Columbia Law School: Threat to Punish Professor for ‘Hostile Environment’ Due to Exam Question


Columbia University

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Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

Professor George Fletcher, a renowned and respected legal scholar, taught an introductory criminal law class. In one exam, he presented his students with a hypothetical case-based in part on several real cases-that involved a woman who was grateful for a criminal assault that resulted in a miscarriage. Several faculty members and students objected to various aspects of the examination, finding it demeaning to women. The dean of the Law School, David Leebron, informed Professor Fletcher that the complaints he received constituted "a plausible contention of liability an[d] unlawfulness." FIRE contacted Dean Leebron and sought a retraction of his troubling statements on the limits of a professor's academic freedom. FIRE insisted that Dean Leebron reaffirm his commitment to academic freedom, secure Professor Fletcher's rights, and cease making ominous references to legal liability or faculty action resulting from the exercise of Fletcher's rightful freedom. FIRE's lengthy involvement on behalf of Professor Fletcher finally secured from Dean Leebron an affirmation of that School's commitment to academic freedom. Dean Leebron also declared categorically that the exam did not constitute sexual harassment, and that the incident would have no impact on Professor Fletcher's career.