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Complaining about a professor's assignment to the administration - would anything come of it? Is it not worth it?

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25 minutes ago, artsydork said:

It's not easy explaining why a comment is sexist or homophobic to a judge. There is also the issue of balancing your client's needs.  After the head administrative judge told me that I'm making a big deal of a case because "it's same sex and that's popular", I strained a smile and reiterated that was not the point, and drew the judge back in to the issues pertaining to parenting and how my client was more of a parental figure than bio dad ever was. I was fuming inside, my client was once again regulated to outsider status (despite parenting the child literally the whole child's life) but the end result is that we kept it together to appear nice for Her Honour. I risked not having Her Honour understand why it was important for stepparent to have joint decisionmaking had I spent a moment explaining the judge's problematic statement, coupled with having to waste court time at the inevitable "that's not what I meant, I'm sorry you feel that way" explain away. That, unfortunately,  would have been a disservice to my client and taxpayers fielding my bill.

I'm also not going to be going through the trial coordinator to schedule a meeting in 3 weeks to have a judge tell me it's a non-issue and excuse me from her chambers.

It's really easy to categorically state the approach must be X. It would be nice if it can simply be a meeting - there are often starker power imbalances at play, especially if the person is trying to approach the matter to discuss racism/sexism/homophobia.

Does this mean that you filed a formal complaint with the CJC against the judge for the comment in question? 

I agree with the thrust of your post – it is easy to state that the approach must be X and there often are other power dynamics in play. Personally, had I been in your position, I would likely have opted to just grit my teeth and move on, even though I know that moving on can be difficult and upsetting. Which is why I stated that for less serious complaints, I think the mature way to handle issues is generally to either approach the individual directly or move on.

But if you're telling me that in circumstances like the one you described you've decided to file formal complaints, I'm interested to hear why you decided to do that and whether you've found it to be an effective way to resolve such issues. 

Happy to move this to PM if you think that's more appropriate. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois

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1 minute ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Does this mean that you filed a formal complaint with the CJC against the judge for the comment in question? 

I agree with the thrust of your post – it is easy to state that the approach must be X and there often are other power dynamics in play. Personally, had I been in your position, I would likely have opted to just grit my teeth and move on, even though I know that moving on can be difficult and upsetting. Which is why I stated that for less serious complaints, I think the mature way to handle issues is generally to either approach the individual directly or move on.

But if you're telling me that in circumstances like the one you described you've decided to file formal complaints, I'm interested to hear why you decided to do that and whether you've found it to be an effective way to resolve such issues. 

I would be well within my right to complain to the CJC. Judges routinely go to the Law Society about counsel. I didn't because my professional reputation could (read would) be impacted. Same with a professor - it's easy to say that the "mature" thing to do would be to discuss it.  It's probably more mature not to make a sexist/racist/homophobic comment though.

I agree in principle - it WOULD be great if communication would solve this. That is a golden ideal. I've certainly had my share of difficult conversations about problematic statements (IRL not only online). As Hegdis points out, there are many elements at play that can lead a person to significantly feel ill at ease to address the issue. It's fairly nuanced.  

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2 minutes ago, artsydork said:

I would be well within my right to complain to the CJC. Judges routinely go to the Law Society about counsel. I didn't because my professional reputation could (read would) be impacted. Same with a professor - it's easy to say that the "mature" thing to do would be to discuss it.  It's probably more mature not to make a sexist/racist/homophobic comment though.

I agree in principle - it WOULD be great if communication would solve this. That is a golden ideal. I've certainly had my share of difficult conversations about problematic statements (IRL not only online). As Hegdis points out, there are many elements at play that can lead a person to significantly feel ill at ease to address the issue. It's fairly nuanced.  

I agree that you would be within your rights to complain to the CJC, just as OP would be within their rights to complain via their school's official complaint process. You chose not to do so because it would have impacted your professional reputation, and OP should be alive to the same concerns with this issue. 

Of course, I fully agree that it would be more mature not to make sexist/racist/homophobic comments. Unfortunately, we can't control what other people do and simply have to decide how we react. 

On the "how to react" question, it sounds like we largely agree – the most mature way to handle an issue like this is generally to either let it go or approach the individual in question. If OP doesn't want to let it go and doesn't feel comfortable approaching the individual – either because of immaturity, insecurity, or some other concern – then they could go straight to the official complaints process (which as I mentioned in my first post, should be found in OPs academic handbook). However, they should be aware that filing a formal complaint without any attempt to discuss the issue with the professor in question could reflect poorly on them or otherwise affect their professional reputation.

Is that a fair summation? 

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10 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

I agree that you would be within your rights to complain to the CJC, just as OP would be within their rights to complain via their school's official complaint process. You chose not to do so because it would have impacted your professional reputation, and OP should be alive to the same concerns with this issue. 

Of course, I fully agree that it would be more mature not to make sexist/racist/homophobic comments. Unfortunately, we can't control what other people do and simply have to decide how we react. 

On the "how to react" question, it sounds like we largely agree – the most mature way to handle an issue like this is generally to either let it go or approach the individual in question. If OP doesn't want to let it go and doesn't feel comfortable approaching the individual – either because of immaturity, insecurity, or some other concern – then they could go straight to the official complaints process (which as I mentioned in my first post, should be found in OPs academic handbook). However, they should be aware that filing a formal complaint without any attempt to discuss the issue with the professor in question could reflect poorly on them or otherwise affect their professional reputation.

Is that a fair summation? 

re: maturity. Depending on your definition used of mature (in a literal sense, as in MOL is the most mature poster because he regularly speaks of his advanced age? Or mature, as Morgan is the most mature because they take no nonsense from us, the spoiled posters on the site?)

I don't feel it's a fair assessment if it's the latter. It's an added judgment on a very delicate situation for the reasons I previously laid out. If it's the former (immaturity given age dynamics), then it's addressed by my previous comments.

It absolutely is fair to caution that whistleblowing speaking up may have ramifications, especially cautioning as to how the issue was addressed. There may be times when it is mandatory to attempt to mediate amongst ourselves, such as what we're doing. Other times, it may be necessary due to an additional nuance to bring in a 3rd party to mediate the situation (HR, a friend, a trained mediator, a trusted professor).

There is also the added emotion when it comes from a subjective and personal experience. Sure, I can keep it together to advocate for my client. It's different when it's for me. Most lawyers that I've chatted with around issues of sexism, homophobia and racism from the bench either ended with tears in their office/bathroom/hallwall, drive home, etc.

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1 hour ago, conge said:

I'm not a litigator, but I would NOT suggest approaching a judge to complain about something they said!😄

As a general rule, yes.

But as an alternative to reporting a judge to the CJC (which is very likely to piss the judge off), a better idea would be to ask to speak to a judge in chambers after your matter is concluded.  Gently and professionally set out your concerns.

I think law students and junior lawyers would be surprised how much out-of-court conversations go on between counsel and the bench.  I mean it's not a lot, but it does regularly happen.  Also of course the other way - judges calling lawyers into the back to give them a pointed critique of their performance...

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15 minutes ago, artsydork said:

There is also the added emotion when it comes from a subjective and personal experience. Sure, I can keep it together to advocate for my client. It's different when it's for me.

This is a big thing I've realized about myself. So very true.

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39 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

As a general rule, yes.

But as an alternative to reporting a judge to the CJC (which is very likely to piss the judge off), a better idea would be to ask to speak to a judge in chambers after your matter is concluded.  Gently and professionally set out your concerns.

I think law students and junior lawyers would be surprised how much out-of-court conversations go on between counsel and the bench.  I mean it's not a lot, but it does regularly happen.  Also of course the other way - judges calling lawyers into the back to give them a pointed critique of their performance...

Conversations about a problematic statement made by a judge are rarer than say asking to speak to the judge in chambers to argue a point that the jury should not be privy to, or for the judge to strongly recommend off record to come to a deal, or to ask Crown and Defence to calm down the rhetoric. 

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On 5/21/2020 at 3:32 PM, BlockedQuebecois said:

I appreciate your point of view here, but it seems that you actually agree with my initial point: that speaking to the professor directly would be the most mature way to handle the issue. Here you're saying that the reason a student may not do that, and may instead decide to pursue a formal complaint, is that the student lacks the self-confidence and maturity necessary to discuss the issue directly. 

Of course, this is a totally fair point, and it's one of the main reasons a formal complaint process generally exists at schools – for people too insecure and immature to handle the issue directly. But I still think we should call out that conduct, if only to warn OP about how they might be perceived for following an official claims process. 

There is a myriad of reasons as to why someone might elect to make a formal complaint as opposed to speaking to the professor directly.

First, the fact pattern in the assignment is not an isolated incident (which, I understand, I did not share at the outset). I will decline to provide greater detail, but the professor has said or done other things as well. I have concluded that these events, in their totality, represent a certain pattern of thinking that I do not believe should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. 

Second, even if it were not an isolated incident, someone in a position of significant responsibility ought to know and do better. For that reason, I am again disinclined to giving the benefit of the doubt. I see that many of us have different conceptions of what "indirect" or "subtle" racism/homophobia/etc. is.  I won't provide further detail other than that I had friends both inside and outside law who read the fact pattern and thought it was, at the very least, "inappropriate" or "incredibly unprofessional." Friends who were members of the group that the fact pattern would offend all found it racist/homophobic/sexist/transphobic (whichever one it is). 

Third, raising the issue with the person makes sense if it would be productive to do so. 

On 5/20/2020 at 9:35 PM, pzabbythesecond said:

Some professors become aggressive and even retaliate when confronted over their views being wrong. It might have to do with the fact that academia coddles tenured professors, and strokes their egos while rarely calling them out on questionable views. So this may best be resolved with a third party as a mediator (for example, the students affairs office or something similar).

This.

I won't say much more other than that I got into a disagreement with this professor after class. I was the only student in the room and it got ugly. (I am going to use pronouns for men here for simplicity's sake.) I disagreed with him firmly about something in class. He became aggressive and made personal comments towards me. I called him out directly, telling him to his face that he was being racist/homophobic/sexist/transphobic. He then swiftly apologized to me.

It was fucking tough to call her/him out in the moment, but it was every bit worth it to stand up for myself. I have confronted many of my peers/equals/coworkers without flinching, which is awkward as fuck, but sometimes necessary. This was one of the first times I confronted someone in a position of power to me and it was not easy. So, I can assure you that the reason I won't be raising these issues with the prof directly is, not because I'm not insecure or immature (I might be immature, but not based on this, ha), but because it would be a waste of my time.

It was pretty fucking awkward after that. I could tell s/he was worried about our squabble because s/he was very nice to me after this incident. Unfortunately, even after that uncomfortable confrontation, her/his indirect racism/homophobia/sexism/transphobia continued in class. And that's what I have a problem with.

On 5/20/2020 at 10:50 PM, BlockedQuebecois said:

If the concern is related to being identified and retaliated against, I have three thoughts. First, I don't know how the professor could retaliate after grades have been filed. You presumably do not want to or have to take any further courses with this professor. Second, most formal complaint processes identify the complainant – I have to imagine any retaliation in response to a formal complaint is likely to be worse than retaliation for approaching a professor privately with concerns. Finally, to the extent the concern is related to retaliation by other faculty against the student, I again have to imagine said retaliation would be worse in response to a formal complaint. 

This professor is good friends with the faculty that I think has to deal with my complaint. I am concerned about ruining my name with professors whose courses I may want to take or from whom I may want to ask references in the future. I want to stand up for what is right, but unfortunately it seems that it would be at potential great cost to myself. 

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@Cookies20000 look, you’re going to do what you’re going to do. You’ve been given the answer about how to proceed, and you’ve been given commentary on how people will perceive you, both positive and negative. 

Without posting the fact pattern, nobody here is going to be able to tell you whether or not you’re in the right here. You’re also not going to get any more useful responses here – people have told you that you may be viewed as immature and insecure if you handle it the way you want to.

And I’ll be honest and say that the way you’ve presented your side here doesn’t lead me to give you the benefit of the doubt. It reads to me like you’re overly sensitive, editorializing, and don’t understand the basic premise of academic freedom. It also suggests you have a personal vendetta with this professor. You may very well be right and the fact pattern may very well be inappropriate, but your posts gives me the sense that it’s likely borderline and you’re blowing it up  

Others will likely disagree with me, and think that you deserve the benefit of the doubt and you’re probably in the right. That might be true. But short of sharing the fact pattern, verbatim, nobody is going to know which is true. 

You're clearly set on your path and think you’re in the right, so just buck up and do it already. The internet isn’t going to validate you, and you don’t need to justify yourself to it. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
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I've read this subject several times. I keep thinking I should say something but no one here knows what the hell is really going on, or ever will. All I can contribute is that I've finally realized why so many people, myself included, approach this subject with such skepticism. And it's because over-sensitive law students are considerably more common than racist/homophobic/sexist/transphobic professors. We can't actually know which of those two things is happening here. But I know if I were playing the odds which one I would bet on.

I can still remember when I was in law school, there were a few students so offended by the law they felt that it was an offense against their sensibilities to be forced to listen to it being explained to them in class. I particularly remember (it will probably be stuck in my mind for life) a discussion about the defence of honest but mistaken belief in consent as it relates to sexual assault. There were students so viscerally committed to the position that "if it feels like sexual assault to her, then it is" they literally just couldn't deal with a class which explained that however it might feel to the complainant there could be instances where belief in consent was honestly and fairly founded, which would mean there is no crime. And there were a few examples I can recall of the same pattern of behavior.

Racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. exist. I would never say that people should avoid ever taking a stand, because if no one ever took a stand then things wouldn't change Just for God's sake, if you're going to take a stand, be sure you're standing on firm ground and not that you are magnifying your own sense of outrage into an issue that doesn't really exist outside of your own reactions. I say that both because falling into that second category of behavior is both professionally unwise (no matter how anonymous the process may be, you'll eventually look ridiculous to someone) and because it detracts from properly correcting real racism, real homophobia, etc.

We don't really know what's going on in this case. We can't know. All I know is that both possibilities are real. And if the OP has problems hearing about this fact which I know to be true (which hasn't quite happened yet, but it's close) or has issues with not being automatically believed in the total absence of any evidence one way or another (which any rational person would expect) then I'd be more inclined to believe it's the first, and more common scenario, of an excessively sensitive student. But again, we'll never really know.

 

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4 hours ago, artsydork said:

@BlockedQuebecoisAcademic freedom isn't carte blanche for homophobia/racism/transphobia

@Cookies20000Also, "they" is less awkward than writing s/he her/his. 

I never said it was, and you know that. 

Although, to be honest, there's a good argument to be made that academic freedom actually is carte blanche for homophobia/racism/transphobia in an academic capacity (and OP is very clearly talking about the professor's role in an academic capacity). See, for e.g. Jordan Peterson's continued employment at the University of Toronto, J Michael Bailey's continued employment at Northwestern University, etc. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
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I have some experiences of this from my undergrad. Once I had to deal with a teacher making very transphobic comments in class (lots of stuff about how trans women needed to have their clothes ripped off to reveal their "true gender") that were completely unrelated to the class. I ended up dropping the class and the admin agreed to refund me due to the nature of the incident. He kept teaching and nothing changed. I don't think you want that outcome. 

Another incident I helped a friend file a complaint about a professor who kept saying racist stuff in our joint class. First we talked to the ombundsperson and she helped us contact the Equity and Human Rights department who address student complaints and retrain teachers as necessary. So I recommend contacting your ombundsperson because they will know your options and there are no risks to talking to them. (The teacher got a reminder to stop being racist, but according to friends who had to take his class he didn't change at all). 

Edited by cheesy
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At least the OP can take comfort in the fact that she will soon be exiting the right-wing dominated field of legal academia, and can look forward to a more progressive left-wing utopia that is actual legal practice.  

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13 hours ago, Cookies20000 said:

There is a myriad of reasons as to why someone might elect to make a formal complaint as opposed to speaking to the professor directly.

First, the fact pattern in the assignment is not an isolated incident (which, I understand, I did not share at the outset). I will decline to provide greater detail, but the professor has said or done other things as well. I have concluded that these events, in their totality, represent a certain pattern of thinking that I do not believe should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. 

Second, even if it were not an isolated incident, someone in a position of significant responsibility ought to know and do better. For that reason, I am again disinclined to giving the benefit of the doubt. I see that many of us have different conceptions of what "indirect" or "subtle" racism/homophobia/etc. is.  I won't provide further detail other than that I had friends both inside and outside law who read the fact pattern and thought it was, at the very least, "inappropriate" or "incredibly unprofessional." Friends who were members of the group that the fact pattern would offend all found it racist/homophobic/sexist/transphobic (whichever one it is). 

Third, raising the issue with the person makes sense if it would be productive to do so. 

 

So Cookies, you've never actually said what kind of satisfaction you want out of this.  Thinking it through, there's probably about 4  things you might want after this experience:

1. An apology

2. A change in the fact pattern

3. The professor to be fired.

4. This professor to become not racist/sexist/transphobic

The thing is (and I think you know this) nothing you can do, and nothing the university can do, will cause #4 to happen.  That sort of change has to come from within.  You can perhaps help it to happen by gently pointing out instances of racism/sexism/whatever (not to be dismissive - there's just a lot of isms out there) - gently just because people tend to be more receptive to change when they're approached in a more friendly fashion.

And based on what you've told us, it sounds like #1 and #2 are very likely to happen if you just approach the professor.  You have first hand experience that this professor is receptive to this kind of criticism, even if only in the short term.

So we're left with #3 - you want this professor to be fired.  This is almost certainly not going to happen.  Not if all you can point to are incidents of subtle, indirect racism/sexism/etc. that "represent a certain pattern of thinking".  With the degree of job protection that a tenured professor has this professor is not going to be fired.

So my advice is pretty much unchanged.  Either talk to this professor personally, or just let this go.

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18 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

2. A change in the fact pattern

Technically, cookies said that it was the prof's answer to the fact pattern which was racist/homophobic/sexist/transphobic, not the fact pattern itself.  I'm presuming the fact pattern was neutral.  

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3 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Although, to be honest, there's a good argument to be made that academic freedom actually is carte blanche for homophobia/racism/transphobia in an academic capacity (and OP is very clearly talking about the professor's role in an academic capacity). See, for e.g. Jordan Peterson's continued employment at the University of Toronto, J Michael Bailey's continued employment at Northwestern University, etc. 

Very nice point^. Academic freedom, subject to the restriction that you cannot offend anybody in a crowded lecture hall is surely no academic freedom at all. 

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19 hours ago, JJHarkington said:

Very nice point^. Academic freedom, subject to the restriction that you cannot offend anybody in a crowded lecture hall is surely no academic freedom at all. 

If we admit that:

1- "racism", "sexism" etc. exists , and

2- we agree on their definitions,

Then a professor like any other person could be guilty of it. There is no reason they should be immune. The question is whether said professor's comments/attitude crossed the threshold. 

Of course another approach is to deny altogether that those "ism" exists or to disagree with mainstream definitions .... relativism! 

Edited by Rosetah1

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