We recently discussed the controversy at Cypress College involving a professor becoming irate after student, Braden Ellis, stated that he felt police officers are heroes in our society. The College later put the teacher on leave. Now the faculty union at Cypress College has denounced the school for “a failure to be anti-racist” in its treatment of the teacher. I agree that a professor should not be fired or even suspended over such an incident, though the issue for me is academic freedom. However, there is a notable omission in the statement from Christie Diep, president of United Faculty of the North Orange County Community College District, and Mohammad M. Abdel Haq, its lead negotiator: a criticism of the professor for her overtly hostile and biased treatment of the student.
We previously discussed how the professor’s comments not only seemed strikingly intemperate but inaccurate. The professor insists (wrongly) that the police were created to track down runaway slaves. There may be places where the first official law enforcement bodies were created for such a purpose, but most police departments were obviously not created for such a purpose.
The discussion focused on the Nickelodeon show Paw Patrol, which faced criticism because it showed police in a positive light. In the video, one student agrees that maybe police should not be included as heroes in a children’s show — a view clearly favored by the professor who said that she would never call police if she were in trouble because “my life’s more in danger in their presence… I wouldn’t call anybody.”
The now viral video generated widespread criticism, though also some praise for the professor.
The letter from the United Faculty ignores the free speech rights of the student as well as the raw intolerance shown by the professor. Those concerns do not appear to merit even a mention in the letter. Instead, the statement declared that the College has endangered faculty and fueled attacks by “White supremacist organizations, news outlets, and individuals.” The statement notes that classes were cancelled and professors (confused with the unnamed professor in the video) received angry or threatening messages:
This harm, undoubtedly, has a disproportionate impact on BIPOC faculty and other minorities, as they are more likely to become targets of White supremacist organizations, news outlets, and individuals. The failure to issue a clear and strong statement of support for faculty under the existing circumstances is a failure to be anti-racist. It is a failure to protect our most vulnerable faculty.
My concern is over academic freedom. This professor, in my view, was clearly wrong in her response to this student and the intolerant atmosphere of her class toward his conservative viewpoints. However, firing a professor over such an incident chills the values of academic freedom that are the foundation for higher education.
However, there is also countervailing interests of the student which the faculty statement entirely ignores. This professor was rightfully condemned for her response and the statement should have expressed concern over the failure to afford this student, and other students, an environment that allows a free expression of ideas.
We should as faculty stand for academic freedom and free speech. If a professor is inviting discussion on issues like the cancel culture, she should be prepared to allow for a free flow of opposing or dissenting views. However, it is important for College to reaffirm the discretion of faculty in framing discussions and material. That is why any effective termination would be excessive, as opposed to addressing these concerns informally to ensure that the College remains a place for a diversity of opinion and viewpoints.
67 thoughts on ““A Failure To Be Anti-Racist”: Faculty Denounce Cypress College Over Suspension Of Professor In Anti-Police Diatribe”
While I believe in freedom of speech of faculty and students, there is no absolutely excuse how this professor treated this student. But the one problem I have that hasn’t been mentioned at all is the fact that the student violated the college policy that says there is no videotaping of zoom classes by students. This is something the student has to agree to before finally getting the classes they register for. This student violated that policy and that to me, is as troubling as how the professor conducted herself and as ridiculous as other faculty claiming anti-racism.
Why is there a policy of no videotaping of zoom classes? Is there a reason from prior class/classes that this student decided to record? Had he been put down before with a similar class discussion? There should be no problem with these discussions. Maybe two people with diabolically different opinions can come to the center with some form of agreement and understanding of each other. College should be a place of ideas and learning not put downs.
I agree with you that there should be no problem with class discussions without put downs. I already pretty much stated as such. But just like students who want to record or video tape a professors lecture in a classroom, they have to get the profs permission. With Zoom they cannot record the class’s discussions for the same reasons. There is now discussion by administration that professors should now be encouraged to copyright their lectures and handouts.
Simple mathematics state the a negative cannot be proven, but simple mathematics can’t be shown on a computer.
She has taken a permanent leave of absence. We don’t know if that was her idea or the administration’s idea or mutual. All three are plausible scenarios. If she refused to acknowledge her misconduct, then firing her would have been justifiable; otherwise, one could argue they were too harsh with her.
We weren’t in the room when the administration sat down with her, so we don’t know and may never know exactly why she left.
As for the faculty, they defended her for the worst possible reasons (as usual). Maybe some of them should take a leave of absence and visit Venezuela for a few years.
“My concern is over academic freedom. This professor, in my view, was clearly wrong in her response to this student and the intolerant atmosphere of her class toward his conservative viewpoints. However, firing a professor over such an incident chills the values of academic freedom that are the foundation for higher education.”
NO, NO, NO! You’ve got it all wrong. The intolerance and hateful dogma concerning her students contrary viewpoints SHOULD be grounds for firing or suspending. It goes to the very core of free speech, not to mention being a reasonable person, not to mention having the ability to teach.
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