February 15, 2011

Firing a tenured law professor because he used the dean's name in hypotheticals?

It's hard to guess what the full story is here. (Via Taxprof.) The professor, Lawrence Connell, has, according to this report, authorized his lawyer, Thomas Neuberger, to talk to the press, and the school, Widener, has a confidentiality policy in personnel matters, so we're seeing Connell's version for the most part.

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?

109 comments:

kent said...

Is there some distorted notion that any criticism or making fun of the dean is a racial matter?

Otherwise known as "The Obama Syndrome."

Sixty Grit said...

Mustn't use violent rhetoric, unless one is a liberal, right? And by rhetoric, I mean hypothetically, unlike actually calling for the death of someone, as a liberal might. Yet another thin skinned affirmative action promotion, from the looks of it.

Scott M said...

Is there some distorted notion that any criticism or making fun of the dean is a racial matter?

Only in America and only if you're other-than-white. If you're white, and hopefully a male Christian, why, it's open season on every nook and cranny.

chickelit said...

Widener is synonymous with Titanic for me.

bagoh20 said...

What is it about university that makes people such pussies? It's like a sudden regression to junior high school level of perspective and narcissism. The complaining students should be laughed at before they go any further in life screwing up other organizations and wasting other people's time.

MadisonMan said...

I wonder what point Connell was trying to make by consistently using his boss in hypotheticals. it is never a good idea to make fun of, or demean, you boss.

He seems either to live in a bubble, or to be unaware that there are consequences to his actions. At best, Connell is stupid and Ammons is too thin-skinned.

I'd have the same reaction if Connell were a black woman and Ammons were a white male.

James said...

The two students were probably part of the group that laughed at Christine O'Donnell.

Pastafarian said...

I wonder why he used the dean's name in his hypotheticals.

Was he trying to be amusing, to lighten things up with dark humor? Or does he have some animosity toward her, are there other things here beneath the surface?

I'm torn here. I hate to see someone accused of racism just because of borderline obnoxious behavior and PC bullshit.

But at the same time; a law professor, who creates little lawyers, churning them out and foisting them upon the rest of us, being punished the this PC system that sprang up as a result of the glut of no-risk lawyers and litigiousness that he, in a small way, helped create: There's a little tasty bit of schadenfreude there, if you look closely enough.

rhhardin said...

It seems like it would be a tiresome hypothetical.

Does tenure protect tiresomeness.

MadisonMan said...

It is weird, though, that the students complained. I think if my grad school professors had been making cracks about the Grad School dean in class, I -- and my classmates -- would have just laughed about it over beers later and wonder why the two hated each other.

Law students are odd ducks.

Triangle Man said...

Tenure is a boon for conservative academics. Without it, there would be no question about his termination.

Those who agitate for the elimination of tenure do so at the peril of conservatives in the academy.

DADvocate said...

What a bunch of wussies. Developing a thick skin is part of being a trial lawyer, and criminal law is trial law.

It seems the dean has an agenda beyond the apparent and is taking advantage of a situation.

traditionalguy said...

The old racist rule that ultra sensitive black's are untouchable by any negative words uttered by white men seems to be alive and well. So lets shut down humor and free speech in America again. Sad.

Triangle Man said...

It is weird, though, that the students complained.

According to the narrative, they complained because he is conservative.

AJ Lynch said...

"What is it about university that makes people such pussies?"

Most libs were pussies as kids and were bullied a bit. When they reach adulthood, they still have damaged psyches and they exact revenge [and wealth re-distribution] via slimy lawsuits, activist courts, and hideous lawyers.

For evidence, I give you Chuck Shumer, Henry Waxman and Dennis Kucinich.

G Joubert said...

“A pattern of inappropriate speech and behavior.” Wait, I thought that was what tenure was supposed to protect.

Yeah, but in this instance it was inappropriate speech about a another person right there at the law school, the dean no less. I don't know how much difference it makes, but you have to admit that he was pushing the envelope pretty much to the extreme. There's a judgment question involved too.

Hoosier Daddy said...

There are simply some boundries that should not be crossed. You'd think this would sink in for some people.

chickelit said...

Most libs were pussies as kids and were bullied a bit. When they reach adulthood, they still have damaged psyches and they exact revenge [and wealth re-distribution] via slimy lawsuits, activist courts, and hideous lawyers.

So true AJ, so true. But nobody talks about it much.

Michael said...

Why aren't entering law students compelled to sue each other, jointly and severally, along with the professors and administration? It would be useful to enter the fray at the outset, dispel with logic and good sense and just get to the matter at hand. Each student would, of course, have to hire their own lawyers and the ensuing litigation would teach them something about billing rates, competency, etc. Sue over what, you ask? Anything that might bother them. Hypothetically.

Maguro said...

This guy seems pretty douchey and unprofessional even in his own version of events, so I'm having a hard time mustering much sympathy for him.

I know, if he was a lefty ranting about a righty he'd get away with it, but still...

Ann Althouse said...

"Does tenure protect tiresomeness."

Yes.

former law student said...

Was Connell perky and sociable and racist and sexist all at the same time

He could have been. I'd like to hear from his female students.

Now I wonder if Althouse had any horndog profs that leered at the hot girls. Or if any work at Madison today, and what sort of control the dean would have over them.

Ann Althouse said...

"This guy seems pretty douchey and unprofessional even in his own version of events, so I'm having a hard time mustering much sympathy for him."

Threatening to fire him, when he has tenure, makes him sympathetic. Academic freedom is tested precisely when the unsympathetic professor faces retaliation for the things he's said.

PatHMV said...

We had 2 professors in law school who detested each other. In contracts class, to illustrate how a contract may be void as against public policy, one would always use the example: "Mr. Smith... suppose I were to contract with you to kill Professor [Jones]..."

None of us ever mistook that for an actual threat.

But of course whether it is a threat depends on the entire context.

Whether he really meant to threaten or not, it shows a remarkable foolishness to use such terminology to criticize a colleague who is both black and a woman. That's just stupid, and reflects either a profound ignorance about current political realities, or an active desire to stoke controversy by flouting those political realities.

shoutingthomas said...

This curious bit in the story in which the accused prof pleads his PC credentials:

Connell also believes the accusation runs contrary to one of the most significant cases of his legal career. In the 1980s, he appealed the death sentence of James Riley, a black man convicted by an all-white jury of killing a Dover liquor store clerk. Connell helped uncover racial bias in Kent County's jury-selection process. The appeal led to a retrial in which Riley received a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty.


"It is contrary to every fiber of my being to mistreat any person because of the color of his or her skin," Connell wrote to Kelly in a Dec. 22 letter, which he also forwarded to the entire faculty. "I devoted 15 years to trying to save the life of a black man. ... I spent months in the dusty basement of the Kent County Court House, searching through dozens of boxes of years' worth of jury qualification forms."

This, in itself, is pathetic.

This prostrating yourself before blacks to prove your virtue has become tiresome and stupid.

I'd suspect the prof is tired of that, even if he can't bring himself to say it.

Comrade X said...

well, they're keeping the names of the whining students secret and that's probably for the best. wouldn't want to hurt their employment prospects. and in that case the prudent move for employers is to avoid all Widener grads. both because they went to a racist school and are more likely to file grievances.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Yeah, but in this instance it was inappropriate speech about a another person right there at the law school, the dean no less. I don't know how much difference it makes

It shouldn’t make any difference whatsoever provided of course the issue that tenure is supposed to protect ‘controversial speech’ whose goal is to ‘encourage critical thinking and analysis’. Unless of course you can point to some reason that a law school dean’s sensitivities garners more protection than say, the relatives of 3000 dead Americans who were compared to a Nazi?

shoutingthomas said...

The real issue here seems to be the special, special, very special sensitivity and hyper-awareness that is required toward blacks.

Yes, I get the feeling the prof is tired of this and has butted his head against it.

It is tiresome. I'm fed up with it.

But, it will get you kicked in the ass to go against it.

former law student said...

My crimlaw prof did not use the dean's name in any hypothetical. But, I believe, he respected the dean.

As I recall, my prof used the names of members of the class in his hypotheticals. Always good for some nervous laughter.

t-man said...

I think it is more engaging to include people the students know in the hypothetical, and it would be funny to use the dean -- a shared irreverance between teacher and student.

A lot of my professors had a running gag where the same "hypothetical" characters appeared would reappear as the semester went on and the hypos became more complex.

"Consider this, our poor unfortunate friend, Mr. X, who survived the intentional battery at the hands of Y in our last class, goes to bank to cash his victim restitution check. While there, he is unlucky enough to get in the way of a bullet fired during an attempted robbery. The driver of the getaway car wasn't aware that his co-conspirators were armed..."

It may have been this professor's schtick to use the dean as a running gag.

The fact that the school wanted to refer him for a psychological evaluation is the "tell" for me that the school is probably using this as a pretext to get rid of him.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Whether he really meant to threaten or not, it shows a remarkable foolishness to use such terminology to criticize a colleague who is both black and a woman. That's just stupid, and reflects either a profound ignorance about current political realities, or an active desire to stoke controversy by flouting those political realities.."

You mean like comparing 3000 murdered Americans to Adolph Eichmann?

Look, I don't necessarily disagree with you but the academic community created this bs concept called tenure (guaranteed employment) and then used tenure as justification for letting instructors say outrageous crap in the classroom. If now professors have to be cognizant of the 'political realities' then lets be consistent and chuck the tenure thing out of the window.

Otherwise lets just chalk this up to another example of liberal double standards.

Bobby Dupea said...

I find it borderline disingenuous to suggest that tenure protects unpopular speech on campus. Try keeping your tenured position at an Oberlin if you loudly assert the inerrancy of the Bible, the possibility of ID, the racism in the effects of affirmative action quotas, or the intellectual bankruptcy of the global warming idea.

Now, if you wish to assert the misogynism of Sharia law or the intrepidness of some of Malcom X's more outlandish, murderous statements, that is the sort of unpopular speech that earns promotion, not dismissal.

I don't find assassination humor funny, so I can't figure out what this bozo was attempting to do in his hypothetical. But I am awfully unimpressed with the idea that tenure protects unpopular speech. It only protects unpopular speech of a certain stripe, in practice. And conservatism or even most libertarian ideas are verboten in the academy.

PatHMV said...

Hoosier... I think Ward Churchill is profoundly stupid (and other things) as well, so we agree completely.

Wasn't saying this was or should be a firing offense for someone with tenure, just saying it was stupid.

Shanna said...

Yeah, the idea of recanting a hypothetical is kind of hilarious.

I could see how potentially using a specific person in all your examples that involve getting shot with guns might be problematic, but there is no way to tell if that is actually the case from this. I can see a professor using several people's names that students know and rotating them through a variety of examples. It’s likely a couple people just are too sensitive.

Paco Wové said...

"He seems either to live in a bubble, or to be unaware that there are consequences to his actions."

Well, he is an academic, after all.

Ut said...

"Those who agitate for the elimination of tenure do so at the peril of conservatives in the academy."

Even if we have to sacrifice all three of them, then it would have been worth it to fire the socialists.

Tenure must go.

former law student said...

I find it borderline disingenuous to suggest that tenure protects unpopular speech on campus. Try keeping your tenured position at an Oberlin if you loudly assert the inerrancy of the Bible, the possibility of ID, the racism in the effects of affirmative action quotas, or the intellectual bankruptcy of the global warming idea.

Are these doctrines germane to the subject being taught? My old EE prof wrote a monograph proving that Nazi Germany could not have produced enough Zyklon-B to gas all those Jews. Yet, careful not to mention this in the classroom, he retains tenure to this day.

http://users.eecs.northwestern.edu
/~butz/

TMink said...

"Education is all about pushing the boundaries, and it's all about controversial ideas"

Horseshit. That is what progressivism is all about. A good education teaches people their history, how to think critically, and how to do stuff.

Trey

DKWalser said...

Some are wondering why the professor kept using the Dean's name in his hypothetical. I cannot speak for him, so I'll just speculate that it's a crutch. Rather than come up with a new name for each new hypothetical, the professor may have opted for using a handful of recurring names.

I do that frequently. When leading an internal training class, I often resort to the names of Fido, Fifi, and Fufu to illustrate a tax concept. Those aren't the most creative of names, but that's the point. I'm being lazy and don't want to go through the effort of coming up with a new name such as "Joan Lotsadough". Other times, I'll use the name of someone from our firm -- almost always someone senior to me. I don't want anyone to think I'm belittling a junior member of our staff.

I suspect, but do not know, that something similar was happening here. Rather than come up with a new name for the crime victim in each hypothetical, the professor simply used the name of the Dean. It would be interesting to know if he used the prior Dean's name in prior years.

t-man said...

One comment in the linked article, supposedly by a former student, states that the professor used a variety of famous people that the students would recognize so that the hypos would be more memorable. He always included the then-current dean, even before the dean at issue here got her job.

If that is true, it really makes the current dean and the schools look pathetic.

Triangle Man said...

Horseshit. That is what progressivism is all about. A good education teaches people their history, how to think critically, and how to do stuff.

@Trey

How do you teach students to think critically? By challenging their assumptions and presenting controversial ideas.

Birkel said...

I quake at the thought of what would happen to a property professor who constantly and unrelentingly used hypotheticals in which the interests of Blackacre and Whiteacre were opposed.

Phil 3:14 said...

Not sensing a lot of love for academia in this thread

Bobby Dupea said...

@former law student:

"Are these doctrines germane to the subject being taught?"

Not my point. My point is that tenure is not the creature that Ms. Althouse suggests. It has been transformed during the radicalization of the academy; it protects classes of approved speech, not speech per se. It is not content-neutral. Each of the examples are reprensentative of speech that would cause termination or simple career stagnation in many institutions that assert a brave devotion to scholarship (and indeed have).

I don't consider this a comment on the Widener case because I don't find hypothetical killing very amusing or instructive, and there's obviously a sh*tload of very bad blood between the prof and his hierarchy that we don't know about.

Scott M said...

Just an oblique to TM, not a direct refutation. Puzzle solving requires critical thinking without "controversial ideas". More often than not, in the softer disciplines, the faculty presentation of controversial ideas strays too far into personal ideology and issue proselytizing. In many years of school, I had exactly one prof that adamantly and verbally stated that she was withholding her own views until after the final. It was an ethics class and she stuck to her guns despite goading by the class. Best...ethics...teacher...ever...

Scott M said...

hypotheticals in which the interests of Blackacre and Whiteacre were opposed.

Didn't they stop the Blackacre thing a few years back along politically correct lines?

Birkel said...

TriangleMan:
How do you teach students to think critically? By challenging their assumptions and presenting controversial ideas.

Response:
This very much depends on the field of study in question. One does not get far challenging the assumption of gravity or the assumptions called "The Laws of Thermodynamics".

Superdad said...

The bigger crime is that the administration is taking student complaints seriously. Hey law students, shut up and do your work, get your degree and move on with yoru life. No one cares if your feelings are hurt by a prof. Toughen up.

Birkel said...

ScottM:

My property professor would not have given one wet sh!t about PC declarations over Whiteacre and Blackacre. He wrote the book. And the book had those names throughout. And he didn't really care about how people felt about his course.

Mary Beth said...

Entirely justified after the scores of professors who lost their jobs for saying that Bush should be killed.

Triangle Man said...

One does not get far challenging the assumption of gravity or the assumptions called "The Laws of Thermodynamics".

Perhaps not if you are an engineer, but try to tell that to the physicists.

former law student said...

http://www.cafepress.com
/lawschooltees.46195665

Blackacre is still in vogue.

Lawprofs called for Bush to be killed? When and where was this?

Birkel said...

TriangleMan:

If you think the Laws of Thermodynamics are up for debate amongst physicists, then you and I cannot have a rational conversation.

Bobby Dupea said...

@Mary Beth:

"Entirely justified after the scores of professors who lost their jobs for saying that Bush should be killed."

Scores? Units of 20? For arguing in hypotheticals that Bush should be killed?

From whence does this wacky assertion emerge?

Fernandinande said...

Neuberger said Kelly and Ammons offered to allow Connell to return to campus if he recanted statements students found offensive and underwent psychiatric evaluation.

Soviet, anyone?

What Connell needs to do is realize that blacks, esp women, deserve special treatment; after all that's how Ammons got to be dean.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

Methinks Mary Beth was being sarcastic, people.

kent said...

Genuine, hardcore racism in action, by way of contrast:

Alternet’s Racist Tirade Against Herman Cain: “Black Garbage Pail Kid,” “Monkey” – CORE Condemns

Chris said...

"Education is all about pushing the boundaries, and it's all about controversial ideas,"

ALL about? I guess that doesn't leave much room for "acquiring knowledge".

Scott M said...

@kent

Interesting read.

Cedarford said...

t-man said...
One comment in the linked article, supposedly by a former student, states that the professor used a variety of famous people that the students would recognize so that the hypos would be more memorable. He always included the then-current dean, even before the dean at issue here got her job.

If that is true, it really makes the current dean and the schools look pathetic
=====================
I followed the link as well and saw former students say Connel was using the past Deans in the same way, white male Deans. He also used celebrities and a hypothetical of killing Santa Claus.
Another comment noted that for several years there has been much discussion of how PC Dean Ammons is and how seriously 'underqualified' she appears to be based on her academic and publication record.

"It's like my Mom (a teacher) said. The old joke that those who can't, end up teaching , has a second part.......Those who can't teach well then go into Administration, and the worst of them return as principals or "teaching effectiveness auditors" on the Superintendent's staff."

Hoosier Daddy said...

My old EE prof wrote a monograph proving that Nazi Germany could not have produced enough Zyklon-B to gas all those Jews.

I wasn't aware that there was a universal acceptance that 6 million Jews were murdered by gas. I mean if his monograph was meant to be proof that the Nazis didn't kill six million Jews then yeah, thats a bit disengenuous considering starvation and typhus were killing more than gassing.

Triangle Man said...

If you think the Laws of Thermodynamics are up for debate amongst physicists, then you and I cannot have a rational conversation.

You tried to make a case that challenging assumptions is not necessary to critical thought where gravity and thermodynamics are concerned. I pointed out that challenging assumptions is germain to critical thought in physics, a field which concerns itself with both gravity and thermodynamics. However, I also allowed that perhaps in engineering, assumptions about these features of the Universe may not be routinely questioned. That is not to say, however, that engineers do not make and question assumptions as part of routine problem solving (i.e. critical thinking). Thus, I maintain that you are incorrect in stating there are fields of endeavor for which critical thinking does not involve challenging assumptions.

Scott M said...

thats a bit disengenuous considering starvation and typhus were killing more than gassing.

Not to mention the many thousands they took to the Antarctic as slave labor to set up their flying saucer research base...which Google Earth KNOWS about, but culled from public use.

Seven surviving members of Hilter's inner circle. Seven castaways on Gilligan's Island. Coincidence? I think not.

PaulV said...

Triangle, the first & second laws are continually challenged in unusual situations such at absolute zero, big bang theory and in black holes
Dupes, you were duped by hypothetical.
Law school lectures can be boring and Profs often use zingers to make sure students are alert. Former lecturer at Widener did not know that VP was a first article office. They called nap time Biden.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Seven surviving members of Hilter's inner circle. Seven castaways on Gilligan's Island. Coincidence? I think not.

Now that you mention it, the Professor always kind of reminded me of Werner von Braun.

chickelit said...

From whence does this wacky assertion emerge?


Lighten up Bobby!

(oops!)

JAL said...

Are racist comments protected speech?

When does it become a "hate crime" if no crime is committed. (Except speech, apparently.)

(Crurious when the charges were made.)

Why are students these days such wooses?

Birkel said...

PaulV,
My long response to the singularities and absolute zero claim disappeared. With it so did my will to retype.

So I will only say I disagree with your lazy assertion.

Cedarford said...

Hoosier - "I wasn't aware that there was a universal acceptance that 6 million Jews were murdered by gas. I mean if his monograph was meant to be proof that the Nazis didn't kill six million Jews then yeah, thats a bit disengenuous considering starvation and typhus were killing more than gassing."

================
As WWII and Vietnam receed into ancient history, the emotional power the Jews invested in "6 million gassed and exterminated by Nazis in camps" receeds like those old wars.
And discussions, most purely for historical accuracy though certainly some that seek to blunt Jews claim to being the greatest victims in history - will happen. For the most part, more objectively. More focus on other peoples that suffered terrible 20th Century depredations at the hands of others.
Without taint of "Holocaust denial, being a Neo-Nazi, blaming our great ally Comrade Stalin, championing the victims of the Japs/Ottomans/Communists/Sudanese detracts from proper focus on only the Jews" thrown at the historians.

Some believe only 30% to 40% of the Jews who died in WWII were directly killed by the Nazis, the overall number was slightly under 5 million...and the other half represents what else was going on in E Europe and the Soviet Union. Other populations targeting Jews for heavy involvement in communist atrocities in their countries, raging typhus and starvation striking down Jew and non-Jew alike in Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine, Balkans. The Soviet's own scorched earth policy.

The Poles lost 4 million Christians in WWII, 3 million Jews from the geography of pre-1939 Poland. The Soviets lost 1.2 million Jews, 21 million non-Jews in the War.

And, by staedy propagandizing, more Americans know the "official" number of Jews killed in WWII than know how many Americans were lost in that conflict.

rhhardin said...

Current speculation is that gravity itself is nondecreasing entropy.

Scott M said...

Here, here! Well said, Cedarford. Now...where's your docudrama to right that wrong?

Birkel said...

I have read (somewhere) that the seven characters on Gilligan's Island represent the Seven Deadly Sins.

It sounded possible.

chuckR said...

Triangle, the first & second laws are continually challenged in unusual situations such at absolute zero, big bang theory and in black holes

Way OT

Reminds me of a great saying by Hendrik Tennekes

"Physicists dream of Nobel Prizes.
Engineers dream of mishaps."

When the physicists dream up with a procedure to use black holes to scooch from here to there around the universe, the engineers will find a way to reliably make that shit work. But as long as it is in the hypothetical land of WTF-ons and assorted stringy weird particles, we don't care any more than we do about hypothetical dean murtherings...

Melissa said...

'"This guy seems pretty douchey and unprofessional even in his own version of events, so I'm having a hard time mustering much sympathy for him."

Threatening to fire him, when he has tenure, makes him sympathetic. Academic freedom is tested precisely when the unsympathetic professor faces retaliation for the things he's said.'

What? You can't be serious. Tenure is supposed to protect the presentation of academic ideas. Connell's academic points could have been just as easily made without making the current dean a victim of violent crime or drug dealer in his hypotheticals.

During my time in law school we had a dean that was extremely well-liked even if he was not the most effective guy, an interim dean (also male) that no one could stand and a female dean who was very nerdy, but she had vision. I would have been shocked to hear any of them used as hypothetical victims of violent crimes for teaching purposes...it's creepy and inappropriate.

That's not to say I think the accusations of racism or sexism against Connell have any merit based on the news article, but I don't think "academic freedom" extends to repeatedly talking about your colleague/supervisor meeting a violent end, even hypothetically.

Scott M said...

I have read (somewhere) that the seven characters on Gilligan's Island represent the Seven Deadly Sins.

It gets worse. Disney gave Snow White...SNOW WHITE (wink wink) seven dwarves. He was definitely in on it.

lucid said...

Important issue.

What is very clear is that once again the immorality and intellectual dishonesty of our racial politics and of our affirmative action way of tthinking require a victim and a perpetrator, thus making it almost impossible to think or talk clearly about these issues.

former law student said...

HD

as I recall Butz argued that the Zyklon B production would have been sufficient only to delouse inmates' clothing, that the gas chamber idea was nonsense. His book was called The Hoax of the Twentieth Century so you can see that his ideas would rile people up.

DKWalser said...

From one of the commenters (a former student of the professor) at the linked article:
... Why does it matter she is black? She is the head of the school, and before her he was killing [off] deans every semester, old white deans.

So, if the commenter is to be believed, the professor has a long history of using the law school's dean as a character in his hypotheticals. How can his current practice of using the dean of the law school in his hypotheticals be (legitimately) spun as racism? He began the practice before the current dean was appointed. Is it racism because, with sure foreknowledge that she would eventually be appointed, he began using the names of the prior deans just to throw us off the track?

Marshal said...

"How do you teach students to think critically? By challenging their assumptions and presenting controversial ideas."

I see this pious claptrap regularly, but I don't recall liberal assumptions challenged. I recall the professors supporting the liberal party line and effectively shutting down conservative rebuttals with pablum like "these are complicated issues" or "there are limits to what we can do". Conversely liberal rebuttals were treated as irrefutable when even the most basic observations would show them irrelevant. Professors controlled the discussions with selective participation altering the substance of questions and responses.

We effectively have two university systems. One teaches skills - hard sciences, business, probably a few other pockets here and there. If you major on the skill side but cross over you have to be an idiot not to recognize the difference. The political side controls the university, which isn't surprising since they are fighting to do so and the other side (a) doesn't know it's in a fight, and (b) is a mixed group predominantly not against the goals of the political side.

We're better off killing the public university system in this country and eliminating the immense subsidy we're giving the left by financing their political indoctrination efforts.

Triangle Man said...

I see this pious claptrap regularly

How is it pious? It works. How do you teach critical thinking?

Scott M said...

It becomes pious when only one side of the spectrum is presented as "cutting edge" or "progressive", while the other is either not worth mentioning at all or is done so with derision dripping from the chalkboard.

Every poli sci class I had was like this and it was infuriating.

Marshal said...

Triangle Man,

By pious I mean defending your action by reference to an unassailable principle you don't actually follow. Another example would be when when liberals wax philosophic on the benefits of free speech in defense of Ward Churchill, while concurrently undermining free speech at every opportunity.

What I see regularly is the justification of "challenging students assumptions". But we don't see that occurring in reality. We see professors attacking political opinions they don't agree with.

PatCA said...

Did any of the offended students tape it? That would seem crucial.

PaulV said...

triangle, google "challenge first second law theromdynamics" before you waste time replying.
what will FIRE and accreditation
commitee say. Oh I shouted "Fire" in a crowded cyberspace!

WV; unlate
Is it better to be unlate or on time

Paddy O said...

"but I don't recall liberal assumptions challenged."


Really good teachers do challenge student assumptions. But just because someone is teaching does not mean they are teaching critical thinking.

Which means you're arguing not about how to teach critical thinking, but that the current system tends not to teach it.

You don't see critical thinking being taught. But, it is being taught by very good teachers, where liberal assumptions and conservative assumptions are challenged. My sense is Althouse teaches like this. She challenges liberal assumptions all the time, and part of her project, to me at least, seems less about getting people to agree with her and more about trying to get people to think more critically.

She rips on people's lazy thinking more than the conclusions they come to. As to all good teachers.

ricpic said...

I'd have the same reaction if Connell were a black woman and Ammons were a white male.

Except a black woman making fun of or demeaning her white male boss would be made an issue of by who exactly? By no one. So your hypothetical would never be tested. As you well know.

Scott M said...

My sense is Althouse teaches like this.

I always assumed she put a big reel-to-reel up front and left, a la Real Genius (you know...before Val Kilmer got doughy).

Paddy O said...

"a la Real Genius"

Ha! Love that movie! Definitely one of his best. Also, remember Top Secret!? He did some funny stuff early in his career. Now he takes himself ever so seriously.

They should make a Willow 2 to help revive his career.

TMink said...

Triangle man, actually, that is how you get people to practice their critical thinking skills after they have learned them.

Teaching controversial and edgy critical thinking skills would be teaching mush.

Not that teaching mush is not the goal in many instances.

Trey

Brian said...

When I was a law student, it was kind of game among professors to use other professors not just in spoken hypotheticals, but in law school exams. I had a torts professor who subjected a fellow professor - a friend of his - to multiple grievous injuries in a Torts final exam. Professors also critisized the decisions of the then-Dean of the school, who was a former judge. I thought it was pretty unremarkable.

tim maguire said...

In my law school, it was common to use famous names in hypotheticals, it helps the students remember who's who in a problem that might be long and have a lot of players.
They were typically entertainment names, but it doesn't seem out of line to include school administration names.

Potential employers have a right to know which students complained. I think that's relevant to the hiring process.

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph said...

At my law school, at least, "perky and sociable" beats competent every time in every decision making situation.

Whoo unto the grouchy, conservative, male. Being PC is better than being unionized.

Bruce Hayden said...

"How do you teach students to think critically? By challenging their assumptions and presenting controversial ideas."

I see this pious claptrap regularly, but I don't recall liberal assumptions challenged
.

This is so right.

My Con law prof tried to get us to argue the opposite side of issues. So, he tried to get some of the feminists (and back then, in the 1980s, no woman would admit to not being a feminist) to argue the pro-life side of Roe v. Wade.

Big mistake. Better than half the class signed a petition to have him at least sanctioned, if not fired. Possibly luckily for him, the person leading the charge had the high grade in the class. And, the administration offered a regrade for the entire class (I have no idea why that was considered appropriate punishment, as it was > 20 years ago), and she quickly backed off. Maybe there was a test question on the subject, or something.

That was when I realized how militant political correctness could be. A surprising number of the students in the class came up to me (as I was, as usual, a bit outspoken) and stated that they were so intimidated that they had to go along with the crowd - and these were 2L law students, who in a bit over a year would be lawyers.

Bruce Hayden said...

Really good teachers do challenge student assumptions. But just because someone is teaching does not mean they are teaching critical thinking.

And that is why I thought that my classmates in that Con Law class were so ridiculous, when they were protesting being pushed to take the pro-life/anti-abortion side of the issue. Even then, I knew that the prof was one of the more liberal members of the faculty. On a personal level, he was almost assuredly pro-choice. But that didn't keep him from pushing his students to take the contrary view.

Daniel said...

It seems to me that making the black dean the victim in hypotheticals adds a dimension to them which would otherwise not exist.
Among the possible shooters might be
family members - works for anyone
disgruntled students - requires an academic officer or faculty member
crazed strangers - applies to anyone
a white racist - requires a black or other minority victim
Thus I can conceive of an educational purpose to this choice

Bruce Hayden said...

Professors also criticized the decisions of the then-Dean of the school, who was a former judge. I thought it was pretty unremarkable.

I think that is just academia.

I have a friend who has been teaching law for 30 or so years now. And, invariably, the dean will be the object of significant scorn. But, as here, who the dean is changes over time. In my friend's case, you really don't find out a dean's good points until later, after he or she has been replaced by an ever more odious dean.

It is said that the reason that academic squabbles are so vicious is because the stakes are so low. In many cases, the one person the faculty can mostly all detest is their dean. It goes with the territory, or at least it should. The dean here seems to have much too thin a skin for the job.

Shanna said...

And that is why I thought that my classmates in that Con Law class were so ridiculous, when they were protesting being pushed to take the pro-life/anti-abortion side of the issue.

What do they think they're going to do when they're out in the real world, never represent anyone they disagree with?

If you can't argue both sides of an issue, you do not understand it. Refusing to the argue the other side in such a situation is proof of ignorance. What kind of lawyers did these people make?

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

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?

What was that Professor's name in 'Paper Chase?' Droll apparently is an occupational privilege.

Revenant said...

If you think the Laws of Thermodynamics are up for debate amongst physicists, then you and I cannot have a rational conversation.

You mentioned gravity AND thermodynamics. There is enormous debate about gravity. You can get quite far in physics challenging the notion that a gravitational force exists.

Successfully challenging thermodynamics would get you a Nobel prize and put you in the running for "most brilliant physicist in history". The reason this doesn't happen is that nobody's come up with a refutation of the laws that actually stands up under scrutiny. :)

Dedicated_Dad said...

Clearly our subject "law professor" has never seen the law which prohibits those disgusting universal-carriers of "unintentional/unconscious racism" (ie: whites. All males are - likewise - universal carriers of unintentional/unconscious sexism) from perpetrating their evils upon any member of an Officially Sanctioned Victim Group.

Thus - on DD's "Hierarchy of aggrievedness" - a black/female - being numerous layers above ANY white-male - is utterly untouchable.

For a white-male to use her as an example in his "hypotheticals" is undeniable racism, and the truly appropriate penalty is death. He should count his blessings that he's escaping with a lenient termination of his career, destruction of his reputation and permanent black (Oh, CRAP!)-listing.

Of course, if he used other people but FAILED to include her, this too would be evidence of his undeniable racism, and more than justify the aforementioned penalties as well.

Any other conclusion would - itself - be racist as well.

As an related aside -- true story -- a psych professor in my local Community College lost his job in 1990 or 1991. His crime? He spoke aloud the following hypothesis:

(1) Language is the basis for conscious thought and complex reasoning.
(2) One's thoughts and/or reasoning abilities can be no more complex than the language one uses to conduct and/or express them.
(3) This helps explain why certain cultures excel in certain things. For example, the German language is particularly well-suited for transmitting very precise concepts. This helps explain the Germans' superlative record of engineering, and likewise the Swiss' clocks and machinery, etc.

Likewise, Italian/French/Spanish with literature - especially "romantic" poetry and etc.
(4) If a person comes from a culture - or sub-culture - where the language is both very colorful and highly imprecise, odds are that this person will have a hard time grasping and demonstrating their grasp of very complex, specific concepts such as advanced mathematics.

Unable or unwilling to defend himself against the charges of "racism" which resulted, he was allowed to resign with a reduced severance package - after his public censure.

Meanwhile, the resulting paranoia among other "professors" helped eliminate any remaining disparity in GPA between various demographic groups.

It also spelled the effective demise of the institution - having rendered failure of any OSVG-member impossible, thus rendering their "education" worthless, and driving everyone with the means to attend to better schools. This "flight" was likewise interpreted as further evidence of "unconscious/unintended racism" -- and the spiral continues.

As for myself, I've solved this conundrum. Having carefully and successfully conducted ongoing self-examination for any word or deed which any reasonable person could rightly describe as "racist", I've resolved to give anyone throwing such a pejorative in my direction one CLEAR warning, then doing my best to knock their teeth down their throat if they repeat it.

IM(NS)HO, the biggest problem we have in our society today is that noone is afraid of getting punched in the mouth. While I cannot fix "society" - I can at least ensure that those who come into contact with me are relieved of this handicap.

I strongly encourage others to do likewise - as THIS is the only solution with any REAL chance of restoring "civility" to our public discourse.

DD

JAL said...

@ Paddy et al:

Real Genius! Oh My!

One of my kids thought he *was* Val Kilmer!

Isn't that the one where the black haired girl and he end up sliding through the hallways?

Or something.

Thomas said...

"For example, the German language is particularly well-suited for transmitting very precise concepts. This helps explain the Germans' superlative record of engineering...."

Alternatively, it's because the Germans so very tired while for the verb waiting get, that they pass the time by engineering things.

Or maybe because they so very efficiently put into one word things that civilized peoples use a whole phrase to do, like "footballstadiumrestroomstalldoor" or the like.

Birkel said...

Revenant,

The argument is not about gravity, per se but rather what causes gravity.

We don't know the how or the why but we sure as hell understand the what.

And for anybody who doesn't believe me, we'll meet for beers. If you can tip your beer over and keep it from spilling from a standard mug as delivered by the bartender, then I'll buy. Otherwise the night out is on you.

lucid said...

The use of the phrase "outgoing pattern" is just a sign of marginal literacy on the part of the person who used the term.

Who was it who used the term?

madeleine said...

Wow. We had to argue for the side we didn't support during debates in *8th grade*. Those law students should have been ashamed of their immaturity, but I guess shame had already gone out of style even in the 80's.

buttersquash said...

I will note that they stated that "at least two" students complained. IMO that translates to "exactly two," and if it had been three, it would have been "at least three."

Job said...

When I was an undergraduate, my university had an ancient professor of government teaching constitutional law to undergrads. He was 65 or 70 by the time I was in school. One of his habits was to use funny names in the hypothetical examples he gave. Two of those were "Carey A. Condom" and "Caressa Bedcrave".

By the mid-1980s these names annoyed some of the budding feminists in his class, who accused him of sexism to the Dean. The old professor would not yield and told them to grow up. There was some sort of kangaroo court and he was chastised and eventually pushed out (allowed to retire) a couple years later.

The odd thing is that this fairly affable and popular professor was gay, though that never came up because he kept his private business to himself. I happened to know that he was gay because I knew some of his old friends through a professional organization.

It is a shame. He was a nice guy and a good teacher. But the Red Guards got him.

smith said...

When I was at BPP studying my famous law professors the, vast, majority of my class at Holborn had TCs. I can't speak for Waterloo though, didn't know anyone over there but did here that the situation was almost the opposite. Really strange.

famous law professors