UCLA Professor Under Police Protection Following Threats

UCLA suspended professor for refusing to cancel finals for minorities after George Floyd killing

University of California Los Angeles / Getty Images
June 9, 2020

A college professor is living under police protection after rebuffing a request to exempt minority students from taking final exams in the wake of George Floyd's death.

University of California Los Angeles accounting professor Gordon Klein faced threats of violence after he declined a student's request that he delay a final exam in light of national unrest. The university suspended the professor for three weeks beginning on June 25 and launched a discrimination investigation into the incident. Klein declined a request for comment, but a Malibu Police Department spokesman said the department increased police presence near the educator's home after Klein received multiple threats.

Many universities faced disruptions stemming from the coronavirus, but the demonstrations and riots that followed Floyd's death in police custody have led students to petition for delays or outright cancellations of classes and final exams. Those requests have quickly turned into threats on social media for professors who refuse to grant such accommodations. In the face of public pressure, UCLA administrators bowed to student demands and removed Klein from his class.

On Monday, Anderson School of Management dean Antonio Bernardo sent an email to students announcing an investigation into Klein's "troubling" behavior. The dean apologized to students for the "added stress" a substitution of an instructor may cause. The message also announced that Klein's classes would be transferred to professors Judson Caskey and Brett Trueman, who also serves as the Anderson school's diversity committee chairman.

An email obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon shows that Caskey urged professors to avoid changing final exam plans in the face of student demands.

"If students ask for accommodations such as assignment delays or exam cancellations, I strongly encourage you to follow the normal procedures (accommodations from the [Center for Accessible Education] office, death/illness in the family, religious observance, etc.)," Caskey wrote in a June 1 email.

The controversy began after UCLA student Emilia Martinez published a screenshot of Klein's email to Twitter on June 2. Martinez, who is not one of Klein's students, went public after a friend showed her a copy of the message, sparking protests and a petition to fire the professor. Martinez praised the university for taking quick action.

"I think it's appropriate that they are investigating, I think it's fair," she told the Free Beacon.

A university spokesman declined to comment on Klein's situation, citing "confidentiality and privacy laws and concerns."

"UCLA and UCLA Anderson are committed to creating a learning, working, and living environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation," the spokesman said.

Some higher education activists say that the school's treatment of Klein threatens academic freedom. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said it has seen an uptick in instances of colleges called upon to investigate students and faculty for expressing their opinions about protests and discussions of police brutality. FIRE spokeswoman Katlyn Patton said the First Amendment allows Klein to "manage the content and direction of his course" at a taxpayer-funded university.

"As a lecturer at a public institution bound by the First Amendment, Klein has significant rights to manage the content and direction of his course, and his disagreement with the students' reasoning does not amount to harassment or unlawful discrimination," Patton said.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, called UCLA's suspension of Klein "disturbing."

"Professor Klein is right. Treating students on the basis of equality is morally, ethically, and legally sound," Wood said. "The fact that his complaining student has gotten traction with her complaint is disturbing."

While Klein remains under police protection, his students have won concessions from the university.

Bernardo, who did not return a request for comment, has increased the time students have to complete exams, given the "difficult circumstances."