A UCLA professor who was briefly suspended after declining a request that Black students get easier final exams after George Floyd’s death sued the school Wednesday, accusing it of defamation and loss of financial opportunities.
Gordon Klein, a lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management who has taught there for decades, filed the lawsuit in state court against the school’s dean, Antonio Bernardo, the University of California Board of Regents, and a host of unnamed “co-conspirators.”
“I did this because the school has continued to retaliate against me, and other scholars are facing retaliation, and I thought it was important for someone to step up and say, ‘enough,’” Mr. Klein told The Washington Times. “I have the legal skills and training to do so, so I’m stepping up.”
Mr. Bernardo and the others effectively organized a smear campaign against Mr. Klein after he turned down a “non-Black” student’s request that Black students in his class be given “no harm” final exams because of emotional turmoil Floyd’s death may have caused, the lawsuit alleges.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Bernardo declined to comment on the suit.
UCLA said it “has general procedures and principles that uphold freedom of expression and freedom of intellectual inquiry while also facilitating a learning, working, and living environment that is free from discrimination, harassment or retaliation.”
Following Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis policeman in May 2020, an organized campaign began at UCLA known as “Letter Writing for Finals Accomodations for Black Students,” in which professors were urged to offer what amounted to preferential treatment to Black students.
On June 1, 2020, Mr. Klein received a warning from administrators the campaign was afoot, and he received a solicitous email request from a student the following day, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Klein responded by saying he had no way of knowing for sure which students were Black, given that COVID restrictions had forced the class online, and he turned down the proposal.
Although the student then apologized for what he said may have seemed an outrageous request, and later signed up for another class with Mr. Klein, their email exchange went viral and Mr. Klein was painted as an insensitive bigot, the lawsuit says.
A petition at the leftist website Change.org was launched, and calls for his termination began.
“The Anderson School hastily buckled under this pressure,” the lawsuit said.
Mr. Bernardo allegedly sought permission to fire Mr. Klein, and, after higher-ups at UCLA quickly said no, the dean went ahead and suspended Mr. Klein while falsely characterizing his exchange with the student as hurtful, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Klein said he became a sacrificial lamb in UCLA Anderson School’s effort to paint itself as a model warrior against perceived racism.
And the school has good reason to depict itself that way because the reality of its treatment of Black scholars belies that stance, according to the suit.
“The UCLA Anderson School had substantial reasons to be concerned about its reputation,” a footnote in the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, out of approximately 200 faculty members, only one black professor has tenure and the School has not granted tenure to a black professor in over four decades.”
Although Mr. Klein received support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and has since been reinstated to full teaching duties, his outside practice as an expert witness in trials has been harmed, the lawsuit alleges.
In addition, according to the suit, Mr. Klein was denied a merit raise he deserves and would undoubtedly have received had his 2020 interaction with a student - which actually upheld principles of equal treatment as well as UCLA policies — not been mischaracterized.
“This may become the first time people engaged in cancel culture are brought before the bar,” Mr. Klein said. “They act with impunity when they can be keyboard warriors and think there are no consequences. Well, maybe that is finally going to change.”
• James Varney can be reached at email@example.com.
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