Hard Test At Howard Law

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.

On May 4, law professor Reginald Robinson was deemed responsible for sexual harassment after two students complained about a test question involving a Brazilian wax and an upset client.

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.

40 thoughts on “Hard Test At Howard Law

  1. Erik H.

    This professor is crazy. Who writes a test question like that and then makes it multiple choice?

    Besides, he left off all of the fun options:
    E) No, because the judge has had a Brazilian.
    F) Yes, because the judge thinks this is ridiculous and just wants to get it over with.
    G) Who the hell knows, because even experienced people know better than to say “this is what the judge will do and why.”

      1. Erik H.

        Oh, no, that is “a procedure about which I know little more than it sounds painful at best.”

  2. Corey

    These schools will soon be taking a page from Fight Club. “The first rule of Criminal Law is you don’t discuss Criminal Law”

  3. Richard Kopf


    A proposed test question for readers of Simple Justice:

    Assume Professor R, employed by Howard University Law School, was acting within the scope of his employment when he posed a test question in a class about business organizations regarding Brazilian waxing. Assume further that all law students are legally adults, but all are also delicate waifs. Assume that Cindy, a cis-gendered female, brings suit against Howard University, and not against the professor. He is judgment proof since Howard does not pay shit to professors. Assume that Cindy solely alleges that she suffered emotional distress and the inability to drink green tea due to being required to think about Brazillian waxing which, in her view, is too close to vaginal genital mutilation. Finally, assume that a motion to dismiss for failing to state a claim (a demurrer* in state practice) is filed by Howard and you are the judge.

    Should the judge:

    A. Deny the motion because Howard University Law school has potential liability, taking the facts of the complaint as true, under a respondeat superior theory.

    B. Grant the motion and impose Rule 11 sanctions on the plaintiff and her counsel for filing a frivolous action. Everyone knows that if you are cis-gendered then by definition you cannot be a victim.

    C. Deny the motion because it will be a barrel of fun to try this case to a jury of regular folks.

    D. Deny the motion, but encourage Howard to implead Professor R as a third-party defendant and seek contribution and indemnity from the Professor. (Although Professor R is now judgment proof that doesn’t mean he won’t be hired by Harvard. He may be a hot commodity (but not in a sexual sense) as his bio indicates he teaches, among other things, critical race theory.)

    Justify your answer.

    All the best.


    * Little girls are demure whereas lawyers file demurrers.

    1. Corey

      “Assume that Cindy solely alleges that she suffered emotional distress and the inability to drink green tea due to being required to think about Brazillian waxing which, in her view, is too close to vaginal genital mutilation”

      Judge, in a different time this would probably be one of the greatest pieces of satire written, but sadly I feel completely confident that there are people who believe exactly that.

      Now time to go learn what everything you just wrote means.

    2. PseudonymousKid

      Judge Kopf,

      Deny everything and make that poor plaintiff’s attorney get to trial and try to explain to other human beings the client is on about, judicial efficiency be damned. It’d be too much fun to watch. If that’s not enough justification, I don’t know what is.


      1. Richard Kopf


        I was leaning that way myself. But, in truth, there is no wrong answer and that is because, if I taught, I would never make my students sad.

        All the best.

    3. Fubar

      A proposed test question for readers of Simple Justice:

      Justify your answer.

      First thing, I’d continue the motion.
      Change venue to beach at the ocean.
      Then I’d wax a surf board,
      Get drunk out of my gourd,
      As I float while I sip suntan lotion!

      Demure plaintiff could then wear her briefs,
      While she argues her cases in chiefs.
      If she’d filed enough paper
      To cover her caper,
      She’d disprove that she needed reliefs!

      Defendants could wear only Speedos,
      Barring showing of unusual need, so’s
      The playing field’s level.
      ‘fore God and the Devil,
      Equal justice is one of my credos!¹

      FN 1: Although I admit my methods don’t strictly follow the FRCP.

  4. Mike

    Is it offensive that the principal actors in the question are referred to as “T” and “A”?

      1. SHG Post author

        If you’re absolutely determined to leave a dopey comment, at least have the balls to spell out pussy.

        1. el profesor presente

          That would kind of kill the joke, but perhaps I should have said it’s about grabbing P by the company. Anyway, it sounds like you’re assuming something about the owner’s gender* that wasn’t mentioned in the question.

          If it will redeem my androcentric symbols of droopy bravery, I could bring dicks and assholes into it and recite a speech from Team America for extra credit.

          *or gender identification combined with level of variance from cisnormativity, transition status, and/or preferred vocabulary for xir naughty bits.

          1. SHG Post author

            Concerns about killing the joke might be somewhat exaggerated, but good use of naughty bits.

  5. Dan

    So the possibility of sleeping through a waxing is pretty remote. Well and good, many exam hypos are pretty fanciful (my favorite involved the murder of Thomas Becket). And?

      1. Dan

        I thought cows (and most other animals, really) were topographically more doughnuts than spheres.

        1. Marc Whipple

          Topographically, everything is vaguely doughnut-shaped at the proper scale. See: “The Default Shapes of the Universe,” H. Simpson, Physical Review Letters 15 (1989).

  6. DaveL

    What, did you expect a career bureaucrat, whose entire career is predicated on the ubiquity of sexual harassment, to pad their timesheet for 16 months on a case only to conclude “no, there’s nothing to see here?”

  7. Lex

    The complaint, investigation, and result: clearly ridiculous. “Toughen-up, buttercup,” etc….
    It’s also — on every level — a badly written question. It’s beyond me why anyone would think a multiple-choice question on an Admin Law exam is the appropriate time for including “unsavory and emotionally charged [facts]” (which, incidentally, these are not: when did students become such prudes?) particularly when those facts are pointlessly distracting.

    1. SHG Post author

      Good to see you’re not too emotionally invested in the question to lose your objectivity.

      1. Lex

        My assessment is completely objective.
        You can ask students to look out the window and describe the weather and get a bell curve. Drafting good exams/questions — reliable and valid tests of the students’ knowledge and thinking process — however, is hard. This question has myriad issues, most notably that some number of students will get bogged down in the entirely extraneous detail of how someone dozed through a waxing and wonder where the prof. is going with this. He tried to be cute and quirky. Students hate cute and quirky exams.
        Good professors put a lot of time into how they draft and grade exams and take the matter seriously. From this sample size of one, he probably shouldn’t be writing his own exams, at least without an editor looking over his shoulder. Maybe I’m wrong and every prof. in your twitterverse will say this is a perfectly reasonable MC exam question. But, I doubt it.

  8. zoe

    And yet not a single male student (inexperienced with the Brazilian and bikini Wax process) complained that the test question was biased in favor of the female test-taker who had experience. Gosh, there should be more questions about male-pattern baldness or prostate exams.

    1. B. McLeod

      A number of waxing studios actually offer a “Men’s Brazilian Wax.” What is clearly at issue here is national origin discrimination, implicit in the assumption that Brazilian wax is somehow superior for this purpose to waxes from all other lands.

  9. Edward

    To quote a man more knowledgeable than myself on this matter. I give you Mister Miyagi (The Karate Kid):

    “Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.”

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