Shortly after George Floyd’s death, a student of UCLA’s Management 127 class e-mailed their professor, Gordon Klein, requesting special consideration be given to black students in the class. The special consideration includes “no-harm” grading on the final exam. The e-mail also asked for shorter exams and extended deadlines for black students who attended the George Floyd protests.
Klein replied, pushing back at the idea with critical questions about how to proceed with the changes to his course. In his e-mail, he asked for names of the students that are black since the classes have only been held online. He also asked if any of the black students are from Minnesota, and posited that a white student from Minnesota would be more devastated than a black student not from there. He notes that his TA is from there. You can read the full e-mail in its entirety below.
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
As a result, an online petition to fire him was started and has been signed by more than 21,000 people. The petition stated that Klein’s email was “woefully racist.” The professor also received threats and thus LA police stepped up their presence near his house. He was then placed on leave by the school until June 24, 2020.
Countering the online petition to fire Klein, an on-campus advocacy group (UCLA Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom) released a statement, calling for UCLA to reinstate Klein and for him to be issued an apology.
“As a public institution, UCLA is bound by both the First Amendment and the laudable promises of academic freedom it makes to its faculty members,” Katlyn Patton of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote in a letter to UCLA officials Wednesday. “Those obligations and promises are of even more importance during a crisis. Given that Klein followed institutional policy when he refused to alter his final exam procedures, this investigation is almost certainly based on the tone or viewpoint of his email, which was — however brusque — protected expression on a matter of profound public interest. Klein must be immediately reinstated, and UCLA’s leaders must make clear that their commitment to academic freedom is stronger than an online mob.”