Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Update on Professor Birmingham and the and the UCONN Law School

The Hartford Courant reported on November 2 that Birmingham would be reinstated as of the Spring semester, but in addition they reported that Birmingham would not be allowed to teach Feminist Legal Theory which he was orginally scheduled to teach.  No explanation was given by Dean Paul as to the dropping of this course. 

Also do check out Hartford Courant Forum on the article; it is a must read. Readers and alumni take Dean Paul to task for demeaning the academic enterprise at the University of Connecticut Law School.  The fact that Dean Paul continues to be dean and that no UCONN law professor has publicly spoken out on this case is damning.  Who will rein in this dean?  Truly, this is political correctness run amok.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

November 4, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

Update on Professor Robert L. Birmingham and his suspension by the UCONN law school

Many thanks to the UCONN law student who emailed me the most recent copy of the UCONN law student publication PRO SE.  This October issue of Pro Se has three articles on the Professor Birmingham suspension that merit reading in their entirety  One article deals with an overview of the controversy often relying on students first hand reports; the second is how the Law School dealt with the suspension of the professor’s classes and how students dealt with said disruption.  The third article is by Dean Paul who comments on the suspension and its aftermath.

Of major importance to everyone concerned is that Professor Birmingham is now scheduled to return to teaching, teaching 3 classes in the Spring semester.  Also, reaffirmed is that no student complaint was ever filed against the professor.  Students who were interviewed who were in the class indicated that one student during a discussion on the racial reparations issue made inflammatory remarks and then another student attempted to leave class; Birmingham then attempted to calm the student.  Dean Paul in his column does not explain why he suspended Birmingham indicating that now is not the time to do so and indicating an explanation may be forthcoming at a later time.

Following is an excerpt from the overview article focusing on observations made by students who were in the class. 

“A prominent professor at the School of Law has taken a leave of absence after moderating a contentious discussion on slavery and pausing a film on an image of a stripper while conducting a recent class. Robert L. Birmingham, a professor at the School of Law since 1971, stepped away from the law school for the remainder of fall semester after showing a clip of an interview from a film called “Really, Really Pimpin’ in Da South” in his Remedies class on Sept. 21. According to media reports, he showed the same clip later in another class upon a student’s request. According to a composite of information gathered from a number of students in the class, Prof. Birmingham presented an interview clip from the film relevant to United States v. Pipkins, a case involving an Atlanta pimp busted under racketeering statutes for running a prostitution ring. After Birmingham showed the clip, he halted the film shortly into the next scene, freeze-framing a stripper clad in pink lingerie posing suggestively on a stripper pole. Prof. Birmingham then commenced discussion about the interview while the image remained on the screen. The incident followed a racially charged discussion earlier in the same class. In Farmer-Paellmann, et. al. v. Brown and Williamson, a group filed a class action against a series of prominent companies seeking restitution for slavery descendents. Birmingham moderated a debate on the case discussing whether slavery descendents are better off now than if they had remained in Africa, according to several students in the class.  One student attempted to walk out after another student suggested African-Americans are better off because they are in America and not disease ridden in Africa. Birmingham implored the student to stay.  School of Law Dean Jeremy Paul learned of the incident from a faculty member in the days after the class and asked Dean of Academic Affairs Paul Chill to investigate. Paul said he had no official complaints from any students.  “The fact of a complaint would not lead to a decision,” Paul said.”

October 30, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, sexual politics, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

Thong protection for UCONN law students

So the Hartford Courant has editorialized in support of the UCONN Law School’s coerced leave for Professor Robert L. Birmingham.  According to the Courant,  Birmingham had crossed a line when he exposed unprepared studentsto a film clip of a woman dancing in a thong. I guess that the Courant holds that a public exposed thong represents a clear and present danger.  After all, if Bill Clinton, a Yale law school graduate, was driven to the edge by Monica’s exposed thong then it becomes obvious that protecting vulnerable UCONN law students from thong exposurebecomes mandatory.  Academic freedom be damned! 

To get some additional input on the UCONN fiasco, check out the Volokh Conspiracy blog; the associated forum merits our attention.  The following commentary from the forum particularly merits our attention-


UCONN 3L (mail):

Perhaps some context would be useful. I’m a 3L at UCONN and former student of Prof. Birmingham. I was not in Remedies or Nuremberg but I do have a good sense of the feelings on campus about the issue. I’ll attempt to fill in some gaps and am happy to answer any other questions if I’m able:
-Birmingham’s Remedies course is taught immediately before and in the same classroom as Nuremberg. That may explain how it became of interest to the Nuremberg class.
-Many students take multiple Birmingham classes. There were no doubt students from Remedies still discussing the film when Nuremberg began.
-Birmingham’s classes are non-traditional to say the least and he’s generally either loved or hated. He’s not going to teach anything out of a casebook. He’d much rather use (often contemporary) cases, provocative questions, and media aids (movies but more frequently oral arguments) to make his point. And it’s not clear what his point is until late in the semester. It can also be a bit of a culture shock to be in a Birm class for the first time with other students familiar with his methods. It’s a lot like being on the outside of an inside joke for a few weeks until you catch up with the schtick.
-UCONN you may remember is still “recovering” from the negative publicity surrounding the “bullets and bubbly” party last January in which black students on campus were offended by conduct at an off campus party (google uconn law bullets and bubbly). At that time the school was close to making everyone take sensitivity training and profs were encouraged to consider race issues in the classroom to promote diversity. Dead Paul is still wet behind the ears (on the job less than a year) and is eager to be seen as a strong leader. The perception among most students is that he acted as harshly as he did in this case because he wanted to show that the school was “tough on racism” in light of the negative publicity last year.
-The consensus from people in the class and Prof. B’s story is that the interview concluded while the scene faded into the scantily clad woman. The choice was either to show that for a couple seconds or cut off the interview before it concluded.
-Prof. B is notorious for easy grades in classes small enough to permit grading off a curve. Remedies does not count but his other courses (and he teaches 4/semester) do. An interesting undercurrent in the debate on campus is that most students think what the admin did was wrong, but they have a hard time feeling bad for students whose schedules are messed up because many of them are not in the classes to learn about nuremberg or energy or admiralty, but rather for an easy A.

10.11.2007 8:16am

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submiited for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

Prostituting and pimping at the UCONN law school

Last week publicdefender.com had a discussion on the UCONN Professor Robert L. Birmingham case and some of the discussants were or had been law students at UCONN.  The dankprofessor was particularly taken by the following comment-

  1. Rastaman said:
    October 4th, 2007 at 11:01 am | Quote Not strange, frightening! The First Amendment, or free speech, is being systematically reduced to a slogan. A law professor, especially, should not have to be politically correct. Of all places to punish someone for their speech law school is the worst. The chilling effect of this decision on other professors will make the mass of boring, lecture note reading, intellectually stagnant professors the norm instead of the burden.UCONN law is a “wannabe” high end school, plagued by political insiders and government hacks. They can’t even get the library to stop leaking, perhaps the magnanimous wimp Dean can pick up a caulk gun and work on the building. He sure doesn’t have the moral courage to run the law school.

Chilling effect, absolutely.  Unfortunately, the Dean has the courage to systematically destroy academic freedom at the UCONN law school and at the University of Connecticut in general.  If the UCONN law school cannot even give lip service to academic freedom, it is not to be expected that the other colleges and professional schools of UCONN will be any different.  

The only professors who benefit from a university’s adherence to academic freedom are obviously the controversial ones.  Take away controversial professors and there is no need for academic freedom.  Obviously the UCONN administration is making some headway in creating a faculty of conforming dullards given the apparent faculty law school support of the actions taken against Professor Birmingham.  Many alumni, many current students have spoken out against these actions but to my knowledge not one single faculty member has done so.  Silence may indicate faculty support or faculty indifference; whether it is indifference or support the non-action of the UCONN faculty in the dankprofessor’s opinion is damning.

Also, let us not forget that Dean Paul and his fellow administrators felt that Birmingham’s “violations” were so serious that he had to be taken out of the classroom immediately; no time for any formal complaint and even a preliminary investigation.  Immediate actions were felt to be necessary.  Usually, in these sorts of “personnel matters” administrators do not go for a public airing of the problem; obviously such did not happen in this case.  The administration even called for a public forum on their so-called case against the professor.

Why such radical and precipitous behavior?  For a video malfunction that caused a microsecond view of a partially clad woman?  For the discussion of a legal case regarding prostitutes and pimps?  For the professor discussing the case for reparations for African-Americans for slavery in a legal remedies case?  Some may feel that it was the reparations issue and the professor putting it forward in the context of asking challenging questions.  Might some academics and administrators have a hypersensitivity to this issue since it was David Horowitz who argued a few years ago against reparations and put his argument forward in campus newspapers throughout the United States?  Some campuses responded to Horowitz’s essay not with a critique but with an attempt to block publication.  Horowitz argued that said response demonstrated how too many US campuses did not value academic freedom, and how too many campuses had become too politically correct. Maybe it is now the case at the UCONN law school that the Dean and the faculty have come to believe that Professor Birmingham and David Horowitz are in essence the same.  Whatever the case may be, certainly the situation under consideration provides support for the Horowitz belief that all too often universities have become a home for the inane.

As for the dankprofessor’s word on this, the word of the day is prostituting- professors and professor/administrators at the UCONN law school prostituting academic freedom. Or maybe I should add another “p” word, pimping.  Professors pimping for administrators in their goal of prostituting academic freedom.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submiited for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

© Copyright 2007

October 13, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

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 | Leave a comment

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 | Leave a comment

Political correctness run amok

The NY Times editorialized today on radio station WBAI pulling the plug on a broadcast of the recording of late poet Allen Ginsburg reading his poem, “Howl”. Such represented a retreat by WBAI as being in the forefront in innovative radio programming.  According to the Times, this retreat came about as a “result of fear that the Federal Communications Commission would levy large obscenity fines that might bankrupt the small-budget station.”  Such did not represent an irrational paranoia by WBAI since a few offended listeners could very well be enough to bring down the wrath of the FCC on WBAI.  As the Times noted, the FCC had already fined CBS $500,000 for a nanosecond telecast of Janet Jackson’s nipple.

Now joining this censorship fray is the law school of the University of Connecticut which not only pressured one of their professors, Robert L. Birmingham, to not teach all of his classes for this Fall semester, but the law school dean went on to cancel all of his scheduled classes for the semester leaving his enrolled students in an academic never never land. 

Why the excommunication of the good professor and the canceling of all his classes?  The Hartford Courant reported that Professor Birmingham showed a film clip of an interview with a pimp convicted in a court case called U.S. vs. Pipkins.  However, it was not the interview itself that the UCONN law school found to be problematic, but it was what appeared  immediately after the interview- a scene of a scantily clad woman; Birmingham then immediately pressed the button to freeze the film.  It was the instant view of the scantily clad woman that was enough to upset a couple of students and end Professor Birmingham’s teaching for the foreseeable future.

“We believe it is in the best interest of the university not to escalate the situation and would like only to say that Professor Birmingham showed a relevant interview in class,” said Heather Kaufmann, Birmingham’s attorney. “He stopped the film at the completion of the interview. Period. The suggestion that the questionable material was shown intentionally is both troubling and dishonest.”

But whatever the intentions of the professor may have been, such did did not matter to the UCONN law school administration.  What only mattered was an instant second of offense that supposedly was experienced by a couple of students.  There was no FCC pressuring UCONN to take this action; no authoritarian organization threatening the university.  The impetus for UCONN to take actions that undermine the principles freedom of speech and academic freedom was political correctness run amok.  The dankprofessor believes it is outrageous that a law school can make such short shrift of these principles, principles which some Americans, both inside and outside of academia, still believe are worth preserving.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

October 8, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

More on UCONN Professor “Suspension”

The Hartford Courant has published numerous comments by students and others regarding the “suspension” of Professor Birmingham.  Meriting special attention is the comment from a student enrolled in the class in question, see UCONN law student, Wallingford, CT.  His comment should be regarded as weighty since he was there, and he reports that law students have been left out in the cold with no class to go to.  If such be the case, then once again students are being screwed by administrators who consider themselves as acting as agents of students in the goal of protecting their right not to be offended.

October 4, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, higher education, sexual politics, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

University of Connecticut law prof pressured to leave

A University of Connecticut law professor who is described in this Hartford Courant article as being colorful has apparently been found to be too off color for the UCONN administration and is being pressured to take a leave of absence.  More on this story as it becomes known to the dankprofessor.

October 4, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, higher education, sexual politics, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment


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