Temple’s Herbert v. Reinstein went on for five years

The heaviest piece of litigation that went on at Temple Law School in the mid 1990’s involved a law student, Lincoln Herbert, who was expelled from campus for 2 1/2 years for macing a menacing panhandler. This generally became known as the Lincoln Herbert affair, and went on for at least five years after the initial incident. (Law school is usually just three.)

I didn’t know Herbert in my time at Temple, but met him a year afterward. My view of him was that he was a far-right winger, but initially an interesting character because he had either the recklessness, or the cajones, to come out and say things politically that were so at odds with the doctrinaire Political Correctness of those days, that he was basically asking for it.

It’s hard to know how many people actually agreed with the whole Herbert spiel, which centered on a “Western Heritage Society” and the idea that “European culture” (which is to say white culture) needed preserving. But to go into a North Philadelphia campus and put forth that kind of politics, in a school overseen by someone advancing a so-called liberal agenda, was not exactly a career move.

There’s a few local press accounts of this guy’s thing still on the net. For example, Philadelphia City Paper coverage of the various litigation. As time wore on, people either grew tired of Herbert, it seems, or became convinced that this was a first amendment Don Quixote. From the City Paper artice: “His politics were right in Dean Reinstein’s face,” adds [Herbert’s attorney] Myers, “impossible to ignore. To me, that’s what this case is about.”

I know I’ve said it here before, put the early 1990’s were a real hell for free thinkers on college campuses. And maybe more so, for everyday people who didn’t expect that they would have their civil rights attacked by, well, not even “liberal” faculty and administration, but people who had power within big-E Education, and decided to swagger a little while they imposed their personal agendas on others.

If you got the message of Herbert in those days, it’s not necessarily something you would agree with. I think most people, myself included, would not. Definitely. But Political Correctness in those days went around bending the knee to these 2% groups. Any small group with an issue could rant and rave, and everyone else was supposed to submit.

So along comes somebody who was probably just on the borderline of European-style right wing fascism, and Robert Reinstein didn’t quite know what to do. So he waited for the first plausible opportunity to try and nail Lincoln Herbert. (This kind of stuff passed for higher eduecation in 1994.) And unlike most university and graduate students of those days, who caved at the first sign of pressure about whether they would be awarded their degree or not, Lincoln Herbert made a crusade out of it.

Sometimes I wonder if his tuition wasn’t being paid by one of these right-winger multimillionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife, who was just looking to make trouble on a Berkeley wannabe campus.

Did Lincoln Herbert have the right to post his views on the campus? I think anyone would have to agree, “yes”. In fact, even the legendary civil rights Professor Burton Caine there was saying “yes”, and had burton caine dormant first amendment about the 1991 Reinstein incident, where he had a student expelled for criticisms about a professor on a confidential semester-end questionnaire. (I think this person’s name was Hoang Nguyen, but I could be wrong.)

Was Herbert justified in defending himself against the aggressive panhandler? Probably yes, depending on the specifics. I had been attacked three times in Philadelphia: once on the street, once on the subway, and once I was robbed at “simulated gunpoint” (probably pipe in the back). And really, after even the first assault in an urban setting, your natural sensitivities for self-protection really go up. You respond without thinking. I don’t think that’s something people appreciate enough until they are a victim.

Did Herbert “lie to the Dean”—which was the thing the school disciplinary panel found Herbert guilty on? Again, probably not. Everyone knows that the aggressive panhandlers outside of Temple were shaking down students for money because they knew they could get an extra $20 a day doing this. Do it all the working year, and it’s a nice $5,000 of side money—tax free, because you know they weren’t declaring it, either. The real criminal (tax wise) was the guy panhandling, because it’s “Section 61 income“. But Herbert got zapped because Robert Reinstein didn’t like the content of his posters, and maybe because Reinstein didn’t like the defiance of the panhandler.

Don’t get me wrong: Herbert’s politics were not the kind of universal, progressivist that I endorse. By the same token, I am a strong defender in free speech civil liberty and the notion of a very pure and broad definition of civil rights. In the early ’90’s, “civil rights” came to mean special rights for groups held in high esteem in the Politically Correct movement. That was an embarrassment. Notice how none of them really talk about the dark side of “P.C.” anymore—they would rather that everyone forget.

Was Herbert unbalanced upstairs? I’m not a doctor, but I would have to say “no”. This was a standard Robert Reinstein attack, and he did it to (at least) three students. I think that sort of thing is either a state or federal crime now, and it’s shameful Reinstein got away with it in the 1990’s.

Herbert had run protests against Robert Reinstein at graduations for several years in the late 1990’s, into 2000. Then, suddenly, he disappeared.

I always wonder if there wasn’t some sort of settlement money paid, or if he finally did just give it up.

[Postscript: As to “Western Heritage Society”, it’s not clear as the 1990’s went on what the group actually stood for. So my 1994 assessment of the thing may just be a camera flash of sorts. The other followers of the thing described themselves as “conservative” or “traditional”. But you often have to wonder what that exactly means. People in the South describe themselves that way, yet they are often some of the most radical and backwards people you would ever meet.]

[Update 11/15/11: Attached here is the herbert v. reinstein 3rd Circuit unpub w lower court opinion in Herbert v. Reinstein, as well as the earlier District Court ruling. It’s clear that Robert Reinstein was a person who acted first and thought later when it came to running Temple Law School in the early 1990’s.

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