Academic Freedom under Assault at Columbia Law School; Dean Threatens Criminal Law Professor
October 4, 2000
NEW YORK, NYâ€"The politically correct mentality at Columbia University, exemplified by the appalling Sexual Misconduct Policy instituted this month, already has claimed one victim: the distinguished professor of law, George Fletcher.
Fletcher, the Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, was informed by Law School Dean David Leebron that an exam question in his criminal law class was possibly "unlawful" because it may have violated "harassment" law and discriminated against women by creating a "hostile environment." One part of the question dealt with the hypothetical case of a woman who was grateful to a man for violence that had, in her view, a beneficial unintended consequence.
When Dean Leebron failed in his duty to uphold Fletcher's rights and academic freedom, FIRE entered the case. This summer, FIRE wrote to Leebron on Fletcher's behalf and sought general support for him in the academic and legal worlds. Dean Leebron has yet to respond to FIRE or to several academics at Columbia and elsewhere outraged by the persecution of Fletcher.
"Columbia is out of control," Alan Charles Kors, President of FIRE, said. "What happened to George Fletcher demonstrates the criminalization within the university of academic content via harassment codes and is a terrible assault against academic freedom."
The Fletcher case is now central to the fight for academic freedom. Nadine Strossen, professor at New York Law School and current president of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote of the matter in her most recent introduction to a book on freedom of speech. Strossen was appalled not only by the implications of the Fletcher case for academic freedom, but also by its assumption that women were too fragile to take the same real-world law school exam that men could take. She correctly observed: "At stake in this situation are not only free speech and academic freedom, but also women's dignity and equality."
Harvey A. Silverglate, Vice-President and Cofounder of FIRE, who is a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer practicing in Boston and who has taught at Harvard Law School, commented upon reading Fletcher's examination: "I have seen many criminal law exams. Professor Fletcher's exam is one of the most intelligent and comprehensive approaches I've seen to certain difficult analytic problems in the criminal law. To regard the exam, which involves the kind of unpleasant issues typically found in the criminal law, as a violation of women law students' civil rights rather than as a legitimate pedagogical technique demonstrates the profound sickness that pervades so much of academic culture, particularly, it appears, at Columbia. If a professor, especially one of Fletcher's caliber, cannot feel free to administer this exam, then academic freedom as well as intelligent study and discussion of the law are in trouble."
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonprofit educational foundation. FIRE's website, http://www.thefire.org, provides documentation of and links to the Fletcher case.
Harvey A. Silverglate, Vice-President of FIRE:
(215) 717-3473, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thor L. Halvorssen, Executive Director of FIRE:
(215) 717-3473, Email: email@example.com
George Rupp, President of Columbia University
(212) 854-2825, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Friedman, Trustee of Columbia University,
Roone Arledge, Chairman of ABC News and Trustee of Columbia University, (212) 456-7777
David Leebron, Dean of Columbia Law School,
(212) 854-2675, email@example.com
George Fletcher, Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence,
(212) 854-2467, firstname.lastname@example.org