UCLA Professor Suspended and Under Police Protection After Refusing To Exempt Black Students From Final Exam

Ucla_logoGordon Klein, an accounting professor in the Anderson School of Business has taught at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for almost 40 years.  He is now suspended and under police protection in his home.  The reason? Klein refused to exempt black students from his final exam and sent a pointed rebuttal to students asking for the “no harm” exam. Parts of the response was certainly mocking in tone, more so than I would have considered appropriate.  The school has launched a formal discrimination investigation. However, the suspension, investigation, and death threats against Klein reinforce the fear of many in the academy of a raising orthodoxy on campus and a lack of support for faculty involved in controversies.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a group of students asked Klein for a “no-harm” final exam that could only benefit students’ grades as well as shortened exams and extended deadlines.  They cited recent “traumas, we have been placed in a position where we much choose between actively supporting our black classmates or focusing on finishing up our spring quarter . . . We believe that remaining neutral in times of injustice brings power to the oppressor and therefore staying silent is not an option.”  They specifically noted that this was not “a joint effort to get finals canceled for non-black students”  “but rather an ask that you exercise compassion and leniency with black students in our major.”

Klein wrote back to one student that he was being asked to make a distinction that he could not possibly make. This is the entirety of the message:

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not. My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how you think I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me: 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? Thanks, G. Klein

The controversy led to immediate demands for the professor to be fired.  Thousands have signed a petition that declares Klein must be fired for his “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response” and “blatant lack of empathy and unwillingness to accommodate his students.”

UCLA has launched an investigation that could lead to such termination and issued a statement that “We apologize to the student who received it and to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.”  It has also agreed to extend all exams, presumably for all students.  I think that the extension of the time was a good idea for the school as a whole and I can certainly understand the school objecting to the tone of the response at a time of great unrest and trauma in our society.  However, the email was a poorly crafted effort by Klein to object to what he viewed as an unworkable, race-based system of accommodation.  One can certainly disagree with those objections, but the principle of academic freedom is to allow such views to be stated without fear of termination.

UCLA is also dealing with another demand for termination after Political science lecturer W. Ajax Peris, read aloud MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which includes the n-word. He also showed a documentary to the class in which lynching was discussed.  This might have been inappropriate in Klein’s accounting case but Peris was teaching the history of racism.  Students demanded that he stop the discussion but he apologized for any discomfort and continued his lecture.

The Political Science Department condemned Peris and  referred Peris to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office for an investigation. UCLA will host a town hall for students in Peris’ classes to discuss the “controversy.” While Peris has apologized in a writing and video, students are demanding his firing.

Such actions are applauded by many faculty who have supported the increasing limits on free speech and academic freedom on campus. There has been a startling erosion of such protections for those with opposing views at universities and colleges.  Many faculty are intimidated by the response in these controversies and fear that supporting academic freedom or free speech will result in their being labeled racist or lacking of empathy. In three decades of teaching, I have never seen the level of intolerance for free speech that we are seeing across the country.  As I noted, there are valid objections to raise in these incidents, but the response of universities is clearly designed to send a message to other academics that they cannot expect the protections of the universities in such controversies.

172 thoughts on “UCLA Professor Suspended and Under Police Protection After Refusing To Exempt Black Students From Final Exam”

  1. Am I missing something? This seems completely backwards. It seems pretty clear that it would have been discriminatory to AGREE exempt a category of students from the exam rather than to refuse to do so.

  2. Once upon the time I considered sending my offspring to UCLA. Now I’m very happy I decided not to. Now my kids have a proper education, which obviously cannot be achieved in UCLA.

  3. One of the distressing things about American colleges and universities is that administration pays enormous attention to a complaint of one student or a very small group of students instead of paying attention to the vast majority of students in a class or at their university. And, as most university faculty know, the administration pays very little attention to faculty opinions and concerns.

  4. I didn’t find the tone mocking at all and I’m a linguist and I’m accustomed to interpreting tone. I felt that the professor had chosen the question format as opposed to the statement format to allow students to reach the obvious conclusions themselves through critical thinking rather than preaching to them. In my opinion he exercised a tremendous amount of restraint in his response to a preposterous request. The really sad part is that the only path to true change in this country is through education. You can burn down every building in this country and at the end of it you still have a group of people with a very low earnings ceiling because they simply do not have the education for high-paying jobs. So then what happens? This professor was being a friend to these students by not letting them shirk their education. That may be an old-fashioned view but it’s a true one.

  5. The dilemma rests in the lap of each and every person individually. I know of no one who is unaffected by what’s going on in the streets of the United States. Many of us have commitments, responsibilities and scheduled deadlines that must be met if we’re to successfully complete a task before us. No individual can expect to hold up a group of people striving to achieve the same thing, while the group moves forward, parallel and alongside the individual with such an expectation. The unselfish thing for the individual to do is remove himself from the groups objective, let them proceed without him, then when ready, have the individual start anew and pursue the objective alone, or, with a new and different group.
    The professor is absolutely correct to say and to do what is, and has been a matter of record. The student is egregiously selfish and wrong.

  6. Two things:

    One) These kids are absolutely PATHETIC. Nobody owes them an apology. They owe themselves an apology for being such lackluster versions of themselves.

    Two) The course grade is based entirely off of a single exam? That’s lousy teaching. He needs to do better than that.

  7. Christopher Wray just said white supremacists pose the greatest risk of violence in this country.

    I guess his building doesn’t have any windows.

    And here I was thinking the FBI couldn’t be any more embarrassingly stupid.

    Hard to believe people like this have been running things for years.

    Wait! Just looked out my window. Guess it is possible to believe they have been running it.

  8. Anecdotal: I had a friend tell me, a non-white friend, that if you are even 1% non-white, you are considered a minority in their eyes, and deserve a minority card. 😨

    So, I said, if you are half-black and half-white, like Obama, then you are considered full black?

    The friend’s answer was: Correct. 😨

    So, I said, they are not supposed to acknowledge their white side, at all? Say Mom or Dad is white, for instance? They should disregard that parent and any heritage that is present?

    The friend’s answer was: Yes. 😨

    Holy Moly, that is some serious brainwashing.

  9. BTW, the fact that Prof Turley thought Klien’s comments were harsh, is part of the problem. From what I can tell, they were spot on. This is an online class, so how is Klein supposed to know who is Black? And why should they get a privilege denied someone from Minnesota or who’s just upset at all the violence.

    1. This whole thing to me is ridiculous. When I was in law school, if you failed to answer a professor’s questions after being called on three times, you failed the course. That’s how strict things were because they reflected the reality of a lawyer’s life. Today, if you feel upset because of events of which you, at best, are only indirectly a part, you are supposed to receive a pass. If these people ever get a law license, God help their clients should they need help on one of the days when the lawyer is so upset.

      1. The whole system is settlement based. Have license, send paperwork, get compromised sized check. Or, we have no way of investigating and getting more evidence, send compromised plea, encourage acceptance for expediency and to avoid further risk.

      2. Unfortunately, they’ll probably end up as federal judges and won’t have clients and so will just trash the constitution on the days they decide to work.

  10. I think it’s only fair that college administrators and professors, immediately resign and give their jobs to whichever minority student makes the most noise. It’s time for reparations and liberals appear to be the most motivated to pay up. If they don’t, they’re racist.

    1. We’re seeing an assault on free speech because the College Presidents and Administrators are supporting it. What evidence is there that they will change? It certainly won’t be in response to tepid “Conservative” columns and Op-eds that issue a few tut-tut’s. When did the Liberal Bourgeois EVER stop the radical left? They didn’t in the 1960s college riots, they didn’t in 1917 Russia, 1936 Spain, Allende’s Chile, or 1958 Cuba. There are no conservatives of any significance on College campuses, accordingly things will simply get more crazy and more leftist.

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