Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 15, 2019

Law Profs Weigh In: What Is The Appropriate Response When A White Student Wears A MAGA Hat In Class?

Following up on my previous post, What Should A Black Law Professor Do When A White Student Wears A MAGA Hat In Class?:

MAGAJacob H. Rooksby (Dean, Gonzaga), Statement:

The School of Law diligently works to provide a respectful and inclusive environment that welcomes all students, faculty, and staff. We respect the points of view of all members of our community. This situation presents an opportunity for our community to listen to and learn from each other.

Howard Wasserman (Florida International), MAGA in the Classroom:

This complaint from Jeffey Omari (Gonazaga) about a student wearing a MAGA hat in his classroom is absurd, as Jonathan Turley (GW) shows.  ...

[I]f, under the rules of the school and the professor, student can wear a baseball hat with any political message in this classroom, in what way did this student fail to meet his "professional expectations"? Other than by wearing a hat with a message the prof does not like. ... Arguably, in fact, Omari, not the student, disrupted the class when he took the time from the substantive discussion to comment on the student's sartorial choices. ...

Frankly, I think the dean, who presumably knows something about law, has a bigger problem: One of his faculty members took to a national publication and called a student--unnamed but readily identifiable within a small institution (Gonzaga has about 350 students)--unprofessional, insensitive, disrespectful, and racist. For engaging in constitutionally protected speech supporting the sitting President. ...

[Omari] presumably will be hitting the meat market for a permanent teaching job in the next few years—this could make him toxic.

Jonathan Turley (George Washington), Law Professor: MAGA Hat “Undeniable Symbol Of White Supremacy”:

[Professor Omari's op-ed] demonstrates the increasingly shrill environment faced by conservative students. Omari took to the pages of the Journal to recount his almost breathless encounter with a student wearing a “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hat. Most of us are used to students wearing political hats and teeshirts.  I am always happy to see students with such clothing because it shows that they are engaged and passionate regardless of their views. For Omari, the incident was chilling since he declares the MAGA hats worn by many conservatives to be per se racist symbols. Omari insisted that anyone wearing the hats are advancing “racial antagonism” since they are an “undeniable symbol of white supremacy.” ...

The mere fact that some kid wears a MAGA hat does not mean that he is a racist or that he is trying to racially intimidate an African-American professor. Omari simply concludes that the hat was by definition improper and inciting but that he would receive no support given his position and race. ... Omari assumed that the interpretation of the hat (which is not shared by many) was manifestly true. This is part of the trend that we have discussed on campuses where speech is being curtailed as racist or microaggressive based on how it is perceived by others as opposed to how it is intended. In this case, the hat has different meaning to different people. Yet, Omari believes that it should have been barred from the classroom.

Scott Greenfield (Simple Justice), Red Hats and Law Children:

The problem isn’t that Omari is wrong in his “undeniable” belief, but that his belief doesn’t dictate what is allowable by others or what others mean by the monumentally banal act of wearing a hat reflecting the political views of millions upon millions of perfectly nice Americans.

As the professor, one could fairly respond to Omari to grow up, suffer the indignities of his feelings and do his job without his self-serving snark and deep hurt at a hat. Or, if one is of the view that the person feeling most victimized gets to set the rules for his oppressors, shift the burden to student to meet Omari’s claim of legal professionalism by removing the trappings of his political sensitivities.

Who is responsible for Omari’s feelings? When did a hat become so powerful that it made grown men cry and write polemics, even if in the dulcet tones of the Academy? Which tribe feels their claim of victimhood entitles them to dictate to the other half a nation what they’re allowed to wear lest they’re insensitive, racist or both?

Marty Lederman (Georgetown):

[W]as it reasonable for Omari to see the MAGA hat as such a symbol, given its common usage in the past few years? And, more to the point, was his student being at least insensitive, or "oblivious," to the fact that his African-American teacher would likely view it as such?

Even if one were to answer both of these questions "yes," it would not mean, of course, that the teacher or school should prohibit the cap--and Omari doesn't suggest otherwise. But wouldn't it mean that the student acted inappropriately here, in a manner that warrants at least some criticism, even if the student himself did not intend to convey such a message?

Scott Fruehwald (Legal Skills Prof Blog):

[T]he ABA article was not appropriate. Students and probably professors at Gonzaga can certainly identify the student. A professor has publicly shamed a student when his actions were probably innocent. A professional teacher does not do this."

Ann Althouse (Wisconsin):

[A]ll the lawprofs easily arrive at the opinion that a professor should allow students to wear their politically expressive clothing without regard to viewpoint and it was really wrong to publish an article calling a particular, identifiable student a racist.

I really don't see how a person can teach if they get angry at students. Even if you do have a superpower of preventing it from showing, you're the teacher, you're the one with the power. You shouldn't be getting angry at them.

Paul Campos (Colorado), Pedagogy and Fascism:

I found this at Taxprof. Read the comments if you want to see how an African American law professor complaining about getting trolled by a Trumpkin student goes over with the sorts of law-talking conservatives who dominate that site. (If you want to stay in the boat, the tl;dr version is that it’s bizarre and indeed almost insanely wrong to argue that MAGA hats are symbols of white supremacy; that criticizing a student wearing a MAGA hat is like criticizing a student for wearing Obama-referencing clothing; that students shouldn’t be wearing hats in the classroom anyway so that’s the real problem; and that so much for so-called liberal “tolerance” of dissenting views hurr durr.) ...

I’d like to ask the volks commenting at Taxprof if they would be OK with a student wearing a swastika? How about selectively wearing a swastika only to classes taught by Jewish professors?

Oh but that’s just an outrageous analogy isn’t it? I mean 42% of the country supports Trump, for crying out loud. Are you saying 42% of Americans are fascists? Are you really saying that just because I wear a MAGA hat I’m a racist?

No, but you are wearing a racist’s uniform.

Paul Campos (Colorado), Calling White Supremacy Something (Anything) Else:

A few days ago I wrote about the controversy over a piece in the ABA Journal, in which a visiting assistant law professor — this is someone trying to get a tenure-track job — at Gonzaga addressed the practical and ethical issues raised by a student wearing a MAGA hat to a black law professor’s class (His own. Apparently the student didn’t wear it to any of the student’s white professors’ classes).

This has led to, predictably, shrieks about political correctness in the academy from Donald Trump’s Big Fascist Fan Club, and, also with depressing predictability, much tut-tutting from centrist and liberal law professors. ...

The right-wing screeching on this subject (check out the fascist word party in Turley’s comments, if you have a hankering to go upriver) isn’t worth commenting on. What is worth commenting on, maybe, is the overwhelming need centrists like Turley and liberals like Wasserman have to pretend that what the political movement that has put Donald Trump in power is open to multiple interpretations, in regard to whether it’s actuated by good old-fashioned American racism, and bad new-fashioned contemporary American authoritarian white supremacy. ...

The answer to the question about what to do about a student wearing a MAGA hat to a black professor’s class, while he doesn’t wear it to any of his white professors’ classes, is a difficult one, in both pedagogical and and political terms.

It becomes an “easy” question only if you’re either a Trump supporter, or somebody who is still capable of pretending that Donald Trump and the political movement he represents are something other than what they now so clearly are.

If you want to tolerate open displays of racism in your classroom, knock yourself out, and go ahead and make the argument for doing so. But don’t pretend that those displays are something other than what they are.

ABA Journal, As Nation Debates Racism, Readers Respond to Controversial 'MAGA' Column:

The ABA Journal’s July 3 Your Voice piece “Seeing Red: A professor coexists with ‘MAGA’ in the classroom” by Jeffrey Omari, has drawn a large number of comments and a lively discussion around the topics of the First Amendment and racism. Below is a sampling of reader responses to Omari’s column.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


This is why the ABA is in debt, membership is declining and lawyers criticize the organization's "Rules."

Posted by: Jay | Jul 20, 2019 11:04:20 PM


Omari chose the publicity by posting in a national magazine. The student was "doxxed." Omari brought the avalanche of negative publicity upon himself.

If I was on a hiring committee this year, I would wonder if Omari could grade all students fairly. Where ever he ends up, students are going to lack confidence in his fairness.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jul 20, 2019 10:10:20 AM

I posted this comment on Dean Caron's FB page. I post it here to offer a different viewpoint.

“I just want to flag that context is everything. At least one comment in this blog post on the MAGA hat story recognizes that the professor holds the power in their classroom. I would like to point out (whether one agrees or disagrees with the merits) that in this law professor dog pile, context matters too. In this context, the power lies with the law professors taking the person to task. The author of this opinion is a VAP - someone who will probably be an entry level candidate on the law professor teaching market. In this context, it is the tenured law professors making public comments and a sitting Dean who runs the blog (many of whom will participate in the hiring process in some form, even if it is just to cast their own vote) who are in the positions of power with respect to this person's job prospects. It would be nice if folks could turn their astute observations about who holds power inwards and have some modicum of self-awareness. In a couple of months, they may, in fact, be looking at this person's FAR form. And, blog posts can also be used as evidence in employment discrimination cases. When you are in a position of power, sometimes, it is okay to just let it go.”

Posted by: Catherine Smith | Jul 20, 2019 7:39:12 AM

Mr. Harrison, so you would have no problem with a Malcolm X hat?

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jul 19, 2019 6:05:53 PM

The MAGA hat is current equivalent of a white hood. Are law professors required to allow hate speech in their classrooms?

You're unfit to teach.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jul 19, 2019 4:00:38 PM

JEFFREY, That's just delusional partisan nonsense. And could just as easily be treated as hate speech by someone with a different political view.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jul 19, 2019 4:23:01 AM

No, Mr. Harrison, a white hood and/or blackface is the headdress that Virginia Democrat governor Ralph Northam has (indecisively) associated himself with. He's for higher taxes and spending, criminal alien "sanctuary" policies that endanger law abiding refugees more than anyone, deregulating abortion, and all else *not* MAGA.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jul 18, 2019 4:36:39 PM

The MAGA hat is current equivalent of a white hood. Are law professors required to allow hate speech in their classrooms?

Posted by: JEFFREY HARRISON | Jul 18, 2019 9:00:03 AM

The professor is using the same faulty logic as those who claim that taking the knee during the national anthem is anti-american. This is a logical fallacy--equivocation--and the professor should be competent enough to realize his error in this case. Any symbol can have multiple meanings. One person may see one meaning and another person may see a different meaning. To the professor, the hat symbolizes hate. However, the professor cannot know what the hat symbolizes to the student unless he actually has a discussion with the student. Just as it is incorrect to assume that taking a knee during the national anthem is anti-american, it is also incorrect to assume that wearing a MAGA hat demonstrates hate. The interesting question in these situations is why we assume the worst about our fellow Americans rather than taking the time to understand their viewpoint. I suspect the professor would find that he has more values in common with the student than he realizes if he could take the time to check his prejudice.

Posted by: Cauthorn | Jul 16, 2019 10:10:27 AM

A more interesting discussion would be if a black student wears a MAGA hat.

Posted by: STEPHEN KARPA | Jul 15, 2019 12:53:14 PM

If the professor is this antagonistic about his student's hat, makes you wonder how fairly he's going to grade the guy's classwork. If he can't separate the person from the political apparel, how can he possibly judge the quality of his term papers or give him a fair and unbiased hearing during class discussions? Or does anyone really believe that someone who has this much animus over a hat, won't be even more biased in his evaluation of opinions, arguments, commentary that upholds a different view of whatever subject he's supposedly teaching?

Posted by: justaskin | Jul 15, 2019 11:06:35 AM

Gonzaga also briefly hired Rachel, too. How'd that work out?

Posted by: Born Free | Jul 15, 2019 9:21:06 AM

More importantly, now that Professor Omari has written this article, can it be used as evidence in a Title IX suit that Professor Omari will not treat those with opposing views fairly?

Posted by: momo | Jul 15, 2019 8:59:47 AM

What's most scary about this is that apparently there exist law school professors with so little understanding of law that they condemn students in the absence of evidence and based on no more than their own subjective feelings—"I feel he is a racist, therefore he is racist." That's the mindset of a lynch mob translated into academic chatter. And worse still, the ABA seems to endorse that mindset.

And yes it does seem that this attitude is most common in academia, where in recent years (meaning during the Obama administration) male students have been condemned and expelled in a wanton lack of due process. They were denied legal representation, not allowed to see the evidence against them, and not permitted to cross-examine witnesses.

All this does bear a remarkable resemblance to the trials of black men in the segregated Old South. Guilt is to be based on prejudice rather than evidence and due process.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jul 15, 2019 8:56:23 AM

A black law professor should applaud a white student wearing a MAGA cap. Clearly the white student is in favor of the lowest Black unemployment numbers in 50+ years.

Posted by: Ingot9455 | Jul 15, 2019 8:33:47 AM

What sort of unmannered brute wears a hat indoors?

Posted by: gregale | Jul 15, 2019 8:11:07 AM

Sometimes a hat is just a hat. And by sometimes, I mean every time. Teach your class and act like an adult, please.

Posted by: Georg Felis | Jul 15, 2019 8:08:59 AM