A question on a law exam at The University of California, Los Angeles, referring to the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting of Michael Brown has created controversy.
The exam question was administered in Professor Robert Goldstein’s law class. It was “designed to test students’ ability to analyze the line between free speech and inciting violence,” reports FOX News.
The question referred to reports of Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, possibly inciting and promoting violence following the verdict to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting by shouting, “Burn this bitch down!”
Students were asked to pretend they were lawyers in the St. Louis County Attorney’s office and a prosecutor was asking them to advise on “whether to seek an indictment against Head” for inciting violence.
The exam question reads:
“[As] a recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant First Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo."
The question upset many students.
Legal blogger Elie Mystal attacked the exam question on Above The Law, referring to it as an “unfair burden on African-American students” and stating it discriminates against non-white students.
“And this particular question places an unfair burden on African-American students to emotionally detach from still-recent acts of essentially legalized terrorism against the African-American community. Can it be done? Sure, I guess. Should it be required as part of taking a test? Absolutely not. Goldstein is testing non-white students in his class differently than others. He is challenging his minority students to deal with an issue that his white students don't necessarily have to care about,” Mystal wrote.
Mystal goes on to say that he thinks UCLA has created an environment where “professors are not obligated to give a crap about the views of their black students.”
UCLA Law School Dean Rachel Moran responded to a request for comment from Mystal on the situation.
“Professor Goldstein intended question 1 in the exam to be a topical examination of the Clear and Present Danger Defense. In retrospect, however, he understands that the question was ill-timed for the examination and could have been problematic for students given the anguish among many in our community over the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. As a result, he has communicated his regrets to the class and will be adjusting the grading appropriately for all students who took the exam,” Moran wrote.
Professor Goldstein issued a statement to his students, explaining his reasoning for administering the exam question.
“Question 1 involved a brief actual news report from CNN and the New York Times. The purpose of Question 1 was to consider the clear and present danger test as a First Amendment defense against prosecution for speech itself rather than illegal action, and the effort of the Court to give breathing space to political actors to engage in "hyperbole" in the heat of the political moment.
"As with many of my exams in this upper-level elective class, questions may be drawn from current legal issues in the news or from recent court reports. This helps make the exam educational and relevant. Throughout the course we have explored controversial, deeply felt issues involving many different minority voices and victims. The province of a First Amendment lawyer is controversial. I recognize, though, that the recent disturbing events and subsequent decisions in Ferguson and New York make this subject too raw to make it a useful opportunity for many of you to demonstrate what you have learned in this class this year.
“I clearly underestimated and misjudged the impact of this question on you. I realize now that it was so fraught as to have made this an unnecessarily difficult question to respond to at this time. I am sorry for this,” Goldstein wrote.
Professors of Law at other colleges have defended Goldstein and do not see any reason for him to apologize.
“If there are some law students who are such delicate flowers that merely being asked to assess whether certain controversial speech that's been in the news is constitutionally protected, in a class covering the First Amendment of all things, then maybe they should find another profession,” David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University School of Law, said.
Professor Goldstein said he will not include the question as part of the exam grade, reports The Daily Mail.