UCLA Professor Under Fire For Exam Question Relating To Ferguson Shooting

When exam questions get too difficult...

UCLA School of Law professor Robert Goldstein has been under fire for a “controversial” exam question relating to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The exam, given to students in a class titled Constitutional Law II, asked students to write a memo for District Attorney Robert McCulloch on the constitutional implications of indicting Michael Brown’s stepfather for yelling ‘Burn this bitch down,’ after McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision; and to explain arguments that the defense might make.

Several students complained that they found it difficult to write about the incident because it ignored the issue of police brutality and racial injustice. Shyrissa Dobbins, a second-year law student and chair of the Black Law Students Association, lamented, “Daily I think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and I have a challenge. Every day I think about this injustice and how I’m in a law school that won’t even make a statement about it.”

Another second-year law student who took the exam, Hussain Turk, said, “These kinds of questions create a hostile learning environment for students of color, especially black students who are already disadvantaged by the institution.” It seems that these students had trouble understanding what the exam question was asking from them. The question had not indicated any type of racial implications, and it did not require input on police actions, either. 

After the exam, Goldstein sent an email to the class explaining his intentions behind his exam questions and apologizing for the anguish that he had caused his students. This was not enough to calm the outrage of his law students, and he was forced to send another apology email for the apparent insensitivity of his actions, which read: 

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.

Goldstein added that he will “discount scores students receive on the question if it lowers the overall score of the student.” Obviously, the question was too strenuous for the IQ levels of the students, who used it as another opportunity to complain about Ferguson and spare their exam scores while they were at it.

UCLA Law School Dean Rachel Moran released a statement to students, saying,

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.

Law school exams are meant to challenge students on their understanding of the constitutional law, not on the understanding of their hyper-emotional mood swings. But when a law student is unable to muster a simple understanding of the constitutional law, there is nothing left for the student to talk about on an exam other than sheer distress. Of course, for the leftist student who is stuck on an exam question, there’s always the magic word: “racist!”

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