Paul L. Caron

Saturday, September 1, 2018

After Professor's Alleged 'N-Bomb,' Emory Law Rally Calls For Tolerance, Respect

Emory LogoFollowing up on Wednesday's post, Tenured Emory Law Prof Removed From Teaching Torts After Using N-Word In Class:, After Professor's Alleged 'N-Bomb,' Emory Law Rally Calls for Tolerance, Respect:

Roughly 200 Emory University students—most sporting black T-shirts or other black garb in solidarity—gathered on the law school’s lawn on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon for a rally after last week’s revelations that a law professor allegedly used a racial slur during a torts class.

While some of the attendees were pointed in both their observations—including one holding a sign simply proclaiming “Not at Emory” and a more pointed “I am not a N****R”—the organizers and speakers hewed to its theme of unity, respect and tolerance.

“The main thing we’re here about today is not about the professor,” said Wrenica Archibald, a 2016 Emory grad and current law school student who heads the campus branch of the Black Law Students Association.

Inside Higher Ed, Suspended for Using N-Word:

Another professor is currently teaching Zwier’s classes. Zwier said he’s been blocked from teaching for the semester. A spokesperson for the university did not respond to a request for comment about the terms of suspension, or whether it is, in Emory’s view, a suspension at all. ...

Widely followed standards established by the American Association of University Professors says removal from the classroom constitutes a suspension, which is a serious sanction that should be reserved only for cases in which student, faculty or staff safety is at immediate risk. ...

Zwier’s case is also not the first in which law students have objected to content that is arguably connected to the curriculum. Jeannie Suk, a professor of law at Harvard University, has written about how discussions about sexual assault have become harder to navigate in the post-trigger warning era, ultimately -- in Suk’s view -- to the detriment of the sexual assault victims today’s law students might one day represent.

“One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word 'violate' in class -- as in ‘Does this conduct violate the law?’ -- because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress,” Suk wrote in a widely discussed 2014 essay in The New Yorker.

There is little disagreement, even among academic freedom and free speech watchdogs, that offensive content should make its way into the classroom only for sound educational reasons. Emory's statement seems to imply that its standard for using a slur, at least in law classes, is whether it's an explicit part of a case. Zwier's explanation makes a case for using a slur when it's in the margins of case law.

Given this and past controversies, is the N-word in particular so sensitive that it should be banned from explicit use in the classroom altogether? Everyone understands the less offensive shorthand, after all.

Legal Education | Permalink


“As Fisher was about to be served, he was approached by Flynn, who snatched the plate from Fisher's hand and shouted that he, a Negro, could not be *629 served in the club. Fisher testified that he was not actually touched, and did not testify that he suffered fear or apprehension of physical injury; but he did testify that he was highly embarrassed and hurt by Flynn's conduct in the presence of his associates.”

It is not clear why the student was offended. Is he suggesting that his Law Professor intentionally used a more derogatory/demeaning word for emphasis when explaining the facts of the case? How do the facts of the case change if you were to substitute the N word for Negro? Does the student believe that if Professor Zwier had been historically correct and used the word Negro instead of the N word, that the facts of the case would have been less offensive and thus he would not have been offended? Clearly using either word in the context of the statement “As Fisher was about to be served, he was approached by Flynn, who snatched the plate from Fisher's hand and shouted that he, a Negro, could not be *629 served in the club”, would not change the degree to which the statement offends.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 3, 2018 2:38:06 PM

Without knowing the context in which he said this, it's very hard to know if this is logic or panic. My instinct says the second.

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 2, 2018 5:11:40 AM

Now I understand why some law schools don't allow recording of their classes.

My con law professor was purdy smart to ask her students for examples of fighting words, and not just provide the class with her own list of faves.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 1, 2018 1:23:29 PM


[triggering intensifies]

Posted by: Anon | Sep 1, 2018 12:44:30 PM