In 2020, a UCLA Anderson professor was suspended after an email exchange with a student.
In the exchange, which took place just after the George Floyd murder and resulting protests, the (non-black) student asked if the professor could grade the final exam more leniently for black students. “We are writing to express our tremendous concern about the impact that this final exam … will have on the mental and physical health of our Black classmates,” the student wrote (other professors received similar requests).
The professor declined the request and said:
"Do you know the names of classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we've been having online classes only? Are there any students 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?"
Immediately, an online petition started circulating, claiming that the professor’s email was racist ("A simple 'no' would have sufficed,” said one student union leader) and demanding that he be fired. It gathered 20k signatures.
UCLA immediately suspended the professor and banned him from campus … before reinstating him 3 weeks later.
A few months afterward, the professor sued the university, explaining why in an op-ed. He claimed he was “suspended from [his] job for refusing to treat [his] black students as lesser than their non-black peers," and detailed how the situation had affected his life: he’d received hate mail, death threats and was fired from several consulting positions – costing him the vast majority of his income.
Reading about this saga brought up all sorts of questions for us:
? Was the student right to ask for leniency for black students (and was the university right to suspend the professor)?
? Did the professor make any valid points? And if he did, were those points “lost” in the tone of his email?
? Are there times when professors should be able to give certain groups of students (e.g. women, black students, students on financial aid, etc.) leniency on exams/assignments?
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