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Law Prof guilty of sexual harassment for test question involving Brazilian waxing

Law Prof guilty of sexual harassment for test question involving Brazilian waxing

Howard U student “believed the question’s premise somehow required her to reveal to the class whether she’d had a Brazilian wax”

Howard University law professor Reginald Robinson has been the subject of 504-day Title IX investigation based on two student complaints about a test question involving a Brazilian wax lawsuit. Robinson is now required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, prior administrative review of future test questions, and classroom observation.

As described by Cosmo, during a Brazilian wax, “they take the hair off the top and sides of the bikini line, but also all the way under and around the back, too. [emphasis not mine]”

The test question is lengthy and quite specific about the nature of the Brazilian wax.  Its basic premise is described by Inside Higher Ed:

Howard University has found a professor of law guilty of sexual harassment in relation to a 2015 test question involving Brazilian waxing. At first blush, it’s the kind of case that might anger even modest professors concerned about the rising tide of what’s been called campus illiberalism, or student calls for censorship of emotionally discomfiting speech.

But Reginald Robinson’s full question about a client who fell asleep during a wax and later alleged improper touching is rather graphic, with references to a “landing strip,” hairlessness from “belly button to buttocks” and more. Still, some free speech and academic freedom advocates are calling Howard’s response excessive: mandatory sensitivity training for Robinson, prior administrative review of his future test questions, classroom observation and a warning that any further violations of the university’s sexual harassment policies may result in termination.

Two students complained about the question, and the resulting Title IX investigation ensued.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports:

On May 4, law professor Reginald Robinson was deemed responsible for sexual harassment after two students complained about a test question involving a Brazilian wax and an upset client. After a 504-day investigation, administrators determined that Robinson would be required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, prior administrative review of future test questions, and classroom observation. Robinson also received a stern warning that any further “violations” of the university’s Title IX policies may result in his termination.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to Howard on June 16 demanding that Robinson’s sanctions be removed. Howard did not respond by FIRE’s June 30 deadline.

“Robinson’s test question clearly does not constitute sexual harassment,” said Susan Kruth, FIRE’s senior program officer for legal and public advocacy. “Howard’s overreaction to a simple hypothetical question is a threat to academic freedom and a professor’s ability to effectively teach students.”

During a September 2015 class, a female student challenged a test question’s premise that a person could sleep through a Brazilian wax. After a complaint to administrators by two students and a 16-month investigation, Robinson was informed that one of the students allegedly believed the question’s premise somehow required her to reveal to the class whether she’d had a Brazilian wax. This dubious assertion, coupled with the use of the word “genitals” in the law school test question, contributed to then-Deputy Title IX Coordinator Candi Smiley’s determination that Robinson is guilty of sexual harassment.

Howard is a private university, and as such, the university is not bound by the First Amendment; however, their academic freedom policy is clear in its promise to uphold student and faculty free speech and academic freedom rights.

FIRE continues:

Although Howard is a private institution and thus not bound by the First Amendment, the university explicitly promises its students and faculty members free speech and academic freedom rights. These sanctions run counter to Howard’s own academic freedom policy, which states that faculty members are “entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects.”

“My case should worry every faculty member at Howard University, and perhaps elsewhere, who teaches in substantive areas like law, medicine, history, and literature. Why? None of these academic areas can be taught without evaluating and discussing contextual facts, especially unsavory and emotionally charged ones,” said Robinson. “I also can’t prepare my students adequately for legal practice if I can’t teach them new developments and require them to read unedited, unfiltered cases.”

Howard’s actions are part of a nationwide trend of restricting free speech under the guise of addressing sexual harassment. [emphasis not mine]

 

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Comments

I would argue the students who objected to the question should probably pursue another degree as they are clearly not capable of handling any potential upsetting material in the real world.

DINORightMarie | July 9, 2017 at 8:41 pm

My first question: were men given this question? If so, then the question is NOT “sexual harassment” because both men and women had the question. Second question: why is the word “genitals” off limits when it may come up in several areas of law – divorce law, rape/criminal law, etc.?! Sexual harassment suits are HUGE now (can you say Bill Cosby?!)! Third question: what kind of mind reads this question and then leaps to the delusional conclusion that you are expected to reveal to the class your personal life?!

The last FIRE paragraph implies this is a REAL case, and that it was presented as a test question to determine knowledge on this area of law.

OUTRAGEOUS! Firing those who took 504 days to come to this ridiculous outcome! And, as for those two students (who I hope are either dropouts now or in another line of work), they need to GROW UP! Until then, they should be PREVENTED from legal practice….because this COULD be a case they encounter!

OK, back in the 90s, I had a very good, very caredul PhD psychologist who taught a section on “The Psychology Of Communications” to potential trial lawyers.

He had the temerity to suggest that men and women communicate differently.

For this, he was denounced to the dean for his outrageous sexism by a bunch of 25 year-old chickies who’d never been outside the convent of liberal arts.

OF COURSE men and women communicate differently! Our brains are so different, we MIGHT be separate species.

And THAT is a great thing! It makes us VASTLY more able to deal with complex threats.

But, hey, Prof…. Asking ANY question about a “Brazilian Wax” is just too stupid to contemplate. There are “wymen” in our classes who wear their arm-pit hair as a talisman of virtue. Some of them have chest hair…

    Tom Servo in reply to Ragspierre. | July 9, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Good points, and I agree with you – this wasn’t “sexual harassment” or any thing like it – on the other hand, it was an incredibly stupid question that anyone with even a lick of common sense would have known to stay away from.

    Once upon a time, educated people had commonly held standards of decency which let everyone know that some topics were just out of bounds for respectable discussion. That really wasn’t such a bad system.

      Ragspierre in reply to Tom Servo. | July 10, 2017 at 1:11 am

      I remember a Bugs Bunny cartoon from my childhood: “The Klondike, where men are men and women are women…a darned nice arrangement!”

      Like most of the Mel Brooks movies, you couldn’t even make that now for all the PC crap that would hit the blower. (Can I say “blower”…???).

      Ah, well…you see my point.

Thanks for linking to the actual text of the question. I’m learning to appreciate primary sources more and more in this era of fake news.

The question is poorly written — at times the grammatical errors are bad enough to make sentences unclear.

But it’s hard to see how any question on sexual assault or rape could be written that was less explicit than this. Heaven help these poor snowflakes if they ever have to depose a nurse on exactly where she swabbed when performing a rape kit.

Someone should investigate why this investigation took 504 days. Good grief.

    davod in reply to hrhdhd. | July 10, 2017 at 4:59 am

    The process is the punishment.

    ss396 in reply to hrhdhd. | July 10, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Why 504 days? It takes that long because nobody dares to make a decision; they work to arrive at consensus, rather than decision.

    That it took this long tells us that there was at least one hold-out in the disciplinary board who did not go along with whatever was being recommended. I suggest that the resulting punishment is a compromise from what the activists wanted to mete out, but was something that the hold-out(s) finally accepted after being suitably worn down.

    I work international major construction projects. A lot of them happen in the third world, and we run into this kind of thing repeatedly: consensus rather than decision, and a wearing down of the minority. They aboriginals or other tribal associations are not in a “western” hurry, and mostly they require 100% unanimity. It can take a long time to get things done.

    I expect that this is what academia is looking like more and more: a tribal, aboriginal organization. I doubt that they require 100% unanimity in their pronouncements, but that is only because of a long history of democracy. Given time, that too will be upended, and investigations such as this one was will take longer still to come to the 100% consensus for any conclusion. As stated, “the process is the punishment.”

The people making the accusation should all be: forced-waxed – a hundred times in a row – on national television – by waxing trainees – and each trainee must be an imprisoned sex offender.

Then, send them to Singapore to be caned.

See,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alyson-herzig/worst-brazilian-wax-ever_b_6135892.html

So, the question was worded quite tamely.

I think the girls were put off by the word “aesthetician.”

This behavior of hypersensitivity and by a co-worker followed by an absurd over reaction by management has been going for a long, long time. Back in the early 80’s I was brought up on accusations that I was creating a hostile work environment, I was using inappropriate and profane language, I was intimidating female co-workers, and that I had violated the “ethical behavior” clause in my employment contract. So what was my great and unforgivable sin? I dared to as a female co-worker “Is that darn thing done yet?”
>
My conclusion at the end of the process was that this behavior ultimately condoned by management was a clear indication of how management had no clue as to how to manage and how management’s utter lack of ethics or principle (not to mention courage) enabled neurotic people to feel empowered to spread their neuroses to everyone. As a side note, this co-worker quite her job about six months later and about a year after that her husband left her. Why I have no idea (sarc).

When I had it done I asked my dentist to do it while I was asleep for an implant.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Do today’s law-school students have MUSH for brains?

To begin with, the answer to the question is “B.” Client “T” explicitly contractually consented to any touching necessary to accomplish the procedure requested, AND you’re explicitly told: “T sued P, and in deposing A, P and T’s attorney learned that A had properly touched T during the FB.” T’s subjective allegation regarding A’s touching is irrelevant. Objectively (the reasonable (wo)man) says that A, and by extension P, did nothing improper.

Second, for the law school question, you are COMMANDED to assume that everything they tell you in the question is TRUE. Period. EACH-AND-EVERY-PROFESSOR that I had, both in Law School and in preparation for taking the Bar Exam, indicated that you DO NOT look beyond the premise of the question. EVER.

Third, this is an objective vs. subjective reading comprehension question. The Professor wants to know if you can follow the trail, keep the parties straight, and cut through the clutter while getting to the “contract” answer regarding the claimed damage suffered by T.

Come on. This question took me 1 minute and 10 seconds to read, and 10 seconds to select the answer.

    Chuck Skinner: Being a lawyer, I pose questions that are clearly based on hypothetical situations (usually prefaced by “Assume only for the sake of argument that . . . .”) to people all the time. (I just can’t help myself.) I’ve noticed that people who are inherently dishonest (i.e., liars to their cores) or people who refuse to provide an honest answer regarding the subject matter under discussion typically debate the possibility of the hypothetical without otherwise giving a response – regardless of how reasonable the hypothetical is.

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