Gordon Klein, a UCLA professor, has filed a lawsuit against the school after he was suspended for comments he made in response to a student asking him to be more lenient on Black students. The incident began last year when a non-Black student wrote an email to Klein, asking him to grade Black students with greater “leniency” because they are coping with the death of George Floyd and civil unrest.
According to Newsweek, the financial analysis professor said the request was “deeply patronizing and offensive to the same Black students he claimed to care so much about.”
“I quoted Martin Luther King and my belief in a colorblind society. I admonished the student, perhaps somewhat emphatically and said he was disparaging his Black classmates, that wasn’t appropriate,” the instructor said according to Fox 11 Los Angeles.
Klein also presented a series of questions when he responded to the student who sent the email.
“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?” he asked. “A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they are probably especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might possibly be even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not.”
After a screenshot of the email circulated on social media, dozens of students called for the teacher to be removed from the university. The students opened a petition with 20,000 signatures as they urged the school to take action.
UCLA suspended the longtime employee three days after the first email but he was reinstated 21 days later after UCLA’s Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom ruled that the case didn’t warrant an investigation.
Klein said department dean Antonio Bernardo sent out a damaging email an hour after the reinstatement.
“He strongly implied I was still under investigation. The wheels of justice move slowly. He knew secret facts that nobody else knew, and they’d eventually get me. He did that to continue to destroy my professional reputation. It was malicious, and it was outrageous,” the professor said.
Now filing the complaint against the school, Klein said the punishment he faced has affected other aspects of his life. Several law firms and corporations which used the instructor for consulting work allegedly stopped using his services after the incident.
The plaintiff said he “suffered severe emotional distress, trauma, and physical ailments for which he has been treated by his primary care physician, a gastrointestinal physician and a psychiatrist.”
Klein said he is now aiming to protect others from “cancel culture.”
“I believe in academic freedom, I believe in freedom of speech, and I’ll be damned if I let people engage in cancel culture and do this to somebody other than me, who doesn’t, maybe have my legal background and my fortitude to pursue principle,” he said.
The professor is suing the school for breach of contract, violating his privacy and retaliatory discrimination.