The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education came to the defense Wednesday of a UCLA professor suspended for declining to grade African-American students easier because an unarmed black man was killed in Minneapolis police custody.
Gordon Klein, who teaches at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, has been suspended for three weeks and more than 20,000 people have signed a petition urging he be fired for his response to a student request on June 2.
The student said he was disturbed by the death of George Floyd, the black man who died with cops’ knees on his neck and back for more than 8 and a half minutes. He asked Mr. Klein to either extend the deadline for African-American students, shorten the final exam’s length for them or promise the exam would only help and could not hurt those students’ grade, and he asked Mr. Klein to adjust the final exam requirements for black students.
In response, Mr. Klein called Mr. Floyd’s death a “tragedy” but declined to give some students special privileges. He noted he was following UCLA procedure on finals and that, because the class had been conducted online, he had no way of knowing which students might be African-American. Moreover, he speculated that some students could be of mixed race, which may complicate the manner and extent of benefits he gave to black students.
When the email exchange was made public by a student not in the class, Mr. Klein immediately came under attack, including the Change.org petition urging his dismissal launched on Twitter.
In a meeting with Antonio Bernardo, dean of UCLA’s business school, Mr. Klein shared the email exchange in its entirety and a June 1 message from his supervisor reminding instructors final exam policies could only be altered based on illness, family emergencies, religious observances or other similar events, according to FIRE.
On June 3, UCLA put Mr. Klein on mandatory leave, saying his email was “disturbing,” and in a letter to the UCLA community the following day Mr. Bernardo labeled Mr. Klein’s email an “abuse of power” that had “a disregard for our core principles.”
In fact, the real abuse of power comes from UCLA which has twisted federal law and its own codes of conduct, according to FIRE.
“As a public institution, UCLA is bound by both the First Amendment and the laudable promises of academic freedom it makes to its faculty members,” wrote Katlyn Patton in FIRE’s letter to administrators.
“These obligations and promises are of even more importance during a crisis,” Ms. Patton said. “Given that Klein followed institutional policy when he refused to alter his final exam procedures this investigation is almost certainly based on the tone and viewpoint of his email, which was - however brusque - protected expression on a matter of profound public interest.”
The university’s media relations staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter Wednesday afternoon.
FIRE called for Mr. Klein’s immediate reinstatement and a declaration from “UCLA’s leaders…that their commitment to academic freedom is stronger than an online mob.”
Mr. Klein has been a part of UCLA’s faculty since 1981 and has an unblemished record, FIRE said.