Campus Free Speech

"UCLA Reinstates Professor Suspended for Email on Why He Wouldn't Change Exam, Grading for Black Students"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports on this matter, which I covered when it arose in June (see here and here):

[UCLA] reinstated a professor who was put on mandatory leave for the tone of an email to a student who asked him to alter his grading policies for black students during the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on UCLA in June to reinstate lecturer Gordon Klein, citing the university's academic freedom promises, as well as its obligations under the First Amendment. Klein faced public backlash for his email, including a petition for his firing signed by more than 20,000 people.

"We're happy to confirm that Gordon Klein is teaching once again, and hope that in the future UCLA will consider its constitutional obligations before throwing educators out of the classroom," said Katlyn Patton, author of FIRE's June 10 letter to UCLA. "UCLA investigated his 'tone' in an attempt to quell public backlash. But regardless of how many people demand his firing, UCLA cannot justify using that anger to erode Gordon's rights."

On June 2, a student emailed Klein to suggest he adjust his final exam requirements for black students — including extending deadlines, shortening exams, and implementing a policy that would ensure an exam could only help, not harm, a student's grade.

Klein responded with several rhetorical questions to argue that the request was infeasible and would be improper to grant, asking whether he would also have to change the policies for students of mixed race, how to treat students from Minneapolis who may have also been affected, and how the request would square with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call for people not to be judged by their skin color.

UCLA claimed that the investigation and suspension stemmed from the tone of Klein's email, not his decision to maintain his standard grading policies — despite the fact that the student responded by thanking the professor and noting that Klein's efforts "really do help us students during these trying times."

UCLA placed Klein on mandatory leave effective June 3. In an email to the UCLA community June 4, Dean Antonio Bernardo characterized Klein as having "a disregard for our core principles" and called Klein's email an "abuse of power."

The university formally closed the investigation against Klein on July 22. Klein confirmed the resolution to FIRE Monday….

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  1. I’m not convinced he won — what usually happens with students who “win” is that the university waits six months or so and then gets its revenge against the student on something else. Some pretext that would be ignored (and unknown) except that a vindictive administration wants to get rid of the “troublemaker.”

    I’ve tried to explain this to FIRE over the years and they don’t quite seem to fathom it — and I doubt that Klein will be teaching this time next year. And it won’t be this, it will be something else…

    Furthermore, the Bitchy Little Marxists actually won this one — no other professor will dare criticize them, for anything….

    1. I agree … this is a loss for Klein.

      Indeed, nothing has happened to suggest that UCLA would not take a similar action against someone else.

    2. I’ve tried to explain this to FIRE over the years and they don’t quite seem to fathom it —

      A narcissist might conclude that FIRE can’t fathom what he’s saying because FIRE isn’t that perceptive. A more intelligent person might conclude that this is because you made it up.

    3. Get fired now for certain or maybe get fired later if they are vindictive jerks.
      There is also the protection of notoriety. “Do we really want to open up that can of worms again and get BACK on the news?”

      I’d take the marginal improvement in circumstance. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

    4. “I’ve tried to explain this to FIRE over the years and they don’t quite seem to fathom it”

      Did you try telling them about your expertise in educational policy?

      So shocking that they don’t have any patience for you, either.

  2. Comment from Johnny One Note within ten minutes.

  3. On June 2, a student emailed Klein to suggest he adjust his final exam requirements for black students — including extending deadlines, shortening exams, and implementing a policy that would ensure an exam could only help, not harm, a student’s grade.

    How about this suggestion would be blatantly illegal for a public institution (probably for a private one as well).

    Klein responded with several rhetorical questions to argue that the request was infeasible and would be improper to grant, asking whether he would also have to change the policies for students of mixed race, how to treat students from Minneapolis who may have also been affected, and how the request would square with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for people not to be judged by their skin color.

    Another color-blind clinger. Nothing less than hanging is good enough.

    1. “How about this suggestion would be blatantly illegal for a public institution (probably for a private one as well).”

      It’s illegal to extend deadlines or shorten exams? Based on what, the Academic Hardass Act of 1922?

      1. Ah, you must be a Democrat. You’re blatantly using a half truth in your argument.

        It’s illegal to extend deadlines or shorten exams? Based on what, the Academic Hardass Act of 1922?

        It would be illegal to extend dealines or shorten exams solely for certain students based on their race. If you don’t get that racist behavior by a public institution is illegal then I don’t know what will help you.

        1. Ah, you must be an idiot who thinks he’s a mind-reader.
          You reached out through your mental focus and powerful imagination, to read my mind and found that I am a Democrat.
          In the real world, however, it turns out that I am not. I don’t expect that changes anything in your imagination, however.

          “You’re blatantly using a half truth in your argument.”

          You’re blatantly adding things that people didn’t say and reacting as if they’re changing something because they didn’t say it.

          ” If you don’t get that racist behavior by a public institution is illegal then I don’t know what will help you.”

          There wasn’t any racist behavior by any public institutions until you imagined it that way.

  4. Hopefully, all UCLA students who disagree with this decision will immediately leave the university, and never return.

    1. Meh. Might make a difference, if there’s enough of them.

  5. Perhaps UCLA and USC can get together and have a friendly Los Angeles County competition as to which university can threatened free speech principles the most in 2020? Given the absence of Pac 12 sports this year; this could take the place of basketball, football, etc.

    1. They’d both lose to the wildfires, which are keeping people from going outside even more than the pandemic.

  6. Did Klein get an unequivocal, abject apology from Dean Antonio Bernardo for the unsupportable accusation that he had disrespected the university’s “core principles”? He should have, and I’d like to read it.

    1. “Did Klein get an unequivocal, abject apology from Dean Antonio Bernardo for the unsupportable accusation that he had disrespected the university’s “core principles”?”

      Unless the university’s “core principles” include disrespecting the paying customers, I wouldn’t think so.
      Alas, UCLA’s “core principles” have been declining since Mr. Wooden started letting other colleges win NCAA basketball titles. That darn “other school” keeps beating them at football and everything.

  7. A rational employer would have to look at these UCLA students as just too emotionally fragile to be of any help in a stressful work environment, don’t you think? I mean, if every voluntary decision to resist arrest by any felon anywhere is going to throw them into a tizzy, probably better to go with the less emotional folks from Central America.

  8. My guess is this professor gets put on the “cancel” list for Summer 2021 and when all the fanfare is gone then he gets the boot.

    1. The technical term for that is “contract nonrenewed”. But I bet he can take this mantle of victimhood and ride it to one of those conservative-controlled campuses the Rev is always going on about. Somebody get his Gofundme account set up.

  9. Two things can be simultaneously true.

    1.
    The email was not a model of perfect communication. And when professors communicate with students about administrative matters, their tone and professionalism can be properly regulated on customer service grounds.

    2.
    The backlash against Klein was completely disproportionate. He should have never been required to go on leave. The reason Klein was asked to go on leave was not due to the tone and professionalism of his email, but the content of the views he expressed.

    So-called “cancel culture” is often correctly characterized as people taking the mantle of victimhood as a basis to justify their own aggression. It is often nothing more than a pure power play and ought to be seen as such. While there are instances where “cancellation” is justified (such as when a police officer exhibits a pattern of racial prejudice in their words and actions, undermining our confidence in their ability to fairly enforce the law), this is an extreme remedy and should be seen as such.

    The proper remedy in this case was simply a discussion with Klein about the appropriate tone to use in an email to ensure professionalism and how to properly represent the school in matters of administration. Instead, what was sought was a pound of flesh for a minor mistake.

    1. The email was not a model of perfect communication .

      That depends on what the goal of the email was.

      If you take the position that the question to which Klein was responding was intelligent, reasonable and in good faith, then yes, I supposed his response fell somewhat short of the ideal.

      I do not take that position. I take the position that the question to which Klein was responding was manifestly idiotic, unreasonable, and in bad faith, and that he comported himself with admirable restraint under the circumstances by confining himself to gently mocking the request with a series of pointed but still thoughtful rhetorical questions.

      Any student who demands that professors break the law and provide racist preferences in grading coursework ought to be relentlessly shamed and summarily expelled.

      1. “If you take the position that the question to which Klein was responding was intelligent, reasonable and in good faith, then yes, I supposed his response fell somewhat short of the ideal.

        I do not take that position. I take the position that the question to which Klein was responding was manifestly idiotic, unreasonable, and in bad faith, and that he comported himself with admirable restraint”

        So you want to stake out a position on the idiotic and/or unreasonable side, then?

  10. UCLA claimed that the investigation and suspension stemmed from the tone of Klein’s email, not his decision to maintain his standard grading policies

    Liars.

    -jcr

  11. “UCLA investigated his ‘tone’ in an attempt to quell public backlash. But regardless of how many people demand his firing, UCLA cannot justify using that anger to erode Gordon’s rights.”

    If how well he’s doing his job can’t be used to evaluate his job performance…
    UCLA is infringing MY rights by denying me the paycheck that’s rightfully mine, just because I don’t actually work there.

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