DePaul University law professor Donald Hermann recently used the n-word in a lecture. He wasn’t trying to insult anyone and he didn’t direct the word at a person. He was making up a hypothetical case, in other words, teaching law. Now he is under attack.

Mitch Dudek reported at the Chicago Sun Times:

DePaul law professor subject of complaints over use of ‘N-word’ in class lecture

Several DePaul University law students have complained to the school’s dean about a professor’s use of the N-word in class last week.

Professor Donald Hermann said he used the word in class last Thursday while discussing this hypothetical situation: a white supremacist attends the funeral of a civil rights leader and hurls the word at funeral attendees. The crowd comes after him. Can he shoot them and claim self defense?

“In this case he can’t, he’d be guilty of murder, he’s the aggressor,” Herman told the Sun-Times during a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon.

“My argument was that almost every other slur would not be enough in a similar context to make the harasser an aggressor,” Hermann said.

Hermann said he used the word with full knowledge of its weight.

“The alternative (to using the word) is there, of course, but it waters down the discussion and the significance of the word. I think their reaction to it is the very justification for the use of it in this context,” he said, adding that he didn’t shout the word or point it at anyone, but said it in a plain voice.

Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University offered some thoughts about this situation on his blog:

DePaul Students File Complaint Against Professor For Using N-Word In Class Hypothetical On Fighting Words

We recently discussed the cancellation of a Princeton class on oppressive language when the professor used the n-word. I was strongly critical of actions in the controversy and the ultimate cancellation as an attack on both academic freedom and a reflection of the loss of objectivity on our campuses.

Now, law students have made a similar complaint to DePaul University. Professor Donald Hermann is under fire for using the word in a hypothetical. It is particularly distressing to see law students objecting to the use of this word, which arises often in legal cases and was used for a legitimate purpose by Professor Hermann.

We previously discussed DePaul University’s failure to protect free speech on campus, but this controversy attacks the very heart of academic freedom and objectivity.

This is a by-product of the environment which has been created on college campuses. Students have been led to believe that it’s OK to be “triggered” by certain words.

It’s also nothing new. In 2015, some people began to worry about how to teach about law and rape if you couldn’t say rape. BuzzFeed published this article:

Teaching Rape Law In The Age Of The Trigger Warning

Universities are struggling to handle sexual assault correctly, but law schools are also agonizing over how to talk about it as more students express frustration with how rape law is taught. Although some law students are asking for “trigger warnings” (a phrase that warns others of potentially distressing material), a ban on exam questions about rape, and questioning whether “rape law” should even be a part of first-year criminal law at all, most current and former law students who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they do want to learn rape law.

They just want to learn it well. And they believe that professors who would rather toughen up first-year students than listen to their valid concerns are making it harder to close the pervasive gender gaps in law school grades, prestigious student organizations, and post-graduate life…

Criminal law is a required class, so even students who want to practice tax law or litigate intellectual property cases must participate in “rape week.” It also means that professors who aren’t necessarily experts in the field sometimes teach it. For many students, that’s where the problems start.

Here’s a thought. If you can’t handle hearing certain offensive words in a safe academic setting, maybe law isn’t the profession for you.


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