Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Worshipping the PC God at the UCONN School of Law

The leave imposed on UCONN law school Professor Birmingham was not based on any formal student complaints, but rather Dean Paul imposed his leave based on students comments he overheard.  Such was reported in the October 15 issue of the Connecticut Law Tribune.  Excerpts from that article follow

“Paul, acting on overheard complaints from students about a racy movie clip shown in Birmingham’s Remedies lecture and in another seminar on Sept. 21, persuaded the professor to take a leave of absence for the rest of the semester.

Students on both sides of the debate have posted comments on various web sites. To some, Birmingham is a “creep,” to others he’s a teacher who “makes you think.” Some said Paul did the right thing by giving a “dirty old man a public wrist-slapping.” Others said Paul disgracefully bowed to “the gods of PC” with the forced leave of absence.

Some students have expressed dismay that no law school professors had spoken up in defense of Birmingham or academic freedom. Tom Baker, director of the school’s Insurance Law Institute, said he was not familiar with the details of the controversy, but said: “There are not two schools of thought among the faculty. The law school faculty supports Dean Paul and the administration on this.”

Many alumni are apparently less enthusiastic. Kyle Odin, who graduated in 2003 and is now a lawyer for IBM Financial in Armonk, N.Y., e-mailed Paul to after reading news reports.

“If the discussion about the issue of reparations for slavery can’t be discussed in a law school Remedies class, where can it be discussed?” he told the Law Tribune.

Michael Murshak, who also graduated in ’03, is a patent lawyer in Lansing, Mich. He and many others received copies of Odin’s e-mail to Paul, who arranged a conference call to address the alumni concerns. Murshak said he hoped the call would put to rest some of his “anger and frustration … . But I left the conference call more upset than I was before.”

Paul, who could not be reached for this story, has acknowledged he did not view the video before asking Birmingham to take the leave of absence. He said no formal complaint was made by anyone, but he and Associate Dean Paul Chill took action to demonstrate the college’s dedication to providing a welcoming, diverse and tolerant environment for students.

All three alumni interviewed said that, during the conference call, Paul dodged key questions and didn’t clarify what prompted Birmingham’s punishment.

“There were really two issues that went on here,” said Patrick, the D.C. lawyer. “The issue of the movie, and the issue of the discussion that accompanied it.”

She asked Paul whether he was upset with the movie, the discussion, or both. “The dean refused to answer that question,” said Patrick. “He started off the conference call saying we all knew what had happened and the circumstances around it, but he didn’t actually lay out that, ‘I got complaints about the movie’ or anything specific.”

The dankprofessor’s take on this is that given the political realities in American higher education, I know that I should not be shocked by the actions of the UCONN Law School.  But I am shocked that any law school dean would trump academic freedom and freedom of speech in the name of a welcoming environment to students.  Fortunately, there are some law students who understand the dynamic of what is going on, that Dean Paul and his supporters have “bowed to the gods of PC”.  For a dean who has become a born again PCer, who has joined the PC cult, imposing his will on Professor Birmingham demonstrates that he can walk the walk rather than simply talking the talk.   On the other hand the good dean may just be another anemic academic careerist and believes that walking the walk might very well lead the good dean on a pilgrimage to other sacred places of higher education;  I would think that Duke would provide him with a most welcoming environment.


October 12, 2007 - Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, University of Connecticut

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