“Pimps up, Ho’s down” leads to law prof going on leave

Some strange news from my alma: eccentric but popular law prof Robert Birmingham has been asked to take the rest of the semester off after showing a clip from “Pimps up, Ho’s down”, a training film for prostitutes, during his “Remedies” class. Professor Birmingham is known for his unconventional teaching style and is best know for “consideration is like chicken sexing” from first year contracts and frequently uses mathematical principles to teach the law (Nash equilibrium).

In this particular class, the students were discussing the Eleventh Circuit decision in U.S. v. Charles Floyd Pipkins, a.k.a. Sir Charles, and Andrew Moore Jr., a.k.a. Batman. Pipkins and Moore were appealing their convictions on RICO charges as Atlanta pimps of juvenile girls as young as 12 years old. Pipkins speaks in the “Pimps” film.

The 11th Circuit explained that prostitutes are free to choose a different pimp. The questing being discussed at the time was whether the 11th Circuit’s opinion meant that the prostitutes were not held in involuntary servitude, which happened to be one of the counts in Pipkins’ RICO indictment.

I wonder if there’s more to the story, but Courant article has only so much. From what I’ve heard, reactions are mixed. Personally, when I heard about this, I thought: “Ah, that’s Prof. Birmingham!”

One student, who declined to be identified and was in the “Remedies” class, said the administration’s reaction undercuts the idea of academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

A UConn law professor since 1971, Birmingham evokes strong views from many admirers and some detractors on campus for his teaching style.

“He makes a provocative statement and asks, “How do you feel about that?'” the student said. “He teaches us to think about the law and why we might be offended.”

I guess the school has to balance free speech, an eccentric professor and the sensibilities of students, but asking him to leave for the rest of the semester? I’m pretty sure this is not the first time he’s said something controversial or that he’s the only one. So why now?

Maybe someone at PrawfsBlawg has an opinion on this.

17 thoughts on ““Pimps up, Ho’s down” leads to law prof going on leave

  1. Gideon Post author

    [quote comment=”6330″]You say, “Some strange news from my alma…”

    Oh come now, no one’s that naive. But, perhaps you haven’t been around America’s campuses lately? If not, FIRE will be of interest to you (http://www.thefire.org/), and especially their evaluation of UCONN: (http://www.thefire.org/index.php/schools/291)[/quote]

    That’s only undergrad. The only other “strange” thing to come out of the law school is this back in January:

    Bullets & Bubbly

    Reply
  2. S.cotus

    In my experience, law schools are much less susceptible to “political correctness” than their undergraduate institutions.

    For example, at an undergrad institution, people can stop most conversations by talking about how “offended” they are, and crap. At a law school most people are so scared that they just concentrate on whatever offensive crap the professor throws at them.

    Reply
  3. Rastaman

    Not strange, frightening! The First Amendment, or free speech, is being systematically reduced to a slogan. A law professor, especially, should not have to be politically correct. Of all places to punish someone for their speech law school is the worst. The chilling effect of this decision on other professors will make the mass of boring, lecture note reading, intellectually stagnant professors the norm instead of the burden.

    UCONN law is a “wannabe” high end school, plagued by political insiders and government hacks. They can’t even get the library to stop leaking, perhaps the magnanimous wimp Dean can pick up a caulk gun and work on the building. He sure doesn’t have the moral courage to run the law school.

    Reply
  4. justin eisele

    I was Student Bar President my 3L year. Hearing a story like this brings back non-fond memories of my frustrations. I worked with some great people, but I definitely was constantly finding myself inadequate in understanding the inner workings of the administration.

    Reply
  5. Karoli

    When I saw this in my email today I nearly spit coffee. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t defending our constitutional rights one of the foundations of the study of law? How can a law school of all places take such a cavalier stance on the right to free speech? After all, this professor hardly called for a revolution; he paused the movie at an inopportune moment! Amazing.

    Reply
  6. S.cotus

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t defending our constitutional rights one of the foundations of the study of law?

    Well, this all depends on what you think the constitution means. There is nothing wrong with taking a narrow view of the First Amendment.

    How can a law school of all places take such a cavalier stance on the right to free speech?

    How do you know it was cavalier? Although most large institutions don’t talk about their consultations with their lawyers and negotiations with the parties, I suspect that what you are seeing is the end result. Moreover, there is not an absolute right of individual professors to say whatever they want in class. (It is pretty broad, but not absolute.)


    After all, this professor hardly called for a revolution; he paused the movie at an inopportune moment! Amazing.

    Calling for a revolution would probably enjoy more protection.

    Reply
  7. UCONN 3L

    Everyone I’ve talked to thinks this is a stupid reaction by the new wet-noodle dean. It makes the school look bad and will only hurt attracting decent faculty. “Come to UCONN, where academic freedom exists sometimes.” The administration needs to be overhauled top to bottom.

    Reply
  8. Gideon Post author

    [quote comment=”6389″]Everyone I’ve talked to thinks this is a stupid reaction by the new wet-noodle dean. It makes the school look bad and will only hurt attracting decent faculty. “Come to UCONN, where academic freedom exists sometimes.” The administration needs to be overhauled top to bottom.[/quote]
    Thanks for your comment! Do you know if anything else is going to happen or is this matter closed? Are the students writing to Dean Paul or is it pretty much over?

    Reply
  9. UCONN 3L

    It’s unclear what is going to happen. People find it sad and funny mostly. There’s also the element that some think the students who take Birm’s classes just for the A’s got what was coming and don’t feel bad for them. It’s hard to rally around the students as “losers” here.
    The question remains around academic freedom and free speech. Note how no students have been quoted by name in the papers. I’m not sure that’s by accident. There is a feeling that if you do speak out on this, you may be branded a racist in light of the racial sensitivity nonsense last winter. It’s a real catch-22, the admin has chilled speech really well.

    I like Birm and I think he got hosed, but I’m not willing to risk my neck alone to fight for him. Not when the admin is willing to can an tenured prof. for speaking his mind. What does that make me? I’d probably be painted a whiny racist…

    Reply
  10. SaucyVixen

    That’s too bad. I never had Birmingham, but the whole things reeks of ickiness (I’m tired, so “ickiness” is the best I can come up with right now).

    It’s true, though… this does detract from potential students and faculty.

    And as an aside, the Bullets and Bubbly thing last year was just in poor taste.

    Reply
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