Free Speech Win for Paramedics Instructor Deemed Insufficiently 'Sensitive to Diversity'


Rennett Stowe/Flickr

A California paramedics instructor deemed insufficiently "sensitive to diversity" will be allowed to return to his position at Antelope Valley College (AVC). The college settled with the instructor, Lance Hodge, after a federal judge deemed his lecture about unusual cultural practices paramedics might encounter a matter "of public concern" and allowed Hodge's first amendment claim against AVC to proceed.

In 2010, Hodge—a long-time paramedic and tenured AVC instructor—gave a lecture about "weird" cultural practices his students might encounter in the field. In his career as an emergency medical technician (EMT), Hodge said he'd been exposed to "witch stuff," people using heated coins for healing, and women eating placenta after childbirth.

Now it's certainly not polite or "politically correct" to describe cultural practices foreign to you as "weird." But as far as "insensitivity to diversity" goes, it's pretty mild. Perhaps AVC Dean of Health Sciences Karen Cowell, who was attending Hodge's lecture that day, could have pulled him aside after class and suggested he reconsider his phrasing, and Hodge would have, and everybody could have moved on. 

Cowell's main objections to Hodge lecture were his use of the word "burning" to describe a healing method more properly referred to as "coining" and his use of the word "weird." Deeming Hodge's statements as "inappropriate and disrespectful," the school required Hodge to improve his "sensitivity to diversity" by writing a paper on discrimination and delivering a one-hour class lesson on cultural diversity.

Hodge fulfilled both requirements, submitting a 27-page paper and a lesson plan titled "Political correctness vs. the real world: The EMT and professionalism in the face of offensive language or behavior and our understanding of stereotyping and prejudice." The paper was accepted, but not the lesson plan, and Hodge was threatened by human resources with disciplinary action if he delivered it. He was also expected to submit another proposed diversity lesson plan. 

Hodge filed a grievance, saying the punishment would violate school policy, which grants that "academic freedom in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge in an educational environment shall be ensured and maintained" and states that faculty "shall not be subjected to censorship or discipline" for expressing "controversial or unpopular" views. The school responded by saying that Hodge had violated AVC's ethics policy, which requires employees to be "fair and respectful in all interactions" with students, "work with people without prejudice," and "respect the personal values, beliefs, and behaviors of others." 

While those are fine norms for workplaces and academia, they're also incredibly open to interpretation. "Respect" relies on intent, and that's hard to verify (we're also in an era of increasing progressive scorn for intent). For his part, Hodge says the point of the original lecture was teaching his students to respect diversity.

With the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Hodge challenged the university's assessement in a letter, asking the school to "rescind its requirement that Hodge present a lecture on 'cultural diversity' because of his protected classroom expression." When AVC refused, Hodge and FIRE filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

In the complaint, Hodge alleged First Amendment retaliation and infringement of academic freedom under the First Amendment. In February, District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez allowed Hodge's First Amendment retaliation claim to proceed. From Gutierrez's decision

"Until a few weeks ago, Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim presented a novel question of law in this Circuit: To what degree are a public university professor's teaching and writing protected by the First Amendment?

The Supreme Court explained in (Garcetti v. Ceballos) that 'when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.' However, the Supreme Court did note a possible exception to this far reaching rule, reserving the question of whether its holding applied to 'speech related to scholarship or teaching.'"

Seizing upon this exception, the Ninth Circuit recently held (in Demers v. Austin, 2014) that teaching and academic writing must receive greater protection under the First Amendment than what Garcetti currently provides. It concluded tha a public university professor's academic speech is protected by the First Amendment under two conditions: it addresses "matters of public concern" and the employee's interest in commenting on these matters outweighs the state's interest in "promoting the efficiency of the public services."

Guiterrez decided that both Hodge's situation fulfilled both conditions. He chastised AVC for "consider(ing) the form of (Hodge's) speech to the exclusion of its context and content."

Earlier this month, AVC and Hodge settled the case out of court. The school will pay half of Hodge's legal fees, he will retain tenure, and he will not face disciplinary action nor be required to offer an approved diversity lecture.

"After two years of litigation, I am very pleased with the court's determination that Mr. Hodge's classroom speech on matters related to public safety and the performance and training of first responders is protected by the First Amendment," said Hodge's lawyer, FIRE Legal Network attorney Arthur Willner. "It is in the interests of the students, faculty, and the community at large to foster the free and open discussion of these issues."

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  1. Yo, massa. Suck my dick. Suck my MOTHER….FUCKIN’….dick.

    /Eddie Murphy

  2. Hodge said he’d been exposed to “witch stuff,” people using heated coins for healing, and women eating placenta after childbirth.

    Now it’s certainly not polite or “politically correct” to describe cultural practices foreign to you as “weird.”

    Indeed, because eating your newborn baby’s placenta is not weird. Nope. Uh-uh.

    Better call it “unusual”, “strange”, “outlandish”, “eccentric”, “uncanny” or “off-the-wall.” But by the love of God don’t use the word “queer” to describe something that’s weird. That’s also politically incorrect.

    1. But you can use queer if you are challenging the heterosexist norms of mainstream society.

      1. And black people dropping the N bomb on each other is totally okay.

        On even numbered days you are supposed to use insulting words so you can own them and take away their sting. On odd numbered days, you are supposed to burn anyone who uses them at the stake.

      2. I’m online dating, and I’ve pursued quite a few girls listed as bisexual. However, as soon as I see that they say some variation of “I would have listed myself as queer but it wasn’t an option”, I immediately skip to the next profile.

        1. “I would have listed myself as queer but it wasn’t an option”

          Doesn’t queer mean gay or lesbian? Have they changed the meaning of the term? If these women think of themselves as “queer” why are they not in the “women seeking women” pages? NTTAWWT

          1. Queer doesn’t seem to have any actual meaning besides “I’m too cool for labels”.

            These chicks are attracted to men. They are also attracted to women. But they “aren’t” bisexual.

            1. I had no idea the meaning of it had changed in some people’s mind. Beyond that, there were a lot of gay people who experienced some pretty considerable heartbreak and aggravation trying to get society to accept them and to be able to say “yeah I am a queer get over it”.

              Maybe it is just me but it seems a bit disrespectful for a bunch of hipsters to know come and hijack the term. It would be like white people deciding being black was a state of mind and saying “I would have put black if it was an option.” Just seems weird.

              1. Somebody posted a link a month or two ago that had some progressive kindergarten teacher trying to explain to her class what “queer” meant and she used some example of a boy who liked girls but also liked wearing dresses (or something like that). A kid in the class said “Isn’t he just a straight boy?” and the teacher couldn’t figure out an answer. I wish I could remember it better so I could link to it (or at least relay the details more accurately).

                Regardless, using the term makes it clear to me that this is the type of identity politics chick I want nothing to do with.

          2. “Queer” sort of means anything but just plain straight now. I think a lot of people include kinky straight people as well.

            1. Once it dissipates into non-sexual areas again it will have returned to the definition as I originally learned it.

        2. I dated a bi-sexual gal once… it was strange since she had an active relationship with a woman at the same time.

          1. My first girlfriend was bi. I always regret not acting on the “jokes” she made about one of my best friends (who was an attractive girl that was also bi and had crushes on both of us).

            1. When you are young, you don’t realize these opportunities are once in a lifetime deals. While I understand your lack of action, kick yourself in the ass once for me.

              1. I seriously considered it, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk to the 2 year relationship. Most unfortunately, it only ended up being a 2.5 year relationship anyway.

                1. SEE!

                  I had opportunity to have sex with a pregnant chick in college (barely showing). She was in the process of getting a divorce and was a smoking hot redhead.

                  Would have made a great story, but I figured her ex would have probably hunted me down and killed me. I passed.

              2. While I understand your lack of action, kick yourself in the ass once for me.

                File under “I gotta try or I’l never be able to live with myself.”
                One summer I found myself in a situation where I was banging all three roommates in an apartment and everyone was okay with it. I took one up on the suggestion of a three way, which turned into the idea of me with all three women at once. It turned into a bigger fiasco than you can imagine before I even got touched. They were all mad at me and each other for the rest of the summer.

          2. What RC said. What kind of a monster drops that little tidbit without explaining more?

          3. My current GF is bi, though we haven’t had a threesome with a “unicorn” (so called because a girl who will join in with a mf couple is so rare as to be almost non-existent.)

            1. You mean a hot girl. there are plenty of ugly unicorns.

            2. That’s what makes me so regretful about this best friend situation. That girl was actually into it. There actually was a willing unicorn available. And now I still haven’t gotten to sleep with her because we’ve both had various relationships overlapping for the past 8 years.

    2. C’mon Old Mex….who doesn’t like a nice heaping helping of “Placenta Helper” ?

      From The Straight Dope (via DemocraticUnderground):

      “Placenta Helper lets you stretch your placenta into a tasty casserole,” it sez here. “Like Placenta Romanoff–a zesty blend of cheeses makes for the zingy sauce that Russian czars commanded at palace feasts,” etc.

      The last line was supposed to have been a voice-over from Don Pardo: “Placenta Helper–make a rare occasion, a rare occasion.” Very tasteful. Why it got cut we’ll never know.

      1. I thought it was, “Make that special occasion a special occasion.”

        1. “I’ll have my placenta medium rare.”

  3. Hodge fulfilled both requirements, submitting …a lesson plan titled “Political correctness vs. the real world:..”

    Looks like part of the problem here is that Hodge was not sufficiently contrite. State differently, he was a smart ass.

    1. Stated differently, he was a smart ass.

      …and god bless him for that!

  4. If something is really rare and against a standard practice, doesn’t that almost by definition make it weird?

    1. The word weird might make someone feel bad, and you know we can’t allow that.

      1. Unless you live in Portland or Austin, in which case the word “weird” is in the unofficial city motto.

    2. He pretty much used the word as it was intended to be used.

    3. I don’t know why people think of “weird” as an insult. I’ve always taken it as a complement.
      And weird is relative. To an American EMT, a lot of things that people from other cultures do are going to be weird.

      Had he called things “backward” or something, I could see people getting upset, but “weird” is really mild.

      1. It’s the euphemism treadmill.

        Technically, “deviant” originally also just mean “not the same as the norm,” but again any term like that becomes an insult.

        Similarly, any term used to describe a stigmatized group will eventually become stigmatized.

    4. Someone gave me shit the other day for using the word normal, instead of cis.


      nor?mal [nawr-muhl]

      1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
      2. serving to establish a standard.

      So normal is what most people are. Don’t tell me I’m othering you by using a standard word for regular. GET OVER IT.

      Similarly, weird means strange. If it’s not normal, it’s strange. I eat my eggs with ketchup, that’s weird. Most people don’t. As soon as a large number of people start eating ketchup on their eggs, it will cease to be weird and will be normal.

      Fucking pansies. There is nothing wrong with being different, stop telling people they are not allowed to identify your eccentricities.

      1. Our strength lies in our unacknowledged and unspeakable diversity.

      2. Ketchup on eggs (or most things actually) is delicious.

  5. It used to be that understanding the culture around you was considered to be the ideal of tolerance and understanding. It was called “cultural awareness”. The idea was that cops and emergency service people understood the cultures of the communities where they worked and would thus do a better job serving them.

    Now, the prog insanity has gotten so bad that even that is considered the “racist”. Apparently the only way to be tolerant is to somehow not acknowledge any difference in culture.

    1. Conan O’Brien’s sidekick Andy Richter had a TV show for a brief period. In one episode, a co-worker gets in trouble for telling an Irish joke. Without recapitulating the entire episode, everyone ends up in sensitivity training where Andy is asked, what did you learn ?

      He says, we should all learn to ignore and celebrate the things that make us all the same and different.

      Once again, reality has moved beyond satire.

      1. Worse still, the final stage of cultural acceptance is each side learning to laugh at themselves and each other. There was a time in this country when telling an Irish joke was a serious issue and for good reason. Now it isn’t because society doesn’t discriminate against the Irish anymore.

        What these sorts of rules do in the long term is prevent assimilation and acceptance. The day someone can tell a racial joke in this country the same way they can tell an Irish joke will be the day the country has moved passed race, because that will be the day that the joke no longer carries all of the dark implications of real racism.

        What progs have done by censoring the language is pretend that the problem is the joke not the implications and context around it.

        1. For a joke to be funny it must contain a grain of truth. Progressives deny the truth in most things, so it’s unsurprising that they want to ban language that contains truths they dislike.

        2. BTW, I saw your comment on the other thread about public defenders and the cops who committed perjury.

          You should google New Hampshire Laurie List. See in NH, if a cop perjures himself, they put his name on a list. Theoretically then, in future cases a defense attorney could impugn the cop’s testimony because he’s on the “Laurie List”. Except the list is secret; if the prosecution doesn’t tell the defense the testifying cop in on the list…well, you get the picture.

          You may think perjury is a serious crime worthy of prosecution, but if you’re a cop it’s worse…they put your name on a secret list.

          1. I think that perhaps a cop with a reputation for lying would be exculpatory and subject to mandatory disclosure. Silly me.

            In a just system, cops who lie on the stand would always be prosecuted and fired since they are putting the integrity of the entire justice system at risk by lying. Of course, our unionized police will never face that.

            The result is not going to be what these people think it will. They think it is necessary to further their crusade to lock up all of the evil doers by any means necessary. Letting cops lie without consequences will just result in juries no longer believing any cop and convictions much harder to obtain. That will have the effect of making jury trials inconsistent with a functioning justice system, since a just system must not just let innocent people go free but also punish the guilty. Won’t that be great?

      2. I think the Simpsons version was: “no one is different from anyone else, and everyone is the best at everything.”

    2. It used to be that understanding the culture around you was considered to be the ideal of tolerance and understanding. It was called “cultural awareness”. The idea was that cops and emergency service people understood the cultures of the communities where they worked and would thus do a better job serving them.

      It used to be that the EMTs showed up, got the injured to the hospital, and generally saved lives and as long as shit didn’t get stolen everybody was enormously grateful.

      Now, regardless of how well they’re training the next generation of EMTs, we reprimand them for using the word weird.

      1. I am not saying the before was perfect. I am just saying it is less insane than this.

  6. I’m really really really sick of people who think if they spend a single day working for the government they are owed a job in perpetuity.

    Fuck you, motherfucker. Go find another teat to suck.

    1. I’m not seeing where this being a govt job makes the employer’s actions any more ridiculous. More predictable maybe but not more stupid.

    2. I have to agree that it’s not a First Amendment case, since he doesn’t have a right to a job and they can fire him for any (or no) reason.

      But I also have to agree with him that they’re fucking idiots to fire him for that.

      He should lose the case, but they shouldn’t (from a non-legal perspective only) have fired him for that in the first place.

      1. No, it is a First Amendment case.

        1. Seizing upon this exception, the Ninth Circuit recently held (in Demers v. Austin, 2014) that teaching and academic writing must receive greater protection under the First Amendment than what Garcetti currently provides. It concluded tha a public university professor’s academic speech is protected by the First Amendment under two conditions: it addresses “matters of public concern” and the employee’s interest in commenting on these matters outweighs the state’s interest in “promoting the efficiency of the public services.”

    3. Are you sick of people being punished for speech and action that are protected (and rational, even)? I’m no fan of government employees, but this guy is not a lifer and even if he were, this is an idiotic case.

  7. The school will pay half of Hodge’s legal fees, he will retain tenure, and he will not face disciplinary action nor be required to offer an approved diversity lecture.

    Only half of his legal fees? So half a win for political correctness.

    1. I was thinking it was a pretty positive story, until the part where I read about his tenure, and then I realized that all the funds from both sides come from our tax dollars, and I barfed in my mouth a little bit.

      1. You don’t expect us to save that vomitus for you, do you?

  8. Now it’s certainly not polite or “politically correct” to describe cultural practices foreign to you as “weird.”

    who gives a shit if it’s PC? Things like he described ARE weird. My word. We have totally lost any sense of reality for noticing the obvious.

    1. I was lightly reminded that I was being un-PC yesterday when I was describing my Korean landlord as doing things very ‘Korean’. She clearly thought I was playing fire, but I was just saying as a matter of fact that culturally Koreans regularly do things ‘not quite right’. I’m somewhat qualified to this opinion since I lived there for a year too.

  9. The important point is that he was mentioning it in the context of cultural sensitivity. As in, you (the student) may find these practices strange but you have to be sensitive to the cultural norms of the patients and their families.

    I’ve been through similar training and my instructors were a bit less judgemental, but the message about asking the patient and family if they wanted the placenta saved came through loud and clear.

    1. “The important point is that he was mentioning it in the context of cultural sensitivity. As in, you (the student) may find these practices strange but you have to be sensitive to the cultural norms of the patients and their families.”

      Exactly. Like the judge said, context matters.

  10. OK, I’ve learned a lesson from this.

    From here on out, instead of “weird” I intend to say “diverse”.

    1. That’s actually a practical strategy.

  11. If only we had some sort of legislative measure privileging speech against meddling by bureaucrats and cultural Puritans… maybe baked into one of the country’s foundational documents, so its intent or applicability would never be questioned… we might even amend it later on to ensure its protection even in the country’s constituent polities…

    1. Yes, if only…and if only “college” administrators had to have some training in constitutional law (or “civics,” as we called it.) But no, they spend all their time learning new concepts like “cis,” microagression, and white privilege.

  12. Oh, and the irony about “racism” is that it’s just as likely to be college educated hippies asking for the placenta as barely literate refugees from third-world hellholes. YMMV depending upon the demographics of your area.

    1. Portlandia episode?

      1. Portlandia’s brilliance is that it mocked actual hippie/hipster practices.

    2. A friend of a friend is a vegan or something and eats pills made out of her dehydrated placenta. She dared me to eat one, I accepted, and she failed to follow through because they were out in her car or something. What a pussy.

      1. Did you say “Suck my dick!” in response to “Eat my placenta!”?

        1. “I’ll eat a pill made out of your dehydrated and ground-up placenta if you eat a pill made out of my dehydrated and ground-up dong, baby.”

  13. If you want to burn someone, “coin” them with a hot coin. Don’t drip melted gummi bear on them, ’cause that would be wierd.

  14. A paramedics instructor is supposed to be accepting of and sensitive towards the dipshits that get conned by homeopaths and psychic surgeons and whatever else. Mmmkay.

    1. Well, the placenta bit tends to be “traditional” (pre-scientific) cultural practice which was later appropriated by the hippies. Homeopathy is not traditional but pure western quackery.

      1. Oops, premature submit.

        I tend to have a bit of sympathy for the truly uneducated who are simply following their traditional practices; I do hope their children manage to escape from those circumstances. I have absolutely no sympathy for hippies (etc) who are heirs to the fruits of western science and medicine and reject that.

    2. Thank you for making my day.

  15. Hell, “weird” is the nice word. Fuckin’ stupid would be accurate, too.

  16. People should use these idiots’ own standard against them. If saying someone is “weird” is not verboten, then people should complain saying that they call themselves “weird” and consider being so a personal identity how dare the college try to other them by banning even the mention of their personal identity.

    1. Ah, but are you *cis*-weird or *queer*-weird?

      1. trans-weird

    2. Something something power disparity something oppression something something oppressor class.

  17. It amazes me that people with so little qualification are making these decisions daily. The “Dean of Health Sciences at Antelope Valley [Community] College” takes on the First Amendment. Good fit, that.

    As for “coining,” I expect that western medicine doesn’t acknowledge its efficacy, and that you have reach into the political correctness dictionary to find a definition. “Cao gio can be literally translated as “catch the wind,” and it is designed to draw off and release excess wind in the body. Wind illness, as it is called, is believed to contribute to fevers, muscle aches, low energy, and chills.” Yup, he clearly should have explained that tot he class instead of pointing out the sequelae, known as “burns” in medicine.

  18. “Another perspective that can shed light on the effectiveness of coining is the placebo effect. Cao gio has been one of the most common forms of healing among Southeast Asians for a long time. Its effectiveness is firmly established among these cultural groups. Thus, the strong belief in its ability to heal and the outcome can be explained as a placebo effect. In addition, some of the illnesses that cao gio seeks to treat are minor ailments, such as colds and coughs, that are usually treated by the body’s natural defenses and the symptoms will eventually disappear if left untreated.”

    But first responders will see patterns of what look like burns and are at least abrasions.

  19. Lots of comments, this out of control PC stuff seems to strike a cord… by the way, articles on this have used the other side’s statements as to what I said, which are not correct.. not that it matters much, but to be accurate I never described ‘coining’ as burning, just mentioned that in one call I handled the child was burned by a coin, and I never said “witch stuff” but described these things as ‘unusual or surprising cultural practices’… this whole case was really prompted when I described a ceremony of shaking dolls and beads and chanting over a patient as looking like a “witch doctor ceremony”, the Dean was very offended by the term Witch doctor, go figure. The college had every opportunity to end this silly case and not spend $300,000+ of taxpayer money to go to court, it is sickening.

  20. None of this would be a problem in a private school setting.

    1) You can fire someone for refusing to teach what you pay them to teach in a private school because the First Amendment only really protects you from government censur, not private censur.

    2) It is unlikely Hodge would have been harassed by the school administration in a private school because the lessons he was teaching were actually founded on useful real-world experiences. His curriculum wouldn’t be set by bureaucrats seeking to please constituents, but by businessmen seeking to satisfy the needs of their customers.

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