction to the fact that it was two, rather than a lone, student who complained:

In my experience, law students rarely complain individually: They usually complain together, generally as a large-ish group. So if something was off, you’d expect a good-size group — maybe 5 or 10. Only two students complaining struck me as a bit suspicious.

And as for 10 instances of using the Dean in his examples,  Orin states that he kills off a few hundred people during the course of a semester, making the 10 times he murders a dean less than overwhelming.

Oh, the mindfield through which a politically well-intended yet engaging professor walks these days.  How hard it will be when these whining inchoate lawyers finally make their way into a criminal courtroom, and get their delicate teacup butts smacked hard by reality.

When I was a baby lawyer, my case was called in the courtroom of a well-respected judge even though my client had yet to appear.  The judge, who happened to be black, stared at me as I shuffled my feet, looked at him with a sheepish grin and explained that the defendant had yet to arrive and no, I didn’t know why. 

Then he laughed out loud, informing me that he understood completely why my client, who had been previously admonished to be in the courtroom at 9:30 in the morning unless he was dead, had failed to appear.

He’s on CP time.

Yes, that’s what the judge told me.  Not in a whisper.  Not at sidebar.  Not because we were close friends.  He said it loud and clear in an open courtroom on the record.  Do you know what that meant?

The judge wasn’t being racist.  He was dealing with some ugly reality in the trenches, and it saved my client from having a bench warrant issued and spending the rest of the case on Rikers Island.  He showed up later and was read the riot act, beaten into submission, told that his failure to be on time would result in being whipped within an inch of his life.  i don’t remember if he was on time for the next appearance, but I do remember thanking the judge for letting him go home that day and sleep in his own home with his wife and children.

That students are so hyper-vigilant and ever-ready to complain demonstrates their wonderful attention to detail, even when the details are so unclear that they’re compelled to extrapolate from their Dean’s gender and skin color that there’s racism and sexism afoot. 

But if this so offends your sensibilities, so outrages you that you feel compelled to complain to your Dean, you are going to hate being a criminal defense lawyer. 

Worse still is that the Widener Law School administration didn’t use this as a teachable moment for these two law students, and instead have taken Connell to task, despite his 26 years of teaching, the normalcy of using a murdered dean as an example and the basic tenet of academic freedom.  Instead, Widener chose to empower the whiners and encourage its students (and indirectly its lawprofs) to wallow in their childish sensitivity.

I understand how political correctness is used to change a culture to eliminate the vestiges of racism and sexism.  This isn’t an argument suggesting that either racism or sexism is a good thing, or even permissible.  But when your sensibilities are so delicate that you find one or the other, or both, under every rock, you’re going to have a very hard time functioning in a world where unpleasant things happen all the time, and no one wants to hear you whine about it.

And so there are two things to take from Lawrence Connell’s example: law students who are “uncomfortable” when examples don’t meet their personal approval need a good smack, and lawyers everywhere should be extremely cautious about hiring any kid out of Widener Law School.

10 thoughts on “Racist, Sexist, Whinist

  1. AlliG

    This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Last I checked, law students should be keeping busy with a host of real complaints against their schools right now.

  2. Dan

    So, we’re in agreement, O conveying Whiteacre to A and Blackacre to B is racist, right? Glad I’m not the only one who thought so.

    This situation reminds me of the Human Stain by Phillip Roth- a good book and a so-so movie.

  3. Jeffrey Deutsch


    Years ago, I taught an introductory Economics course, and was told – well after the course was over – that someone had complained I had made a racist comment.

    Specifically, I had told the class – as part of teaching them how organizations sometimes pursue the Almighty Dollar – that when colleges tried to recruit Jesse Owens for their athletic programs, they offered him among other things the use of beautiful women. I had also pointed out that Owens consistently refused those offers, because he was married.

    Apparently, someone thought that was racist, because that was an implicit suggestion that a black person would even consider such an offer.

    Isn’t life interesting sometimes?

    Jeff Deutsch

  4. Roger Nichols

    I think my head just exploded. Racism is ugly. There was an extremely unfortunate racist incident my first year in law school in 1986. It was terrible, violent, but was discussed and dealt with. This is just Politically Correct whining. If this is offensive, then the practice of law will put the complainers in therapy, or long-term inpatient care. The world of criminal law is not pretty, clean, nice, PC, or otherwise as sanitary as those whiners would have it be.

  5. SHG

    Can you imagine how one of these teacups will react the first time a judge denies their application and rips them a new asshole for wasting his time? 

  6. Roger Nichols

    TEACUPS!! Scott, I think I just cracked a rib from laughing. Well put. My practice is 80+% dealing with corrections law and parole issues. My world is a good deal grittier than these tender babies will ever encounter. Have they not heard that Wall Street is not hiring?

    They need to do a few months working the Jail Reduction Docket in a large city. You never forget the noise and the smell. THAT is justice at the base line.

  7. Ken

    In my criminal law course, we discussed a case in which a young woman gave birth on the toilet and allowed the baby to drown. There was a discussion of her mental state and what she knew or didn’t know. The professor said “well, she didn’t think it was a watermelon.” The professor was white. The defendant being discussed was black.

    It was remarkable mostly because no one said anything. It was a rather racially charged time.

    I don’t think the professor even realized what he had said.

  8. Stephen

    The first case that I was assigned to read in law school was a gang rape and mutilation. It remains one of the grimmest examples of inhumanity I’ve ever seen.

    I would have paid my criminal law professor to make a joke in that class.

  9. Kathleen Casey

    He probably wasn’t thinking of her race. More likely his wife, who may have told him that having a baby is like giving birth to a watermelon.
    Haven’t you heard that old saw? What better analogy is there?

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