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The Ivory Wall of Silence

Every vocation and profession has its code of silence.  Union members don't often speak out against unions, organized criminals don't speak out against the family, and police officers don't criticize other officers.  Judges don't criticize prosecutors (at least by name in published opinions), and lawyers seek to keep lawyer misconduct private. 

Perhaps everyone is silent because they fear retaliation.  Silence motivated by fear, while not commendable, is understandable.  And forgivable.  But what do academics have to fear?

We expect academics to address misconduct by their peers with vigor.  Academics need "academic freedom," we're told, so that they can opine about controversial issues without fear of reprisal.  Yet the way in which academic freedom is exercised should make us wonder if, like prosecutorial discretion, academic freedom is exercised solely for the benefit of those in who have it.  Why do I say this?

I say this because there has been zero coverage by academics of Constantine v. George Mason Univesity:

[Carin Manders] Constantine was a student in Professor Nelson Lund’s constitutional law course at GMU.... Constantine suffered from "intractable migraine syndrome," for which she took prescription medication. While taking Professor Lund’s final exam, Constantine suffered a migraine headache. She alerted exam administrators to her condition and requested additional time to complete the exam, but they refused. Constantine failed the exam. She then requested a grade appeal and re-examination, but those requests were denied as well.

Constantine complained to Professor Lund, the dean of the law school, and other law school officials about the construction of Professor Lund’s exam and GMU’s grade appeals process. She publicized her complaints in an article she wrote for the law school newspaper.

About three months after Constantine made her initial request for re-examination, and after she voiced criticism of the grade appeals process, the dean agreed to give Constantine a second chance to take Professor Lund’s final exam. Because Constantine was carrying a full load of law school courses during the spring semester, the parties agreed that the re-examination would take place "sometime in June" 2003. On May 17, 2003, however, Constantine received an e-mail notifying her that she must present herself for the re-examination on May 21, 2003.

Constantine notified the dean, the law school registrar, and two other administrators that she would not be able to take Professor Lund’s exam at that time because she had a conflict related to another law school course and, in any event, the dean had told her that she would be re-examined in June. These law school officials told Constantine that she should appear for re-examination at the time specified or forfeit her right to take the exam. Constantine requested an opportunity to take the exam in June, but that request was denied. Constantine then filed this lawsuit and moved the district court for a temporary restraining order. After a hearing, the district court denied the motion. Constantine declined to take Professor Lund’s exam on May 21, 2003. GMU later offered to give Constantine another chance to take Professor Lund’s exam, but Constantine believes that in retaliation for her criticism of GMU’s handling of her case, GMU decided in advance to give her an "F" on the exam. Constantine eventually took Professor Lund’s exam, and she received an "F."

As a result of this failing grade in constitutional law, Constantine was not able to graduate on time. Delayed graduation compromised her ability to begin on time the judicial clerkship that she had previously accepted, so Constantine had to inform her judge of the failing grade and obtain special permission to start work a year later. According to Constantine, the "F" on her transcript continues to hamper her employment prospects.

Where is the outcry from the academic community?  Where is the criticism?  Some poor student with crippling migraines was treated like dirt. But all we hear, from liberal and conservive academics alike, is... nothing. 

Perhaps the cries for justice can't crack the ivory wall of silence.

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