VICTORY: UCLA reinstates professor suspended for email on why he wouldn’t change exam, grading for black students

September 15, 2020
  • Professor was investigated for the ‘tone’ of his email to a student who asked for new grading procedures — despite student responding with thanks and appreciation
  • UCLA administrator, caving to public backlash, called email ‘abuse of power’

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 15, 2020 — The University of California, Los Angeles, reinstated a professor who was put on mandatory leave for the tone of an email to a student who asked him to alter his grading policies for black students during the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on UCLA in June to reinstate lecturer Gordon Klein, citing the university’s academic freedom promises, as well as its obligations under the First Amendment. Klein faced public backlash for his email, including a petition for his firing signed by more than 20,000 people.

“We’re happy to confirm that Gordon Klein is teaching once again, and hope that in the future UCLA will consider its constitutional obligations before throwing educators out of the classroom,” said Katlyn Patton, author of FIRE’s June 10 letter to UCLA. “UCLA investigated his ‘tone’ in an attempt to quell public backlash. But regardless of how many people demand his firing, UCLA cannot justify using that anger to erode Gordon’s rights.”

On June 2, a student emailed Klein to suggest he adjust his final exam requirements for black students — including extending deadlines, shortening exams, and implementing a policy that would ensure an exam could only help, not harm, a student’s grade. 

Klein responded with several rhetorical questions to argue that the request was infeasible and would be improper to grant, asking whether he would also have to change the policies for students of mixed race, how to treat students from Minneapolis who may have also been affected, and how the request would square with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for people not to be judged by their skin color. 

UCLA claimed that the investigation and suspension stemmed from the tone of Klein’s email, not his decision to maintain his standard grading policies — despite the fact that the student responded by thanking the professor and noting that Klein’s efforts “really do help us students during these trying times.”

UCLA placed Klein on mandatory leave effective June 3. In an email to the UCLA community June 4, Dean Antonio Bernardo characterized Klein as having “a disregard for our core principles” and called Klein’s email an “abuse of power.”

The university formally closed the investigation against Klein on July 22. Klein confirmed the resolution to FIRE Monday.

UCLA is a public institution, legally bound to respect student and faculty First Amendment rights. The First Amendment and UCLA policy protect Klein’s academic freedom rights, including the right to manage the content and direction of his course and comment on matters of public concern. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

Gene Block, Chancellor, UCLA: 310-825-2151; chancellor@ucla.edu


Schools:  University of California, Los Angeles

Cases:  University of California at Los Angeles: Lecturer on Leave After Email Declining Course Changes Over George Floyd Protests