Lawprofs use hypotheticals all the time, and Connell put the name of the dean, Linda Ammons, in "at least 10" hypotheticals depicting her getting shot. Supposedly, "at least two students filed complaints with administrators, calling it violent, racist and sexist." Connell is white; Ammons is black. A letter from the vice dean refers to "an 'outgoing pattern' of misconduct,"* including "cursing and coarse behavior, 'racist and sexist statements' and 'violent, personal scenarios that demean and threaten your colleagues.'"
The linked article has this quote from Gregory F. Scholtz, associate secretary and director of the American Association of University Professors:
"Education is all about pushing the boundaries, and it's all about controversial ideas, but the question always is when does it cross the line... Given our modern culture and the violence that exists, you're really asking for trouble when you talk about killing people."It looks like Scholtz is channeling some of the unscientific blather that surrounded the Tucson massacre: There's bad speech out there and then bad people do bad things and that's bad.
Look, if you're teaching criminal law, you use hypos that have people doing criminal things. Putting real names in the hypos might be funny or attention-getting or just stupid, but let's not get hysterical. Was the professor advocating that somebody shoot the dean? Obviously, not. Are the students so confused they don't get that? Impossible.
But I can understand how law school bureaucrats feel compelled to make a showing of caring deeply when students — even only 2 students — complain that a professor seems racist. I have seen that happen. It can be hard for the administration to negotiate its way through the maze of academic freedom and student opinion even when it is trying to do everything right and cares only about the appropriate values like intellectual excellence and a favorable "climate" for learning. But who knows what is really going on here? Are the students oversensitive, vindictive, or pursuing an ideological agenda? Is there some distorted notion that any criticism or making fun of the dean is a racial matter?
Neuberger said Kelly and Ammons offered to allow Connell to return to campus if he recanted statements students found offensive and underwent psychiatric evaluation.That reminds me of the fallout over NPR's firing of Juan Williams — after he said something that made sensitive people feel he might be insufficiently tolerant. Maybe he should talk to his psychiatrist, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said. It's a distancing move, undercutting serious inquiry into the statements that are being questioned. The statements are no longer anything to engage with, but evidence of the speaker's mental disorder. There are insiders and outsiders, and suddenly the speaker is the outsider, to be talked about, not talked with.
As for "recant[ing] statements students found offensive" — how do you recant a hypothetical? I know how I would recant a hypothetical: with great sarcasm. You know, these little stories I tell in class — vignettes, if you will — they are inventions — sheer flights of fancy. I like to call them hy-po-THET-ick-uhls...
But Connell refused to recant, "believing it would amount to admitting racism, among other things." This is what happens. It's such a big deal to be accused of racism that it forces a hard-line denial. There's also a political angle here. Connell's lawyer is saying that Dean Ammons "wanted to get rid of a conservative professor." And now the story is out in the legal blogosphere. Instapundit says:
PROFESSOR MAY LOSE TENURE FOR “A pattern of inappropriate speech and behavior.” Wait, I thought that was what tenure was supposed to protect. Of course, it’s at Widener. But with tenure already under attack from education reformers, an object case that it doesn’t actually protect controversial speech would seem to be either valuable, or a dreadful mistake, depending on your perspective.And now, we'll all talk about it. That link on "Widener" is important, as Glenn connects some dots and puts the school's larger reputation on the line. There aren't too many conservative law professors, but they've got very well-connected power on the internet. Deal fairly with them.
*ADDED: What's an "outgoing pattern"? I've heard of ongoing patterns. Was Connell perky and sociable and racist and sexist all at the same time?