Florida university fires professor after racial justice lessons prompted parent complaint
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida English professor whose lessons about racial justice put him at odds with his university's administrators has been fired, the professor said.
Sam Joeckel, a veteran professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, said in a statement Thursday that the West Palm Beach school had “made the disappointing decision to terminate my contract early.”
The move comes a month after school administrators told Joeckel they were investigating a concern raised by a parent that he was “indoctrinating” his students by incorporating lessons about racial justice into his writing composition course.
Joeckel, who has taught at the 3,700-student Christian school for two decades, said he has long included teachings about racial justice in the class and that administrators had never expressed concerns about them before.
“They did this for a clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice,” Joeckel said. “The timing of this is not a coincidence as we are dealing with an ‘anti-woke’ crusade from Governor DeSantis and other far-right politicians and activists. PBA was clearly influenced by this toxic political ideology.”
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School investigates Joeckel's class
Students in Joeckel's class read and analyze passages about the topic, discuss them and write short essays of their own. But he said he does not express his own opinions on the issues examined and does not require students to take a certain stance on them.
The school declined to comment on the matter, but its provost said last month in an internal memo obtained by The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network, that she was seeking to “better understand the pedagogical rationale for including these extensive lectures in a Composition II class.”
“Faculty are free to choose a theme that unifies their Composition II course,” Provost Chelly Templeton wrote. “However, it is important that the Composition II objectives remain the focus of the course.”
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After administrators alerted Joeckel that he was being investigated, the professor announced what had happened on Instagram.
Joeckel noted in the Feb. 16 post that he was first told that his contract would not be renewed until the university completed its investigation on the same day DeSantis was scheduled to appear at PBAU for a speaking engagement.
Students campaign in support of Joeckel
The post spread quickly, drawing a campaign by some of Joeckel's students to protect his job.
Students and former students peppered the university president's office with calls of support and published a letter signed by more than 300 students and former students. A separate online petition to save his job has garnered more than 1,800 signatures.
Danielle Hawk, a former student of Joeckel's and an organizer of the letter drive, said last month that the incident underscored the need for the school's professors to have more academic protections.
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“They got a complaint and his contract was immediately put on pause," she said. "There was not any sort of due process where they can appeal. They do not have tenure. So one of the things that we want to see out of this is a due-process policy created for faculty members.”
Professor may seek legal action
The battle over his position may not be over, though. Joeckel has hired an attorney and said that he may fight his termination in court.
“Because PBA took these actions, I will have no choice but to pursue my legal options to fight back and show PBA, and other institutions, that they cannot get away with this,” he said.
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Follow reporter Andrew Marra on Twitter: @AMarranara.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach Atlantic professor fired after racial justice lessons