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

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Columbia University

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.

  • Speech Codes: Alive and Well at Colleges…

    August 1, 2003

    By Greg Lukianoff and Harvey Silverglate at The Chronicle of Higher Education Five years ago, a higher-education editor for The New York Times informed one of us, Harvey Silverglate, that Neil L. Rudenstine — then president of Harvard University — had insisted that Harvard did not have, much less enforce, any “speech codes.” Silverglate suggested the editor dig deeper, because virtually any undergraduate could contest the president’s claim. A mere three years earlier, the faculty of the Harvard Law School had adopted “Sexual Harassment Guidelines” targeted at “seriously offensive” speech. The guidelines were passed in response to a heated campus […]

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