After a protracted 16-month investigation, officials at Howard University in Washington, D.C. found a law professor guilty of sexual harassment because he presented students with an exam question about a hypothetical person who was molested while undergoing a Brazilian wax job.
Administrators at Howard University School of Law labeled the professor, Reginald L. Robinson, as a sexual harasser in May, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE), a civil rights organization.
Robinson gave students the hot wax question way back in September 2015. The question involved a person who slept through a Brazilian waxing (which is the removal or all or pretty much every bit of pubic hair and other nether-regional locks using heated goo and pieces of fabric).
Robinson’s full question mentioned a “landing strip” and a lack of hair from “belly button to buttocks,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
At some point, a student disagreed that a person could possibly sleep through the Brazilian waxing process.
Later, two unidentified students filed an official complaint about Robinson’s question.
One of the complaining students allegedly said she believed that the question somehow forced her to divulge whether or not she had undergone a Brazilian wax job process herself.
Administrators at Howard were also deeply troubled by Robinson’s use of the word “genitals” in the test question.
Candi Smiley is the Title IX coordinator at Howard who conducted the 504-day investigation of Robinson and ultimately determined that he was guilty of sexual harassment for giving students a hypothetical test question about a molested bikini wax customer.
Smiley’s LinkedIn profile shows that she has a law degree and has previously worked as a contract attorney and document reviewer at various law firms.
Robinson’s very extensive curriculum vitae includes a multitude of academic publications and two advanced degrees. He received his undergraduate degree — magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa — from Howard in 1981.
Howard University has punished Robinson. School officials will force him to undergo sensitivity training and require him to submit future test questions to prior administrative review. Administrators also warned the professor that he may be fired if is found in violation of Title IX for a second time.
Title IX is a comprehensive 1972 federal law that prohibits federally-funded entities from discriminating on the basis of biological sex.
“Robinson’s test question clearly does not constitute sexual harassment,” said FIRE spokeswoman Susan Kruth, in a press release. “Howard’s overreaction to a simple hypothetical question is a threat to academic freedom and a professor’s ability to effectively teach students.”
In a statement provided by FIRE, Robinson suggested that sensitivity training and policing course material for anything someone may find offensive are bad ways to prepare law students for the often unpleasant factual scenarios encountered by attorneys.
“My case should worry every faculty member at Howard University, and perhaps elsewhere, who teaches in substantive areas like law, medicine, history, and literature,” Robinson said. “None of these academic areas can be taught without evaluating and discussing contextual facts, especially unsavory and emotionally charged ones.”
“I also can’t prepare my students adequately for legal practice if I can’t teach them new developments and require them to read unedited, unfiltered cases,” the professor added.
Robinson’s attorney, Gaillard T. Hunt, charged that Howard’s administration “wants to treat its students as delicate snowflakes who must be protected from unpleasant hypothetical cases,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
Hunt also described Howard’s sexual harassment finding against Robinson as “libelous of him as an individual.”
In 2014, a Harvard Law School professor, Jeannie Suk Gersen, predicted that law professors would become increasingly hesitant to teach students about laws regarding rape because of the generally awful fact patterns which are necessary to provide students with any sort of context about rape laws and rape cases.
Howard University School of Law charges students about $102,000 for a three-year degree preparing them for legal careers. Bar-passage rates for Howard students are frequently lower than average state bar-passage rates.
As an expensive private school, Howard is not susceptible to First Amendment litigation. However, FIRE notes, school policy guarantees academic freedom to students and professors.
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