Students are demanding the firing of two University of California, Los Angeles lecturers for doing their jobs, bringing the quest for conformity and identity politics to an absurd new level.
One of the lecturers is Gordon Klein, who teaches accounting at the Anderson School of Management. A UCLA student emailed Klein recently, telling him that in light of George Floyd’s tragic death, black students “are struggling to focus on their educations when there is massive sociopolitical unrest that concerns both them and the future of their plight in this country.” To show support for black classmates, the student, who is not black, asked Klein to offer a “no-harm” final exam that could only benefit black students’ grades.
Klein questioned the appropriateness of race-based special treatment in his email reply, asking, “Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only?” If students should receive special treatment based on race, Klein continued, “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?”
What about students who are from Minneapolis? Klein asked. “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.”
Klein went on to request guidance from the student on “how to achieve a no-harm outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only?” He closed his email by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “[R]emember 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?”
Students are outraged at both Klein’s refusal and what they perceived as a tone of “mockery” in his email. They started a petition on Change.org to get him fired because they think his “blatant lack of empathy and unwillingness to accommodate his students during a time of protests speaks to his apathetic stance on the matter.” According to the students, Klein’s email response was “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist.” The petition has already gathered more than 19,000 signatures.
Klein Aims for Equality
Is Klein’s email offensive and racist? It seems he tried to employ rhetorical questions and lay out absurd scenarios to show his student that despite their good intentions, giving special treatment based on race is unfair to all students. One doesn’t have to appreciate the tone of his email in order to conclude that a race-based special accommodation devalues black students’ college education and does them a disservice.
Such accommodations would undermine black students’ intelligence and hard work, re-enforcing the stigma black students already face when attending an elite college — that somehow they were admitted only because of a lower standard and lower expectations. Such race-based approaches, in the words of Jason Riley at Manhattan Institute, make “black achievement a white allowance and black failure a group stigma.”
Instead of lowering academic requirements, a real game-changer for black students is to improve their graduation rate. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s 2017 survey, for all students who attended four-year public universities, black students had the lowest six-year completion rate of 45.9 percent, compared to 67.2 percent of white students and 71.7 percent of Asian students. Lower graduation rates mean fewer good job opportunities, and fewer job opportunities likely contribute to higher student loan default rates for black students.
College Builds Character
Those who accuse Klein of lacking of empathy in the tone of his email neglected to mention that Klein also wrote a second email to the entire class in which he said he understood some students experienced hardship, from “the coronavirus health issue of a loved one to emotional stress of recent social tragedies.”
Klein shared with the students the physical and emotional struggle of his own daughter when she was a student at UCLA. By his telling, she persevered and has become an oncologist. Klein said that while he wished he could take individual circumstances into consideration to modify his syllabus, his understanding was that such action would violate UCLA rules. He closed his email by encouraging his students to “study hard” and persevere like his daughter.
Klein’s second email brought up another good point: A college campus is not only an environment for acquiring knowledge, but also a place for character development. Each of us will face various challenges and obstacles in life. No one can smooth our path to ensure we never fail. A college campus is one place where young people can learn how to overcome obstacles and develop resilience, a character trait from which they will benefit the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, since Klein’s first email caused a meltdown, nothing else he said matters to those demanding he be fired. Klein is currently on leave while UCLA is investigating his first email “incident.” A spokesman from the Anderson School of Management apologized to the student who received Klein’s first email and “to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.”
UCLA Students Cry for Comfort Over Facts
Klein is not the only UCLA lecturer whose job is on the line. Students are also demanding the firing of political science lecturer W. Ajax Peris, an Air Force veteran. People who know Peris well consider him a regular liberal, never a controversial type.
When teaching the history of racism recently, Peris read aloud MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which includes the n-word, and showed a documentary to the class in which lynching was discussed. For students who signed up to “learn” the history of racism against black people, hearing a white lecturer read the n-word from a letter written by a jailed civil rights leader and watching lynching imagery made them feel so “uncomfortable,” they asked Peris to stop. Peris apologized for causing students “discomfort” but continued his teaching, resulting in a great deal of “distress” and “anger” among the students.
Leadership of the Political Science Department quickly condemned Peris in a department-wide email for failing to reassess his “teaching pedagogy to meet the students’ needs.” The same leadership also referred Peris to UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office for an investigation. Furthermore, UCLA will host a town hall for students in Peris’ classes to discuss the “controversy” and next steps. Despite Peris’ multiple apologies, students still want him dismissed.
What did Peris do in his class that is so “controversial”? The history of racism against black people is an ugly part of our nation’s history, and the only way to teach it is by presenting the historical truth. Did students who signed up for this class think they wouldn’t actually have to learn about the cruelty and injustice that previous black generations had to endure? How should Peris adjust his teaching pedagogy for students who want to be “safe” from learning historical truth? Should he gloss over black people’s sufferings in the Jim Crow era?
When woke students wouldn’t allow Peris to read aloud one of the most important civil rights documents word-for-word simply because he is white, wasn’t he the one facing discrimination on the basis of his skin color? On what grounds should he be condemned and fired?
Americans can no longer dismiss such absurdity on college campuses. As we learned from the recent “civil war” inside the New York Times after it published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., the social justice warriors and thought police who graduated from these indoctrination camps are now in the workforce. They are using language devoid of meaning or even counterfactual, having a meltdown over facts, and then shouting down and “canceling” people whose words and ideas they don’t like.
The left’s arguments are winning, and their tactics are succeeding in corporate America just like they did on college campuses, because corporate managers, like college administrators, are quick to apologize and bend over backward to comply with the mob. If we don’t push back against this dangerous trend, America will soon become one giant echo chamber with only one voice left because no one will feel safe to think differently.