Wednesday, October 10, 2007
From today's Connecticut Law Tribune: Professor's Sanction Divides UConn Law; Professor's Suspension Prompts Questions Over Academic Freedom, by Thomas B. Scheffey:
The University of Connecticut School of Law and veteran Professor Robert L. Birmingham have agreed that he should take an immediate leave of absence after he showed a provocative film clip in class from Really Really Pimpin' in Da South, a documentary that has been used as a training film for prostitution. But whether the incident was exacerbated by a mishandling of video technology remains a subject of at least some debate. ...
According to three students who were either present in Birmingham's Remedies class on Friday, Sept. 21, or spoke with students who were, the sometimes controversial 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 film clip — that they stood up and walked out of the class. ...
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, however, said 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,'" said the official who wished to remain anonymous.
Heather Kaufmann, a Vernon, Conn., solo, is representing Birmingham and serving as his spokesperson. In an interview last week, she said, "All he did in each class, both Remedies and [the one on] Nuremberg, is show an interview with [Pipkins]. At the conclusion of that interview, he pressed stop. There was apparently a second or so of run-over of R-rated material," Kaufmann said. "To our knowledge, no issue was raised in the Nuremberg class, and Professor Birmingham's apologies only went out to the Remedies class. The suggestion or implication that Professor Birmingham intentionally showed the questionable material is troubling and simply dishonest." In a formal apology to students, Birmingham 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."
- Chronicle of Higher Education: Steamy Scene in Class Courts Trouble for UConn Law Professor
- Hartford Courant:
- UConn Daily Campus: UConn Law Professor Unjustly Vilified
Update: Eugene Volokh has a detailed discussion here.