A UCLA professor who was suspended over an exchange with a student about grading black students more leniently in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's killing is suing the school, The College Fix reports.
What's a brief history here?
Gordon Klein, an accounting professor at the university's Anderson School of Management, was suspended in 2020 after students launched a campaign to have him fired.
According to reports, students were upset over the tone of an email Klein sent to a student making it clear that he would not offer grading leniency to black students and that final exams would still be administered despite the ongoing protests across the country.
The professor's email was a response to a non-black student asking that black students be provided special consideration and accommodations due to Floyd's death in May 2020 and the protests that followed. The student in question reportedly requested a "no-harm and shortened final exam, and extended deadlines for final assignments and projects in consideration of black students' well -being in light of nationwide protests against police brutality."
The student added, "This is 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," and asked the professor to consider grading the course "on a curve" for black students.
In response, Klein wrote, "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 black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect then? A full concession or just half?"
Klein then questioned the possibility that a "white [Minneapolis] student" might "possibly be even more devastated" by Floyd's death.
He also quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and said, "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 was placed on leave after a copy of his email circulated online, sparking students to mobilize and craft a petition demanding his removal despite the original student issuing an apology to Klein for their message.
The dean of the Anderson School ultimately issued an apology for Klein's email response and announced that Klein would be placed on suspension.
In the statement, Dean Antonio Bernardo said that the school was "investigating the situation and plan to address it," and said that Klein's message was "outrageous and simply inexcusable."
"On behalf of Anderson, please accept my apology for the very hurtful sentiments expressed in this message," Bernardo said, noting that the school rejects "racism and violence."
His message added, "Please know that respect and equality for all are core principles at Anderson."
The school has maintained the position that Klein's suspension was due to the "tone" of his message and not because he refused to grant special treatment to those who might have been impacted by Floyd's death or the ensuing protests against police brutality.
Klein was placed on leave on June 3, 2020, but was ultimately reinstated on July 22 after the school's Discrimination Prevention Office exonerated him.
What are the details?
According to the Fix, 64-year-old Klein — who joined the faculty in 1981 — is suing the school for "harming his professional reputation."
His suit, which was filed Tuesday in a state court in Los Angeles, is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees.
“There are many ways to assist the advancement of underrepresented groups in achieving their dreams through a university education," Klein said in an email to the outlet. “However, giving students grades that they did not earn, or giving some identity groups preferential treatment over others, is divisive and inconsistent with the core principles of the university."
A portion of the lawsuit states, "This online campaign expressly mirrored the University's EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) philosophy, arguing that 'equity' required students to prioritize protesting against the 'oppressor' over 'focusing on finishing up our Spring Quarter' by studying for final exams. ... To escape their own academic responsibilities, these agitators also resorted to intimidating UCLA faculty members into canceling final exams and giving all students generous, unearned grades. If a particular professor did not accede to these demands, these activists then coordinated email complaints to the UCLA administrators who oversaw the recalcitrant professor's career advancement and job security."
Klein's lawsuit adds that he suffered "severe emotional distress, trauma, and physical ailments for which he has been treated by his primary care physician, a gastrointestinal physician, and psychiatrist."
He also estimates that he lost more than $500,000 in private consulting contracts due to the negative publicity he sustained as a result of the suspension.
A spokesperson for the school did not return the outlet's request for comment.