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Brazilian Wax Question Lands Professor in Hot Water

July 7, 2017
 
 

Howard University has found a professor of law guilty of sexual harassment in relation to a 2015 test question involving Brazilian waxing. At first blush, it’s the kind of case that might anger even modest professors concerned about the rising tide of what’s been called campus illiberalism, or student calls for censorship of emotionally discomfiting speech.

But Reginald Robinson’s full question about a client who fell asleep during a wax and later alleged improper touching is rather graphic, with references to a “landing strip,” hairlessness from “belly button to buttocks" and more. Still, some free speech and academic freedom advocates are calling Howard’s response excessive: mandatory sensitivity training for Robinson, prior administrative review of his future test questions, classroom observation and a warning that any further violations of the university’s sexual harassment policies may result in termination.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education -- which asked Howard to revoke Robinson’s sanctions, but reportedly did not hear back by a June 30 deadline -- said this week that the university’s “overreaction to a simple hypothetical question is a threat to academic freedom and a professor’s ability to effectively teach students.” The question "clearly does not constitute sexual harassment,” added Susan Kruth, FIRE’s senior program officer for legal and public advocacy. 

Robinson’s attorney, Gaillard T. Hunt, said via email Thursday that it’s “silly but relatively harmless” if Howard’s law school “wants to treat its students as delicate snowflakes who must be protected from unpleasant hypothetical cases.” But when it makes a “formal finding that a professor is guilty of ‘sexual harassment’ because of a discussion in class, that’s libelous of him as an individual and debases the whole concept.” Howard did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Two students complained about Robinson's question, triggering the university's investigation, according to FIRE.

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