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DePaul Law Prof Under Fire for Using N-Word in Legal Lecture Hypothetical

DePaul Law Prof Under Fire for Using N-Word in Legal Lecture Hypothetical

“students have complained to the school’s dean”

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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Comments

rabid wombat | March 4, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Some speech is more free than other speech…

“He wasn’t trying to insult anyone….”, but used a term guaranteed to “trigger” the lefties, by his own admission and teaching example.

PC dictates that intent is never required. Even dictionary definitions are irrelevant. I distinctly remember the city councilman who used the term “niggardly” during a public meeting. The word was used correctly in context, referring to what he believed to be a cheapskate proposal, but out came the insane lefty pitchforks and torches.

It’s tough to profess common sense when the mob is already tying the noose, and the folks responsible for helping you have left the building to procure more rope.

    Milhouse in reply to bear. | March 5, 2018 at 7:49 am

    distinctly remember the city councilman who used the term “niggardly” during a public meeting.

    It’s funny how we can distinctly remember things that never happened. It was an aide to the mayor of Washington, at a staff meeting in the mayor’s office.

      bear in reply to Milhouse. | March 5, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      Milhouse, you just admitted that it DID happen. I appreciate the correction of who and where. However, your attempt to deflect is petty and may even be rags-worthy.

      My point stands. The lefties got ahold of it went went crazy, as usual.

        Milhouse in reply to bear. | March 5, 2018 at 3:45 pm

        What you distinctly remember didn’t happen. Something similar did. This is a common phenomenon; human memory isn’t nearly as reliable as we think it is, and it’s actually normal to have incidents “seared, seared in my memory” that couldn’t possibly be true as remembered.

        (Bonus points if you immediately recognize the quote, without looking it up.)

          bear in reply to Milhouse. | March 5, 2018 at 8:05 pm

          Nice try, but you admitted that it DID happen, and you cannot deny the resulting lefty meltdown. My point stands. If you can’t counter that, then stand down.

Don’t you wonder how the coming generation of lawyers will be able to handle any trial issues if they get triggered by words. Their profession is based on words isn’t it? You’d think the school would be embarrassed by these students

    DieJustAsHappy in reply to katiejane. | March 4, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    After having experienced what I have by some of these “sensitive” types in the medical field, I most certainly wouldn’t want one for an attorney!

    JusticeDelivered in reply to katiejane. | March 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

    maybe the school should give those students a semester off?

The use of this word, in the context in which it was used, would only “trigger” a negative response in a listener if that listen was mentally ill.

This is all about power. A small group of people use “political correctness” in order to gain power over others. The term, in question, is in routine use in the very population for which it is representative and judged to be inflammatory. We have seen the same thing with the bogus “cultural misappropriation” complaints. If a non-Hipanic person who opens a taco cart can be guilty of cultural misappropriation, then every non-Anglo person in America is guilty of WASP cultural appropriation and should be punished. The same is true of gender misappropriation. A woman who wears traditional male clothing should be forced to wear traditional female clothing and vice verse. Do you think that women want to give up slacks and return to wearing dresses and skirts? Recognize this for what it is.

The teaching of “rape law” is central to the study of law. Litigation is part, possibly a significant part, of the legal profession. And nowhere are the problems of many litigations so clearly exemplified as in cases involving unwanted sexual intercourse. If you have a “victim” who displays clear signs of coercion; physical injury consistent with coercion or evidence of extortion; then it is relatively simple to prove rape. If, as is the case in many complaints, there is no clear evidence of coercion, then the veracity of the witness becomes paramount. And, there are a number of times when a “victim” may be a victim, only in their mind or have an ulterior motive for the complaint. Not to mention that some of those facing punishment for improper actions have been known to lie. Learning how to discern this and how to deal with it is of value in all litigation and in many aspects of contract law.

It stands only to reason. Liberals go all kinds of nuts when you tell them “No”

“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.”

Frankly, I am far more concerned by the good professor’s suggestion that speaking a word, even the dreaded “n” word, somehow makes one an “aggressor.” That’s both ridiculous and ominous.

    puhiawa in reply to Anonamom. | March 4, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I believe that is the new quasi-psychological language currently adopted by the legal language police. A fancy way of saying “trigger”.

    EEllis in reply to Anonamom. | March 4, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    Why? If I yelled that in the face of any black person who had the slightest possibility of beating my ass I would expect them to try and hit me. If there were ever a case of “fighting words” that would be it. I’m no 20yo kid, I grew up when racism was still open. The only reason to call someone that would be to cause a fight or humiliate them because they couldn’t respond. While that word doesn’t absolve a criminal response, you can’t act in a way meant to cause a fight and then excuse your actions by claiming self defense.

      Paul In Sweden in reply to EEllis. | March 4, 2018 at 8:26 pm

      Wait a cotton pickin’ minute, how about we get the law clarified on the justification for the insulted party to resort to physical violence without an immediate physical threat of physical violence. How does the vulgar individual loss his right to self defense? How does the law actually view the provocation in the Professor’s example?

        Its not that it would justify violence. Its that using such language in trying to incite violence you cannot then claim self defense to legally absolve yourself from any responsibility by then claiming self defense.

          Milhouse in reply to EEllis. | March 5, 2018 at 10:38 am

          Sure you can. The person you’re insulting has no right to attack you, therefore if he does you’re entitled to defend yourself.

          EEllis in reply to EEllis. | March 5, 2018 at 11:19 am

          Sorry Milhouse but that just isn’t the case. In Texas specifically you are allowed to use force, assault someone, if they are illegally using force against you. An exception to that is if you provoke the illegal use of force. So if you call someone the n word and shoot them when they swing on you then here in Texas you will be convicted.

      EEllis in reply to EEllis. | March 5, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Well don’t come to Texas either then. Our laws allow deadly force in the protection of oneself or others but part of the statute says that it is not legal to use force if you have provoked the other person. Now that doesn’t make the others use of illegal force lawfull, but you can’t pick a fight and then put all the blame on the other guy. This isn’t some new fangled interpretation of the law. This concept is enshrined in common law and I would bet its almost universal in state law and has always been the case.

      EEllis in reply to EEllis. | March 5, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Well don’t come to Texas either then. Our laws allow deadly force in the protection of oneself or others but part of the statute says that it is not legal to use force if you have provoked the other person. Now that doesn’t make the others use of illegal force lawfull, but you can’t pick a fight and then put all the blame on the other guy. This isn’t some new fangled interpretation of the law. This concept is enshrined in common law and I would bet its almost universal in state law and has always been the case.

      JusticeDelivered in reply to EEllis. | March 5, 2018 at 11:21 am

      The problem with your argument is that blacks frequently use the word in many contexts, as endearment, humor and insult. Only a tug would consider use as an excuse to assault someone, and when they assault, they open themselves up to lawful summary execution.

        It’s more about what the user of the word thought and what a reasonable person would think. If you think saying the n word will cause a fight then you are not justified in using force if it does happen.

We had an incident where an attorney was turned in for sexual harassment for discussing the details of a pending sexual assault case with the law court of assigned judge. It got so bad I discussed it with the judge to seek fair treatment of the defense attorney, a friend of mine. It turned out the judge in fact was livid her clerk thought that frank discussion regarding sexual case details including the coarse language actually encountered in a trial setting could not be handled dispassionately by the law clerk.

The professor just showed how many people in his class are completely unsuited to the practice of law — in any context.

More and more I am becoming convinced that these so-called “students” need to be given crayons and coloring books and kept in a room with no hard surfaces or sharp edges.

As long as the black community keeps the word in their lexicon it’s fair game. While I rarely hear a white person use the word, I hear black people, mostly entertainers, use it a lot and without public criticism. Give the professor a medal. We cannot have two set of rules.

The professor was of course right to use the word to make his point, but the point he made is completely wrong. It’s uncertain whether the “fighting words” doctrine still exists in US law, but he may well be correct that it does, for a very few words, including this one. But he mischaracterizes what that doctrine says. If it survives, and applies to this word, then a legislature may ban its use as an insult directed at a specific person, and one who so uses it may be arrested. It does not classify such use as “aggression”, it does not justify the person so insulted attacking the speaker, and it does not preclude the speaker from legitimately defending himself from such an attack.

    EEllis in reply to Milhouse. | March 5, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    In Illinois the term is provokes.

    Sec. 7-4. Use of force by aggressor. The justification described in the preceding Sections of this Article is not available to a person who:
    (a) is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping

    after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
    (b) initially provokes the use of force against

    himself, with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; or
    (c) otherwise initially provokes the use of force

    against himself, unless:
    (1) such force is so great that he reasonably

    believes that he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that he has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
    (2) in good faith, he withdraws from physical

    contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

    How anyone can think that the scenario originally mentioned would not meet the the necessary level of provocation I don’t get. Normal use of that word would cause a regular person to believe that an assault is the likely result. If you know, or a reasonable person would know, that the use will result in force being used against you the you have removed your self defence justification. Barring that you tried to get away and you think you might get killed of course.

DINORightMarie | March 6, 2018 at 12:49 am

Those who were offended should be removed from law school. They don’t belong in the profession. They can’t handle reality – and just imagine one of them trying to defend someone……I would NOT want any one of those people so easily offended by this hypothetical (that could happen – and probably has) to be anywhere on my legal team.

No refund. Fail them. Dismiss them from the law school.

(Aside – to me it is like a medical student who is offended by seeing a person’s naked body – male or female, alive or dead – and complaining about it. They don’t belong in medical school if they can’t deal with nudity or corpses. Period.)

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