February 17, 2011

ORIN KERR HAS MORE ON WHAT STILL LOOKS LIKE a ridiculous situation at Widener Law School.

One of the common ways that law professors keep students mildly entertained in class is by posing hypotheticals involving their professors and the Dean. I ‘m not sure why this is so funny, but students just love it. If you teach first-year criminal law, which typically focuses heavily on homicide crimes, that means you spend a lot of time imagining your colleagues meeting horrible fates. If A kills B out of revenge, that’s just a boring hypothetical. But if the hypo involves the students’ Torts Professor killing the Dean out of revenge — or better yet, a conspiracy in which the Dean and the students’ Torts and Contract Professors agree to kill their Criminal law Professor for beer money — well, that’s serious entertainment. It may seem a bit morbid at first. But it’s the opposite, I think. Putting Professors or the Dean in the place of real criminals and real victims makes the scenario so absurd that it adds a bit of levity to what is otherwise a very depressing topic. As a result, it’s a common tool Criminal Law professors use when teaching first-year students the basic doctrines of criminal law. I suppose over the years I’ve murdered pretty much every 1st-year teacher — and certainly all my Deans — and they’ve all murdered me, too. (All during in-class hypos, mind you.)

In light of this, I was astonished to see this article about a Criminal Law professor being put on administrative leave for posing hypotheticals in class. . . . Perhaps there is some back-story to this I don’t know, or perhaps there is some aspect to the classroom hypos that takes them way outside the usual I-killed-the-Dean hypo. The actual hypos haven’t been made public. But based on the story alone, at least, it sounds to me like a ridiculous overreaction.

And thus, worthy of ridicule. Meanwhile, F.I.R.E. is on the case.

And Widener Dean Linda Ammons has a blog, but she doesn’t seem to have addressed this story there.

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