Gordon Klein, a professor at UCLA, was briefly suspended due to a campaign that punished him for refusing to give Black students easier final exams. Now, after being reinstated, he is suing the school for defamation and loss of financial opportunity.
According to Gordon Klein, who has taught at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management for 40 years, the campaign began on June 2, 2020, when a student emailed him asking if he could grade Black students with greater “leniency” than their peers in the class.
Detailing the story on Common Sense, the newsletter written by former-New York Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss, Gordon Klein alleged that the Tax Principle and Law student who sent the email was not Black, and it was unclear if they were speaking alone or for the larger student body.
“We are writing to express our tremendous concern about the impact that this final exam and project will have on the mental and physical health of our Black classmates,” the student wrote, not clarifying who “We” was in this case.
Gordon Klein said that there was no project in his class, and “suspected the student simply used a form letter he found online and neglected to change the subject.” It’s possible that the student found this letter online as a template used by another student in a different school, and chose to send it to his professor at UCLA.
“The unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd… have led to fear and anxiety which is further compounded by the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Black community,” the letter read. “As we approach finals week, we recognize that these conditions place Black students at an unfair academic disadvantage due to traumatic circumstances out of their control.”
The student then went on to ask for “no harm” final exams, which meant that the grade would only count if it positively affected or boosted their current grade.
After Gordon Klein refused to treat his Black students differently, an online campaign began on Change.org to get him fired, and the school “buckled under pressure,” as he described it, to suspend him. He was later reinstated after the school board learned more about his case, and he is now suing UCLA for defamation.
“I have a law degree, and I’m pretty sure the university’s ]Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] agenda violates Proposition 209, the California Constitution’s prohibition against race-based preferences in public education,” Gordon Klein explained on Common Sense. He claimed that he thought the email was, “deeply patronizing and offensive to the same black students [the student who sent the letter] claimed to care so much about.”
Although Gordon Klein believed that he was doing the right thing by refusing to give preferential treatment to his Black students based on their race, he responded to the students email in a tone-deaf manner that partly led to his suspension.
“What do you suggest I do with respect to” students of mixed parentage?” he asked. “A full concession or just half?” He also send the student a Martin Luther King Jr. quote about how people should be treated solely based off the content of their character.
During this time, he received hateful messages online calling him “woefully racist” and even received anti-Semitic death threats. Klein’s lawyer said that the school was also under fire because it had not granted a Black professor tenure in decades.
Suing UCLA after becoming reinstated, he said that many law firms and corporations that he does consulting for dropped him after his suspension, causing massive financial loss. “That cost me the lion’s share of my annual income,” he alleged.
UCLA has yet to comment on the lawsuit.