How hard can a test question be at Howard Law? Hard enough that it took 504 days to answer it, and they still got it wrong. From the FIRE.
The test question was rather lengthy (it can be found in the link in the quote), and involves a procedure about which I know little more than it sounds painful at best. But apparently, one of Robinson’s students was more familiar with the procedure than Robinson (or me).
During a September 2015 class, a female student challenged a test question’s premise that a person could sleep through a Brazilian wax. After a complaint to administrators by two students and a 16-month investigation, Robinson was informed that one of the students allegedly believed the question’s premise somehow required her to reveal to the class whether she’d had a Brazilian wax.
Notably, this was a law school test. Robinson was teaching Agency, and came up with a question that would seem to both demonstrate the point of his question while being a bit more interesting, maybe even entertaining, than the usual. What this had to do with any peculiar sense of a student that it pinged her narcissism such that it was not just all about her, but required her to “reveal to the class” her pubic choices, is a mystery. Nonetheless, that was her belief, because reasons.
And so the hairless (or maybe, disgraced hairful? Who knows?) wonder did what any self-obsessed student does these days. She made a Title IX complaint against her professor for sexual harassment.
This dubious assertion, coupled with the use of the word “genitals” in the law school test question, contributed to then-Deputy Title IX Coordinator Candi Smiley’s determination that Robinson is guilty of sexual harassment.
But it’s not merely that sexual harassment was found based on a test question, but that it took Candi Smiley (hey, I didn’t name her) more than 16 months to figure this out. Now, granted it’s a long question, and granted that it can be difficult for someone who is law-challenged, but a deputy Title IX coordinator, to read and follow a complex question, but one would suspect that Smiley could have muddled her way through it in a month or two, tops. But no, it took 504 days to figure out what to do about the Brazilian wax outrage.
After a 504-day investigation, administrators determined that Robinson would be required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, prior administrative review of future test questions, and classroom observation. Robinson also received a stern warning that any further “violations” of the university’s Title IX policies may result in his termination.
While it’s unclear whether the “mandatory sensitivity training” will deal only with Brazilian waxes or waxes from all countries, there is certainly a chilling effect on academic freedom blowing through this punishment.
“My case should worry every faculty member at Howard University, and perhaps elsewhere, who teaches in substantive areas like law, medicine, history, and literature. Why? None of these academic areas can be taught without evaluating and discussing contextual facts, especially unsavory and emotionally charged ones,” said Robinson. “I also can’t prepare my students adequately for legal practice if I can’t teach them new developments and require them to read unedited, unfiltered cases.”
That a student’s delicate yet narcissistic fantasy related a test for the class to her personal lived pubic experience would have been, at another time, good cause to hand xir a dime. As Robinson notes (and as FIRE makes clear, was similarly noted by Harvard’s Jeannie Suk Gerson in the context of teaching criminal law, because no lawprof wants to risk teaching the landmine law of rape these days), law involves delicate subjects. Teaching law involves students dealing with delicate subjects. By delicate, I mean stuff that the kids, if they try hard enough, might take offense to through the myriad twists and turns of Social Justice Chaos Theory,
It might be fair to distinguish Robinson’s use of a Brazilian wax from teaching about rape in Crim Law. The former was somewhat gratuitous, while the latter is, like it or not, a crime and a necessary part of the curriculum. But in the event that this sensitive law student becomes a lawyer and responsible for another person’s life, would it be acceptable for xir to ball up in a corner and cry should she hear words that offend her?
But then, it’s not that she was offended, but offended enough that she went the Title IX complaint route. In an not-quite-so-insane world, the dean would have had a chat with Robinson about it and the two would then laugh off the depths of law students they have to plumb to fill all the available seats. Nope, that wasn’t how it went.
By what stretch of chaos theory this was taken seriously by Smiley, and then, what distortion of reasoning she found this to be sexual harassment, defies sanity. Naturally, this is right in line with former head of the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon’s social engineering:
Howard’s actions are part of a nationwide trend of restricting free speech under the guise of addressing sexual harassment. For example, in 2013, the federal government wrote in a letter to the University of Montana that it must define sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” — including verbal conduct, or speech — and called the letter “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.”
By bureaucratic fiat, sexual harassment is defined as anything anyone says it is, “including verbal conduct, or speech,” based solely on the recipient’s feelings about it. That Smiley concluded that Robinson was guilty of sexual harassment, given that the demands of Title IX trump academic freedom and rationality, comes as little surprise. But that it took 16 months to get there is shocking. The mere mention of Brazilian wax and/or genitals should have been more than enough to conclusively damn any lawprof, even if Smiley didn’t understand anything about the rest of the law school exam question.