Officials at Columbia Law School allowed students to put off final exams due if they say they have aggrieved feelings over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers accused of possible criminal activities in their deaths. Students at other prestigious law schools such as Harvard and Georgetown also petitioned to have their exams put off as well.
At UCLA, there was a different kind of testing controversy. A law professor rescinded a test question that pulled facts from something that happened in the aftermath of the Brown case and used it as background. The premise riled up students and other legal observers to the extent that the professor felt compelled to apologize.
Professor Robert Goldstein raised the issue of Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, shouting “burn this bitch down” to a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri after the grand jury did not indict Officer Darren Wilson. Riots did occur locally that night, including structure fires. Goldstein asked his students to assume the role of a staff attorney in the St. Louis County Attorney’s office and assess the First Amendment issues that might come into play regarding a potential indictment of Head for inciting violence that night.
After students complained and the question became a national news story, Goldstein apologized and said he would not use the question in the grading of the test. Even though he said he had “drawn [questions] from current legal issues” to “make the exam educational and relevant,” he nonetheless reassessed that this topic was “too raw to make it a useful opportunity.”
Project 21 co-chair Horace Cooper doesn’t agree. Horace, a former professor of constitutional law at George Mason University in Virginia, is calling out blogger Elie Mystal in particular for his reported comments suggesting teaching students about the limits of free speech using real situations is “racially insensitive and divisive.”
What’s “racially insensitive” is refusing to teach attorneys that the training they have will involve real-life applications. What’s “divisive” is implying that all students, black or white, can’t assess the proper application of legal principles when one of the parties involved is a minority.
This type of criticism not only a slap at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colorblind vision, but it’s also a clear play of the race card. This is neither relevant nor appropriate.
I commend Professor Goldstein for bringing relevant incidents for students to examine in the classroom. I also recommend that “race-shamers” such as Elie Mystal stick to simply blogging instead of trying to limit inquiry and study at universities.