Pop quiz: You are a professor at a respected university writing questions for an exam. Do you:
A) Write a racially insensitive and divisive question that places an unfair burden on the vanishingly small number of students of color to advocate in favor of extremist racists in Ferguson?
If you are UCLA Law Professor Robert Goldstein, you apparently choose option "A" every time. Goldstein has taught courses Constitutional Law, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, Child Abuse, and Civil Rights (emphasis mine). But a question on one of his exams this week has caused a lot of controversy among non-white students at UCLA.
Students report that this question was on Goldstein's exam: "Write a memorandum for District Attorney Robert McCulloch on the constitutional merits of indicting Michael Brown's stepfather for advocating illegal activity when he yelled 'Burn this bitch down,' after McCulloch announced the grand jury's decision."
It's one thing to ask aspiring lawyers to argue out of both sides of their mouths. Sophistry is a legal skill worth developing. But it's quite another thing to ask students to advocate for an extremist point that is shared by only the worst people in an exam setting. You don't give your students an exam where they have to defend Holocaust deniers or ISIS terrorists. It's inappropriate and not a fair measure of their understanding of law.
And this particular question places an unfair burden on African-American students to emotionally detach from still-recent acts of essentially legalized terrorism against the African-American community. Can it be done? Sure, I guess. Should it be required as part of taking a test? Absolutely not. Goldstein is testing non-white students in his class differently than others. He is challenging his minority students to deal with an issue that his white students don't necessarily have to care about.
Look, maybe you think its a fair question. But the point here is that a lot of black people didn't. And since (ahem) #BlackLivesMatter, it really isn't that hard to write a stupid exam that nobody thinks is racist. The opinions of black students at UCLA are equally valid. Why would you write something that targets them when there are like A BILLION race-neutral ways of asking the same question? Goldstein had all semester to make whatever statement he wanted to make about Ferguson, speech, riots, and whatever else. An exam should be a test of the law, not a test of an African-American's ability to wrestle with controversial points the white students don't have to be bothered by.
It's possible that Goldstein didn't think about all of this, because reports indicate that there are just a smattering of students of color in his class. It's possible that UCLA just creates an environment where professors are not obligated to give a crap about the views of their black students. They've been accused of that before.