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Law professor reprimanded for setting exam problem question about bikini waxing

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Attack on academic freedom?

Civil liberties campaigners haven spoken out over a US law professor reprimanded for setting an exam question based on someone having a bikini wax. The scenario used words including “genitals”, “buttocks” and “pubic hair”, as well as a detailed description of the differences between a modified and full Brazilian.

A spokesperson for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a US civil liberties organisation which wrote a letter of support for the professor, told Legal Cheek:

A lot of law deals with bodies and body parts — exam questions have to reflect that fact. Professors are trying to expose students to the real world and real life situations.

Despite this support, law professor Reginald Robinson, who is at Howard University in Washington DC, has been lambasted by the university for the exam question he wrote in 2015 (embedded in full below).

Robinson used the test question in a teaching session on agency law. Two students then submitted complaints including: against the use of the word “genitals”, that the question was asked simply to prompt the students to reveal personal details about themselves, and that the scenario was not necessary in teaching agency law.

The university recently determined that the question constituted sexual harassment under its internal policies. The professor has received a letter of reprimand on his file, and has been told he must attend “sensitivity training”. Any future exam questions he writes will have to be submitted for review first.

The case is being seen as yet another example in a trend of accusations of sexual harassment against academics (and fellow students) which, argues FIRE, can be traced back to guidance from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces the US’s laws on sexual discrimination and harassment in academic institutions.

A spokesperson for FIRE explains:

In 2013, the OCR in a letter directed that a very broad definition of sexual harassment should be taken when investigating complaints and that colleges should take steps to prevent and address sexual misconduct. This has inspired schools across the US to take action against professors and students and in doing so are infringing their first amendment [free speech] rights.

But the OCR’s actions have also been seen as one of the triumphs of the Obama administration in attempting to combat college sexual assaults.

The administration also launched an awareness-raising campaign “It’s On Us” as part of that policy, to try and reduce cases of sexual misconduct. The campaign highlighted the role that bystanders can play in preventing sexual assault, and encouraged individuals to intervene before sexual assault actually happens.

Read the bikini waxing question in full below:

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22 Comments

Anonymous

Is this a joke, or have we really found the king and queen of the snowflakes?

(25)(0)

Anonymous

BOTTYWAX!!!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t see anything wrong with this. The relevant words are necessary in the context of this cause in action and make the question quite believable as a real litigated case.

(22)(2)

Anonymous

yep, most lawyers are totally tripping over genital – waxing case bundles in their offices…… not…… it is pretty novel / one – off subject matter, a real use of imagination perhaps teh question setter was making a stab at being humorous and had an epic fail instead

(2)(0)

Anonymous

1984 is already here and we’re living in it.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

‚Äúsensitivity training” – this has to be fiction.

(10)(1)

Oh the humanity

It’s a bogus question, they should have removed it based on having no basis in reality, who on earth falls asleep during an FB? You’re not under anaesthesia.

(7)(1)

Just Anonymous

So what are these idiots going to do in the real world, when/if they’re instructed by clients alleging sexual assault?

Report the client for sexual harassment?

(24)(0)

JD Partner

What is civil liberties?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Seems a perfectly reasonable exam question, of a potential real world situation. Or is the real fear that Mr T would sue the institution for saying he has had genital waxing?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

What’s the answer?

(4)(0)

zan

Sigh. Why is this being reported on here at all? It’s not even news really is it? An employee at Howard University in the US reprimanded for the contents of an exam question….
It’s not exactly shocking news. LSE had questions about a crazy politician building a wall lol ….and what’s your point LC? There aren’t many interesting points of law to discuss lol and it isn’t the sort of legal news I need to log on to my computer for. I wouldn’t mind but there is a rich seam of news to be reported on at the mo

(0)(2)

zan

I take that all back LC; I just read the paper….it is shocking lol

(1)(0)

A barrister

What I don’t understand is that the question starts by saying that P owns “Day Spa & Massage Therapy Company, LLC”, but there is thereafter no further reference to the LLC and the question proceeds as though the business were operated by P as a sole trader. Why did T sue P and not the LLC?

(4)(0)

Jim

I suspect the answer may lie in the words “member managed” (no pun intended on the issue of genitalia, ahem).

I am not sure what that means by presumably it makes P personally liable in some way?

I think this is a good question and these things do happen in real life. I presume students at Howard University are mature?! Totally silly reaction by the university admin. However, this is the US of A, where in 2002, no less a personage than the attorney general, John Ashcroft at the time, spent $8,000 of public money to cover up the breasts of a large nude statue depicting the “spirit of justice”, and installed in the Great Hall of the US Department of Justice since the 1930s. The very same John Ashcroft who came up with justifications for torture and the invasion of Iraq. I would rather deal with someone who had an FB.

(0)(0)

Jim

By the way …

I sincerely hope the correct answer is B (or D).

Not only did T consent to being touched and accepted this was a necessary part of the procedure, but T “slept lightly” throughout, on nothing more than herbal tea. This would dismiss any real probability that anything “improper” had happened.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Initially when I read the headline I thought that this would be a supposedly light-hearted but ultimately poor-taste question of the sort that we are used to in U.K. universities.

But this is the sort of scenario that could transpire in real life. Are we to remove all questions that involve allegations of sexual assault lest it triggers or offends someone?

University is meant to prepare students for real life, not mollycoddle them with an extended childhood.

As a member of the criminal Bar, how do you think a clerk/judge would react if I claimed to be “offended” by the words used in an indictment or a statement, or simply refused to take a case because it was a sex case?

#generationsnowflake

(4)(0)

Anonymous

As someone who identifies as a set of genitalia, I found this exam question to be offensive.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Lucky the fuzz did not get involved!

The professor may not have gone down but they would surely have torn a strip off him.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Personally, I do find this inappropriate exam material stuff…..and pretty bizarre….. you could set a civil law problem / contract / tort on virtually any commercial scenario…..why choose different methods for waxing genitals as a fact pattern?

I suppose this was the type of question designed to “raise a chortle” from the student as they read it, but its the opposite….not necessary……..lecturers always state do not attempt jokes / a sense of humour in exam answers, it works the other way round too…. not everyone will find this sort of thing “humorous” as intended….

(1)(1)

Anonymous

#snowflake

(1)(0)

zan

It’s the principles that matter not the actual problem itself and it didn’t refer to anyone in particular so there’s no need to be offended ?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.