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Professor at Florida Christian college that hosted DeSantis may be fired for ‘indoctrinating’ students on race

Controversy comes amid Florida’s larger campaign against teaching on racism and sexuality

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Monday 20 February 2023 20:16 GMT
DeSantis says African American history course was banned for imposing 'political agenda’

An English professor at a Florida Christian university may lose his job after a complaint from a parent that he was “indoctrinating” students with a unit on racial justice.

Professor Samuel Joeckel has been a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University for 20 years, he told The Independent, 12 of which included classes featuring material on racial justice without incident.

Then, he says, on 15 February, he found the provost and dean of the school of liberal arts and sciences waiting outside his classroom. They informed him his non-tenure contract was under review and could be terminated.

“He said that the concern was that I was ‘indoctrinating student,’” Professor Joeckel said via email, recounting an exchange with the dean. “He said the president of the university received an angry phone call from a parent of a student. He ended the meeting by saying that he had to leave in order to prepare for the arrival of Ron DeSantis on campus for a speaking engagement.”

The Independent has contacted Palm Beach Atlantic University for comment.

Professor Joeckel said he included discussions of racial justice across a few different courses, including Composition 2, a freshman writing course, and an upper-level honours class called “The World of Despair and Hope.” Another course, during 2022, was called “Defeating Racism.”

A course syllabus shared with The Independent shows a variety of touchstone texts from important figures in US history, like Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Malcom X’s “Ballot or Bullet” speech.

“The main purpose of my unit on racial justice is for students to critically reflect on moments in history, texts, and data that have shaped and continue to shape discussions of race and racism in the United States,”  Professor Joeckel said of the materials. “Students are not told what to think about these materials; they come to their own conclusions.”

The professor, whose work has appeared across a variety of secular and religious academic journals, said he felt his academic freedom was under attack and risked losing his job without due process. He accused the university of betraying its values-based mission by being “complacent” on an important topic like race.

“Things like this do not happen in a vacuum,” he continued. “There is a reason why PBA is threatening me now rather than five years ago or ten years ago. PBA is conforming to a toxic political culture, and they are playing a role that is a part of that culture’s script: a role that says, ‘We do not like to have uncomfortable conversations about race.’”

Students defended the long-time professor.

"As a professor, he’s been absolutely wonderful,” Ethan Hoerl told WPBF. “He always supported all of our ideas in class. He made sure he gave equal voice and equal weight."

A student petition has nearly 900 signatures to protect the scholar’s job.

The controversy over Mr Joeckel’s class comes as Florida mounts a larger campaign against topics deemed undesirable by Republican governor Ron DeSantis, including racial justice and discussions of sexual and gender identity.

Mr DeSantis has passed a controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, rejected a proposed African-American history AP course, and proposed defunding diversity, equity, and inclusion programme at state colleges and universities.

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