The Professor and the Insensitive Law School Exam Question

"Go ahead, tell Prof. Kingsfield that his exam is unfair because it triggers your emotions and you can't think straight. I dare you."

“Go ahead, tell Prof. Kingsfield that his exam is unfair because it triggers your emotions and you can’t think straight. I dare you.”

A Constitutional Law exam at UCLA Law School included this question:

CNN News reported: On Nov. 24, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch announced in a publicized press conference that Police Officer Darren Wilson (who has since resigned) would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, was with hundreds of protesters assembled outside the police station, listening on loudspeakers and car radios when they learned Officer Wilson was not being charged. Standing on the hood of a car, Mr. Head embraced Michael Brown’s mother. Mr. Head asked someone for a bullhorn but it was not passed to him. He turned to the crowd, stomped on the hood and shouted, repeatedly, “Burn this bitch down!”

Police Chief Tom Jackson told Fox “News,” “We are pursuing those comments … We can’t let Ferguson and the community die [as a result of the riots and fires following McCulloch’s announcement]. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

County Attorney Robert McCulloch asks lawyers in his office whether to seek an indictment against Head by relying on a statute forbidding breach of the peace and another prohibiting rioting (six or more persons assembling to violate laws with violence). A recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant 1st Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo.

The question is a fair and legitimate one, and very typical of law school exams, which often ask students to apply course content to current events. Nonetheless, it provoked a controversy.

Shyrissa Dobbins, a second-year law student in the course and is chair of the Black Law Students Association, complained, “Daily I think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and I have a challenge. Every day I think about this injustice and how I’m in a law school that won’t even make a statement about it.” Hussain Turk, a second-year law student who took the exam, argued that  exams should not ask students to address controversial events, and that the question was unfair, as it could be more emotionally difficult for black students to answer. “These kinds of questions create a hostile learning environment for students of color, especially black students who are already disadvantaged by the institution,” Turk said.

There is only one proper rebuttal for this foolishness:

“Grow up, deal with your biases, start thinking like lawyers or find a profession you can handle.”

Pathetically, the law professor, Robert Goldstein apologized in an email in an e-mail to students, saying, “I recognize … that the recent disturbing and painful events and subsequent decisions in Ferguson and New York make this subject too raw to be an opportunity for many of you to demonstrate what you have learned in this class this year,” and promised to discount scores students receive on the question if it lowers the overall score of the student.

Law school Dean Rachel Moran added to the misplaced sensitivity-fest, and her e-mail, said…

“In retrospect, however, he understands that the question was ill-timed for the examination and could have been problematic for students given the anguish among many in our community over the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.”

Observations: Continue reading