- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2015

A tenured, conservative Christian professor in California — who was raised by lesbian mothers but opposes same-sex marriage — is waiting to hear what action his university employer will take against him in its finding that he tried to “intimidate” students who sought to complain about an optional class assignment on family matters.

At issue is whether the professor, Robert Oscar Lopez, tried to retaliate against students who accused him of creating a “hostile learning environment” for conducting a conference last year in which participants expressed opposing views about children’s rights, among other issues.

Mr. Lopez, associate professor of English and classics at California State University at Northridge, said he did not engage in any adverse actions against any students who attended his English and Greek and Roman mythology classes more than a year ago.

Instead, the students in question received A grades in his classes — and he did nothing to impede their activities at the university or to lodge complaints with its Office of Equity and Diversity, Charles S. LiMandri, president and chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, said in an Oct. 22 letter to CSU Provost Yi Li.

“Under these circumstances, we have no choice but to conclude that the disposition of this investigation is a purely political and ideological attack on Dr. Lopez for holding — and exposing his students to — ideas about children’s rights which are apparently unpopular” at the university, Mr. LiMandri wrote to Mr. Li, who is also vice president for academic affairs at the university.

Mr. LiMandri further asked the university to reconsider its actions and reverse its finding of retaliation against Mr. Lopez.

The matter is under discussion at the university.

Mr. Li responded Wednesday to an inquiry from The Washington Times, saying the university “is fully committed to upholding academic freedom and free speech, as well as the right of our students to bring forth concerns. Any investigation resulting from student complaints follows established CSU protocol and is conducted on the basis of determining whether or not there has been a violation of university policy.”

“We take issue with the accuracy of the allegations currently circulating relating to this investigation, but as this is a confidential personnel matter that involves confidential student information, we cannot discuss or disclose the details,” Mr. Li said.

“However, we can share our core principles. We have a long history of welcoming a diversity of perspectives and championing free thought and discourse within our academic environment, while ensuring that this environment is free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” the provost said.

The complaints stem from a 2014 conference on children’s rights that Mr. Lopez organized at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and that he included as an option in the syllabi for his classes.

About 110 of his 160 students attended the “Bonds That Matter” conference, and heard presentations by five women — both conservatives and feminists — on divorce, adoption and children’s rights, including rights to know one’s biological mother and father. At least one student raised the issue of gay families with a conference speaker during the question-and-answer period.

Based on that discussion, the now-former student in May (about six months after the conference) filed a formal complaint against Mr. Lopez, accusing him of creating a “hostile learning environment on the basis of gender and sexual orientation,” according to an Oct. 16 notice provided to Mr. Lopez by CSU officials.

In its Oct. 16 notice, the university told Mr. Lopez that, after a lengthy investigation, it was dismissing the complaint about a “hostile learning environment.”

But it said there was sufficient evidence that the professor “attempted to intimidate and prevent” certain students “from exercising their rights” to report “what they perceived to be a hostile learning environment” stemming from the conference and subsequent class discussions about it.

Mr. Lopez has since asked to personally present his rebuttal to CSU officials. University policy, for instance, says students should “first attempt to resolve their concern” with a faculty member before making a formal complaint.

Mr. Lopez “was following this process in this case, and is now falsely accused of ‘retaliation’ for doing so,” Mr. LiMandri wrote.

If the university takes disciplinary action, it could be demotion, suspension without pay or dismissal, Mr. Lopez told The Times.

Mr. Lopez, an executive board member of the International Children’s Rights Institute and a blogger at EnglishManif.blogspot.com, has written about children’s rights for years, partly because of his experiences growing up with his loving lesbian mother and her partner, but apart from his biological father.

Mr. Lopez’s opposition to same-sex marriage — which he outlined in several friend-of-the-court briefs to federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court — has angered gay rights activists. Last year, the Human Rights Campaign included Mr. Lopez in its report “The Export of Hate.”

The married father of two, who received tenure in 2013 and is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Tuesday that he is taking the controversy in stride.

“It’s been overwhelming, because when you are under this kind of investigation, it kind of takes over your life,” Mr. Lopez said.

“I will defend myself,” he said, adding that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and as more people look into this, “the more we can work on academic freedom, because that’s the big issue now.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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