Prof falsely accused of racism: How do I get my reputation back?
A UCLA professor who was suspended then reinstated for refusing a black student’s demand for special treatment due to the death of George Floyd now wants to know how he can restore his reputation.
Gordon Klein was asked by a black student to grant extra time to complete his work and to guarantee that any grade on a final exam “could only help, not harm, a student’s grade.”
Klein’s suspension caught the attention of constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, who said that in his three decades of teaching, he has never seen “the level of intolerance for free speech that we are seeing across the country.”
Klein replied to the student’s email:
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
UCLA suspended Klein while it investigated the matter and later reinstated him.
But Klein told FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that things have not returned to normal.
“With regard to the damage done to me, there is the old adage, ‘What do you do to get your reputation back?'”
He said the unfounded allegations were “widely disseminated, and [that] lives on the internet forever.”
“When someone gets their reputation cleared, it rarely receives equal prominence in the media or online. So, it remains to be seen how horribly damaged my reputation is,” he said.
“The person I blame is my dean. Unlike people on social media, he had a job to do. Before he destroys the livelihood and the reputation of one of his most loyal colleagues, he has the duty to be meticulous, careful, respectful, and adhere to the university’s rules of confidentiality. He acted recklessly, causing me untold harm, whether it’s death threats or the loss of my outside income,” Klein said.
“Indeed, the very day I was reinstated, he sent out another message to tens of thousands of people that again disparaged me, tacitly suggesting I would be reinstated, but that there was some other part to the story that, due to confidentiality, he couldn’t disclose. That was shameless on his part. He knew there was no other part to the story, but he decided to create the illusion that he was overruled by the school but that, if all the facts were known, he was right,” he said.
Klein said those who truly are racist “should be denigrated in society and should be marginalized.”
But not someone who isn’t.
In the heat of the moment, UCLA put him on leave and Dean Antonio Bernardo told the university that Klein had “a disregard for our core principles,” calling his email an “abuse of power,” FIRE said.
Klein insisted his response to the student shows he was following university policy by refusing to discriminate.
He adhered to UCLA’s Faculty Code of Conduct, he said, which prohibits the failure to hold exams as scheduled. It also prohibits evaluating students on criteria other than their course performance and engaging in race-based discrimination.
Klein said the effect of the university’s actions was to destroy “my reputation and destroy my relationship with my colleagues and friends.”
“Because I come from a family that is very politically liberal, I was concerned that it might destroy my relationship with my family,” he said.
He noted that even the Academic Freedom Committee warned of a chilling effect from the university’s actions against him.
“The committee specifically pointed to the fact that if your life can be taken away from you and you can be publicly humiliated as I was, no one will dare to do their job well. No one will speak freely. No one will pursue research that might lead to a controversial conclusion. No one will speak in class in a way that will stimulate controversy and discussion. No one will ever address some of the most important issues of our time, such as issues of discrimination, free speech, and freedom of association,” he said.
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