A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor who was suspended after refusing to grade black students more leniently in the wake of George Floyd’s death can continue with his lawsuit, a judge ruled late last month.
Following Floyd’s death, a group of students sent an email to UCLA accounting professor Gordon Klein, asking him to institute a “‘no-harm’ final exam that could only benefit students’ grades, and for shortened exams and extended deadlines for final assignments and projects,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
As The Daily Wire reported, the students requested all of these accommodations due to recent “traumas, we have been placed in a position where we much choose between actively supporting our black classmates or focusing on finishing up our spring quarter.”
“We believe that remaining neutral in times of injustice brings power to the oppressor and therefore staying silent is not an option,” the students added.
The students insisted they did not make the request as “a joint effort to get finals canceled for non-black students” but rather to “ask that you exercise compassion and leniency with black students in our major.”
The students were using the May 25 death of Floyd and the resulting riots across the country to get leniency in class. Professor Klein did not accept their arguments and responded in an email that gained him the ire of students.
“Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota,” Klein wrote back to the students.
“Do you know the names of the classmates that are black?” he asked them. “How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only?”
Klein went on to ask about students who “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?” he asked.
Klein also suggested “a white student from [Minneapolis] 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.”
Klein ended his email with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. about not evaluating people based on the color of their skin.
Klein was eventually suspended and denounced by UCLA. It later reinstated him, but as Cornell professor William Jacobson noted, “not before his reputation and career were severely damaged.”
Klein is now suing, alleging he was punished for treating students equally, as required by California law. He also alleges that UCLA’s Anderson School of Management disregarded a broader UCLA directive not to punish him over student complaints. Klein also alleged that the incident caused him to lose clients where he was paid to be an expert witness.
Klein wrote that he “brings this action not only to redress the wrongful conduct he has endured but also to protect academic freedom.”
On March 30, 2022, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III ruled against UCLA when it attempted to have Klein’s lawsuit dismissed. Ford ruled that Klein provided sufficient evidence to “support judgment in his favor” for several of his claims. The lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial in April 2023.