Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

More Detailed Article on UCONN case

Following is the unedited article that appeared on the National Law Journal Online which was originally publishedin The Connecticut Law Tribune.  Although this article is somewhat dated, October 3, it is the most detailed report on this case that has appeared in print.  Although it is indicated in the article that Birmingham’s classes would be covered by other instructors, later reports indicated that the courses would be dropped. Dean Paul and Dean Chill appear to be the administrators who are calling the shots in this case. It will be interesting to see if the upper echelon UCONN administration continues to support actions that I think are fair to characterize as precipitous.  One student noted that it was ironic that this situation occurred in the law school’s legal remedies class. Surreal would also be an accurate term to use.

National Law Journal

©2007 National Law Journal Online
Page printed from: http://www.nlj.com

Academic freedom questioned at UConn Law School

Thomas B. Scheffey/The Connecticut Law Tribune
October 3, 2007
The University of Connecticut School of Law has placed veteran professor Robert L. Birmingham on a sudden leave of absence after the quirky but popular scholar showed a film clip in class from “Really Really Pimpin’ in Da South” a training film for prostitution.

UConn Law Dean Jeremy Paul confirmed today that he and Birmingham had a “discussion following an incident in one of his classes,” and decided it was “in the best interests of the school” for Birmingham to leave for the rest of the semester.

Paul called it “a difficult situation” and said he and his administration are concerned with fostering academic freedom, while preserving “a welcoming, diverse and tolerant environment for students.”

According to three students who were either present in Birmingham’s Remedies class on Friday, Sept. 28, or spoke with students who were, the sometimes provocative professor asked students to make a case for slavery reparations in light of the fact that much of Africa is beset by war, famine and AIDS. Some students were so upset and offended by the topic — and images of barely-clad exotic dancers in the “Pimps” film — that they stood up and walked out of the class.

The legal case under discussion was the 2004 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit case of U.S. v. Charles Floyd Pipkins, a.k.a. Sir Charles, and Andrew Moore Jr., a.k.a. Batman. Pipkins and Moore were appealing their convictions on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges as Atlanta pimps of juvenile girls as young as 12 years old. Pipkins speaks in the “Pimps” film.

The 11th Circuit opinion explains that prostitutes are free to choose a different pimp. Birmingham asked the 50 students in his Remedies lecture class whether that means they were not held in involuntary servitude — one of the counts in Pipkins’ and Moore’s RICO indictment.

Part of the problem with Birmingham’s film demonstration, according to witnesses, was due to the video equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction. “He’s not very good at operating the video equipment, and it didn’t stop when he wanted it to,” said one student. “It continued to show these dancers in tassels and a G-string, and stopped with a close-up of the G-string.”

A law school administration source familiar with the situation said that Birmingham stopped the film at the objectionable G-string segment a second time that day, when he used the film in his class on the Nuremberg trials. “It wasn’t just a one-time `wardrobe malfunction,'” the official said.Birmingham could not be reached for comment for this article. But in a formal apology to students, he wrote, “I regret that I did not cut off the film at the end of the interview of Mr. Pipkins in time to prevent the adjacent material from appearing on the screens. I apologize to those of you whom I offended. I apologize as well that I did not emphasize the presupposition of our discussion: the extreme enduring suffering that slavery entailed.”

Students React

On Oct. 1, Associate Dean Paul Chill met with students, in this semester’s first “Query The Dean” session, to discuss Birmingham’s actions and the administration’s reaction.

“It’s ironic that this was all about a remedies class,” said one female law student. “People were upset with some of the images in the film, and what Professor Birmingham said. But I think they were even more upset by what the administration did to him.”

One minority student added, “Two wrongs don’t make a right here. Lots of other professors have said provocative things without any reaction from the administration like this. I think Dean Chill and Dean Paul are punishing a professor they don’t like in the name of protecting minority students’ feelings.”

The students spoke to the Law Tribune on the condition that they would remain anonymous.

Two recent graduates appeared at the Oct. 1 session and spoke up in Birmingham’s defense. “A lot of people are really mad,” said a female law student.

Students praised Birmingham’s efforts to spark critical thinking and his provocative use of the Socratic method. “He’s one of very few professors who don’t teach like it’s purely a vocational school,” one said.

A female student, however, noted that she had a female African-American classmate who “was very angry and offended” by Birmingham’s class, because “the wounds haven’t healed” from discrimination that student suffered in her youth.

Looking For A Replacement

Birmingham has an unfortunate backdrop to contend with. Earlier this year, SmokingGun.com posted photos from an off-campus party themed “Bullets and Bubbly.” The photos depict white UConn law students sporting tiger claw tattoos, “do-rags,” 40 oz. beer bottles and T-shirts emblazoned with “THUG LIFE” and “SNAP, SNAP, SNAP.”

In the soul-searching that followed that incident, students debated whether Student Bar Association officers in the photos should step down.

“I think the administration was trying to apologize for the stereotyping [at the] Bullets and Bubbly party,” said a student who would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Paul said no student formally complained about Birmingham. He said students were divided over whether Birmingham’s behavior deserved a sanction or whether he should be protected under principles of academic freedom. Black and white students, Paul added, were on both sides of the divisive issue.

Paul said Dean Chill is working diligently to find a new lecturer for the 50-person remedies lecture class and to find alternative instruction for three 18-person seminars Birmingham was teaching.

“A friend of mine was taking 10 credits from Birmingham — he was teaching more than any other law professor at the school,” one third-year law student maintained.


October 10, 2007 - Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, University of Connecticut

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