Sunday, May 28, 2006

Beat up by the Prof, v1.1

also known as: Better him than me.

Fortunately this tale does not involve me, but I found it worthy of a post anyway. A couple notes first. When a student is assailed by a professor, and the student struggles with the answer, two things always happen. first, the other students will never laugh, will always feel sympathy, and generally feel a sense of 'solidarity' with the unfortunate victim. Second, when possible one or more students will come to that person's aid at the earliest opportunity (usually it happens when the prof turns from that student and glances wonderingly around the class). we have all had minor assailments and have all, consequently, come to each other's defense when we could. it's the silent knowledge that we're all in this together, and we only have each other to rely on.

this particular tale is the exception. this unfortunate student (we'll call him Bob) brought this on himself. no, nobody laughed at him, or made disparaging comments after class, or anything else. but when the opportunity presented itself, nobody came to his aid either. he was on his own.

this happened in Torts. my prof for that class is as sharp as they come, and despite being unflinchingly nice, is still very tough and is adept at asking difficult, probing questions. we were discussing self defense. there is a principle we will call 'excessive force', which means that if you're defending yourself against an attacker, you are only "privileged" to use equal (reasonably speaking) force that your assailant is using against you. if someone is about to punch you, for example, you're not allowed to take out a gun and shoot him. that would be excessive. the standard used is that one may use deadly force in self defense if he is threated by deadly force OR the threat of serious bodily injury.

Bob wanted to try and test these boundaries, so he asked a question:

Bob: ok suppose some guy is holding my arm, and he has a big knife and is about to cut my hand off, can I with my free hand take out a gun and shoot him?

[at this point the class is dumbfounded. where did he come up with this crazy scenario? we all are thinking "boy Bob, you watch too many horror flicks"]

Prof: [equally dumbfounded] so where did you come up with this hypothetical?

Bob: well I'm just trying to figure out when it's okay to shoot someone in self defense.

Prof: when you're threatened with deadly force or serious bodily harm. I would think this unlikely scenario would qualify as pretty serious. [she then tries to move on - turning back to the whiteboard and picking up a market]

Bob: but this guy isn't trying to kill me. maybe he's a mobster trying to intimidate me.

Prof: what about this hypothetical do you find "not serious"?

Bob: well he's not using a gun. he's using a knife.

[Prof then looks to the rest of the class, but we're deadly silent, not about to get involved in this one. about 30 seconds pass]

Prof: [clearly trying to save his ass by now] so in your story, you are being intimidated by the mob, and this wiseguy is about to cut off your hand, and you happen to have both a free hand and a gun available, and you're wondering if it's okay for you to shoot this criminal, right?

Bob: yes, I'm wondering if I'd be liable if he were to sue me.

Prof: [clearly tired of this by now, but trying to be nice] Bob, I'd think you would have much bigger problems than a law suit. What is it about this story that confuses you?

Bob: it's the knife vs gun thing.

Prof: are you saying that cutting off your hand wouldn't be a serious bodily injury?

Bob: well it's not deadly [at this point the entire class shifts itself in our seats]

Prof: [decides to end this] it doesn't have to be expressly deadly, it just has to be serious. but one can certainly bleed to death when a major artery is cut. nevertheless that wouldn't matter. No. you would not be liable for battery or anything else in tort. you might go to jail for consorting with the mob, the wiseguy will probably go to jail too, and you two would be free to work out your differences behind bars. now lets move on.

nobody said a word as the prof moved on and lectured for a few more minutes. this was near the end of class and we were soon released. nobody talked to Bob.

the next day, before property (which Bob is not taking this term) I was talking with another student (whom I've become friends with by the way) and asked him what he though about the exchange. he said "hey Bob was on his own. he didn't need to ask that question. you (referring to me of course) are always participating in class, but you never bring wrath upon yourself, you just ask questions or respond when the prof asks questions. Bob does the same thing but he asks outrageous questions and gets what he gets. By the way, we all appreciate you speaking up so much in class, it takes the heat off of us."

I'm sure the latter will come as a big surprise to most of you.


pbrchicken said...

Not too surprised.. I'm sure there's been cases where your speaking up has taken the heat off me.

I'm going to need to take a while and think about exactly when that might have happened......

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