Law Prof. Ethics Rule: Don’t Say Anything To A Student That You Wouldn’t Say Over An Open Mic…

Oops! Law professor Daniel Capra, an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, responded to a student complaint that he spoke too quickly in his lectures and international students were having trouble keeping up with a foreign language. Capra dismissed the compliant and and dismissed the students’ problems following hm as “assumption of risk.” Then, after the student walked away, he said, “Fuck!”

His class was being recorded, and a nearby microphone was live. Of course, the episode is being given maximal attention, life today being what it is. Above the Law gleefully weighed in, so did Aditi Thakur, president of Columbia Law’s student senate, released a statement announcing that the student senate is “deeply alarmed” by Capra’s conduct. Gillian Lester, the dean of Columbia Law, said that she has told Capra that his “language, and the disrespectful attitude it conveyed, were unacceptable.” She also told students that she wanted to “express my own sorrow about this incident.” Sorrow!

Capra is also a professor at the Fordham University School of Law, so Matthew Diller, the dean there, had to pile on, saying, “His conduct was not consistent with his reputation as a teacher and scholar over many years or the spirit of inclusiveness and care for others that is at the heart of a Fordham education.”

Capra might as well just quit now. The students have complete power over him; any misstep, contrived, real or imagined, will be used to destroy me. He’s trying grovelling first, saying after apologizing, “I have devoted my career to serving and helping students, and I am mortified that I acted here the way I did.”

Once upon a time, in more forgiving settings, a professor could survive such an incident by telling the student that he was stressed, misbehaved, and was sincerely sorry. Today, he’s almost certainly toast. Nobody gets the benefit of the doubt. Compassion? Mercy? “There but for the grace of God go I”? The Golden Rule? Forget it. A single bad moment can wreck a lifetime of good ones.

Is that the culture we want to live and work in? Well, it doesn’t matter—that’s the culture we’ve got.

10 thoughts on “Law Prof. Ethics Rule: Don’t Say Anything To A Student That You Wouldn’t Say Over An Open Mic…

  1. Coarse, unforgiving, relentless, intolerant… Will “evil” soon join the list?

    It’s hard to figure how all these people with their moral preening to the point of mania can be so blissfully unaware that the capacity for forgiveness is a virtue, not a vice.

    • Glenn. According to the current Lefty Little Red Book, to forgive is to be complicit. These little NAZIs are taught to “call out” any behavior of which they do not approve. Forgiveness has been buried under a pile of totalitarianism.

      • Or in some cases, REQUIRED to report it to the lefty powers that be, lest they be punished as well. You can’t even look the other way, or pretend you didn’t hear, or decide something is too stupid and too trivial to make into a major deal that could cost someone his job and turn his life upside down. If you decide that, you are taking your own life in your hands. Forgiveness? Forgiveness is only for murderers and drug dealers.

  2. I’m confused. What part of what the adjunct said is “problematic?” The “assumption of the risk” joke or his just muttering “fuck” under his breath? If anyone can record his lectures, what difference does his speed of speech make? My corporations teacher talked so fast and filled so many chalkboards it was absolutely depressing. I couldn’t take it. Anyone asking her to slow down would have been regarded with absolute amazement. She’d say at least five times during every lecture as she was whizzing along, “This is all so important!” The reason she talked fast was she wanted to cover the material. (As a former teacher, I thought, pedagogically speaking, her technique was nuts, but that’s just me.) I got a C. She was legendary as the smartest student who’d ever been at the law school. She went on to serve as dean of the law school for decades, the first woman to do so. My how times have changed in forty some years.

    • Of course, part of law school in the late ’70s was to identify the really smart law students so the big firms and the judiciary could hire smart people to work for them. I’m sure the really smart students who could absorb large amounts of information all got As. Which was as it should have been.

  3. This incident reminds of a recent case I worked on involving a residential eviction for non-payment of rent. The tenants owed somewhere north of $16k in past-due rent, did not qualify for rent relief (that’s a whole other story), and had no real reason for the delinquency. Well, as luck would have it, I had to attend the eviction appeal trial de novo. This county court judge makes the litigants discuss the matter/case prior to trial, so off I went to talk to the tenants with clients in tow.

    The constable put us in a conference room, whereupon we “negotiated” for over 2 and half hours, which mostly consisted of the tenants telling me that I represented the big, bad landlord, stealing his family’s joy by threatening them with eviction because the evil landlord “wouldn’t work with them” because they only needed a little more time to gather all the money, and that my attorneys’ fees were outrageously high and unearned because, again, the landlord wouldn’t work with him.

    After dealing with this guy, his wife, and his “advisor” (not a lawyer but a “friend”), who constantly called into question my business acumen, my competence, my ethics, and my privilege, they finally stated they had $10,000 in cash to pay toward the delinquency and needed a few days to get the balance. I didn’t believe he and his team were carrying $10k in cash around so I asked them to prove it to me, which to my surprise they did. Dumbfounded (and wondering how on earth I was supposed to make out of the courthouse to my car carrying that amount of cash) we reached an agreement. I drafted a settlement agreement and presented it to them review and sign, which took another 15minutes where they had to confer in private because they didn’t trust me as the lawyer representing the evil landlord. All the while my clients are watching this.

    After 2 and 1/2 hours, they signed the stupid agreement, and being completely fed up with these three idiots, I said, and I quote, “you know, if you had bothered to call me last week, we could have saved each other a ton of time and aggravation and we would have been fucking around with this nonsense for over two hours.”

    Well, as you might expect, they acted like I defiled the very Shroud of Turin. Up they jumped from their chairs, declaring they had never, ever been treated so disrespectfully in their lives by a white lawyer! Whereupon, I said, “Fine. No deal. Let’s talk to the judge. When do you think you are going to move? I have had it.” I got up to leave, causing them to “reconsider” their outrage and the deal was revived. We talked to the judge, submitted the agreement and I left with my clients and a wad of $100 bills, who seemed happy. Until they weren’t.

    When I got back to the office, I learned that my clients ratted me out to the regional manager because they were offended that a lawyer would speak so terribly to their tenants, who called the partner to let her know what happened. The partner asked me about it, and after I explained what had happened, she said, “wait, these idiots (meaning the tenants and my clients) wasted your time for over 2 hours and that’s all you said? They’re lucky it wasn’t me.”

    I acknowledged that my language was inappropriate but I had reached my level of patience.

    She called the regional manager and let him know that I had confirmed what I had said and that, having known me for forever, if I had used that kind of language it was because it was warranted and that she didn’t appreciate the client’s reps ratting me out considering that I brought them $10k in cash and an agreement to pay the balance in two weeks (which the tenants promptly failed to do so we got the house back).


  4. “To err is dysfunctional, to forgive codependent.”

    … “There but for the grace of God go I”? …

    You know what happened to the man you’re quoting.

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