The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a First Amendment advocacy group, penned a letter this week in defense of UCLA lecturer Gordon Klein, who was suspended from the university over his refusal to postpone an exam for black students.
In a letter sent to UCLA this week, FIRE argues that it is unconstitutional under the First Amendment to punish accounting lecturer Gordon Klein over his refusal to postpone an exam for black students.
Breitbart News reported this week that Klein had been placed on leave in response to an email exchange he had with a student that demanded that he allow black students to postpone their final exam. They argued that black students should not be required to take their exams on their scheduled dates due to the recent social unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd.
“Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the ‘color of their skin. Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?” Klein wrote in his email to the student.
In its letter, FIRE told UCLA its decision to suspend Klein over the email was a violation of the university’s First Amendment obligations. FIRE ultimately called on UCLA to reinstate Klein immediately to avoid further constitutional violations.
While some may disagree with Klein’s approach, his right to academic freedom encompasses the right to manage the content and direction of his course. Further, his email exchange with the student who proposed an altered schedule and grading policies, with whom Klein had a prior cordial relationship, did not amount to unlawful harassment or discriminatory conduct. On the contrary, that exchange represented a discussion about university policies and how the institution should respond to the civil unrest following the homicide of George Floyd. Accordingly, UCLA’s decision to place Klein on leave is incompatible with the university’s First Amendment obligations and the basic tenets of academic freedom. FIRE calls on UCLA to immediately reinstate Klein.
The letter goes on to suggest that Klein’s suspension could have a “chilling effect” on free speech on campus. Other faculty members will likely self-censor to avoid similar professional repercussions for choosing to voice politically incorrect opinions.
Penalizing protected expression is not a cure for addressing the underlying challenges faced by society, and abandoning a robust defense of freedom of expression will inure to the detriment of the rights possessed by students and faculty across the political, social, and ideological spectrum. The mere initiation of an investigation, even if discipline is not ultimately meted out, sends the message that the university may punish protected expression. The chilling effect engendered by that conduct itself violates the First Amendment, and undermines UCLA’s laudable commitment to the expressive rights of its faculty members and students.
Breitbart News reported in February that officials at UCLA had told students to avoid words like “lame” and “insane” because they create a “stigma” against “marginalized” people.
Stay tuned to Breitbart News for more updates on this story.