Sacrificed on the Altar of “Racial Equity”: Reflections of a Canceled Professor
George Floyd’s death in May 2020 ignited long-festering frustrations that ended some two dozen lives nationwide and cost more than a billion dollars in damage. While some recoiled in shock at the destruction, others rationalized it as an overdue reckoning. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist flew off the shelves and many celebrated his call to action: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
In historically conservative Kern County—home of now GOP Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy—these ideas seemed unlikely to resonate for several reasons. For one thing, African Americans only constitute 6.3% of our general population and just 4% of the student population at both CSU Bakersfield and Bakersfield College (BC). But more than that, the campus politics didn’t square. For thirteen years I taught at BC, serving in numerous leadership positions and repeatedly winning my colleagues’ trust in campus-wide elections. I’d never known our campus to be political, at least not in the sense of aligning to national trends.
Nevertheless, in the wake of Floyd’s death, then-BC President Sonya Christian convened an emergency summer meeting where the campus diversity committee chairs presented a commitment to “Racial Equity,” authored by the administration but advanced with a thin pretext of faculty consultation. The administration organized a webinar event, titled “Light A Candle: A Juneteenth Celebration,” emphasizing the plight of African Americans. It included an introductory historical essay by an English professor alleging that “Slavery in America was the most brutal version in recorded history,” and interviews hosted by a local disgraced journalist known for fabricating sources. The production included statements of support from at-will employees—those who could be terminated without notice for nearly any reason. A few months later, the administration subjected management employees to mandatory diversity training at a cost of $180,000 for 51 hours of “experiences.” We later learned that the administration also approved $19,000 for a recently-retired administrator to develop one hour of diversity training, and our college district joined the USC Race and Equity Center program at the cost of $25,000 for Bakersfield College and another $25,000 for Porterville College. USC Workshops began that summer.
Classes resumed in the Fall of 2020 with an almost religious zeal for the vague yet unquestionable “racial equity” creed. Our Opening Day meeting stretched a full week and included repeated appeals to George Floyd. The prerecorded agitprop also featured the previously-extracted statements that conveyed volitional support. Shills and genuine believers chimed in via the live chat, with one vice president typing, “SAY IT: Black Lives Matter!”
And then there were the live meetings. One dean of instruction outlined a complete campus realignment centered on racial equity. My own dean distributed “Tips for White People,” as he pledged allegiance to the new theology. In eerily identical language, multiple administrators called on “every individual faculty, staff member and administrator at BC [to] make a personal commitment.” One dean further clarified the charge, “equity is not a political issue and is a campus responsibility.” Another vice president pressured faculty chairs to submit statements of affirmation, but when some faculty raised questions, the administration dropped that request.
What was “racial equity”? Nobody would really explain, so I questioned the new dogma in an opinion piece. Meanwhile, our faculty Senate warned the administration that such a revolutionary change without faculty consultation encroached on faculty prerogatives enshrined in state law. The administration's “Racial Equity” proposal—with its pledge of faculty and staff diversification through an internship program exclusively recruiting “underrepresented minorities,” paired with race-based student services to meet “racial equity targets”—went back to the diversity committee for further vetting.
Notwithstanding an unmistakable sense of urgency, it took the committee three months to settle on a slightly simpler draft of the proposal. When it finally reached the Senate floor, its chief advocates blamed me and other executive officers for the delay. Although I privately chuckled at the diversity committee’s incompetence, I had nothing to do with it. One committee member told me that the real cause apparently centered on an internal conflict between two factions feuding over who should benefit from racial equity: African Americans or Hispanics?
The two populations have very different needs. Our black students are a tiny portion of the entire student body and are statistically the least successful. Conversely, our Hispanic students constitute nearly two-thirds of the campus enrollment and have closed every achievement gap (retention, course success, graduation). Indeed, Hispanic students slightly outperform white students in some categories. What exactly did advocates of Hispanic “racial equity” hope to achieve?
Meanwhile the administration revised the state-mandated Equal Employment Opportunity Plan, once again utilizing a secretive committee without consulting the faculty Senate. Nevertheless, the Senate produced an informal 21-page compilation of concerns, which included criticisms of the intrusion into faculty jurisdiction and advancement of the race-based “Availability Analysis.”
The EEO Plan operates off of the assumption that employee demographics should mirror the race and gender proportions of arbitrarily weighted populations: students, local residents, state residents, and national residents. Failure to meet the consequent targets constitutes “underutilization,” as if the arbitrarily weighted populations had anything to do with the availability of qualified applicants. Inputting readily available demographic data into the matrix produces clear racial targets for all employees. Any reasonable person could draw the conclusion that the EEO Plan effectively created racial quotas. Imagine the draconian policies necessary to cull back the proportion of white employees from over fifty percent to under one-quarter while increasing the proportion of Hispanic employees from one-third to 60%.
This “Availability” matrix emerged in tandem with California Proposition 16, which aimed to overturn Proposition 209, a 1996 amendment to the state constitution that explicitly prohibited public entities from giving preference based on race or gender. However, in November 2020, California voters rejected Prop 16. Undaunted, KCCD administrators pressed forward with the quotas, and in April 2021, the Board of Trustees approved it over the objection of a faculty petition. The racial targets remain in effect today.
The new EEO Plan also mandated training in implicit bias and microaggressions, which the administration implemented in January 2021, again without faculty Senate consultation. Faculty members pushed back, with some refusing to attend and others asking pointed questions during the training. For my part, I organized a webinar featuring Jeffrey Polet, who had just authored several pieces on “equity” and criticized diversity trainings as anti-intellectual indoctrination.
When the state mandated the inclusion of ethnic studies courses for general education, I applied for equivalency to teach in that discipline. After all, my graduate level coursework and publications related to race and ethnicity far exceeded anyone else on campus. Additionally, I authored and long taught the Native American history course that would soon become a centerpiece of ethnic studies at our college. Despite the ostensibly confidential application process, the administration colluded with diversity committee members and then demanded the equivalency committee chairs remove my application from the agenda. However, the faculty assigned to the equivalency committee defied the administration, re-agendized and approved my request. When I later obtained emails proving the above-mentioned collusion (and wrongful circulation of my social security number), I filed a complaint. Our administration dismissed my concerns and instead changed the procedure to remove any expectation of confidentiality.
My threat to the new orthodoxy was further evident when I volunteered to serve on the campus diversity committee in the academic years 2021-22 and 2022-23. The same “racial equity” believers tried to obstruct my appointment but failed on both occasions. Adding to their anxiety, I was joined on that committee by a handful of professors who likewise valued clearly-defined terms, evidence-based policies, and intellectual diversity. In response, the committee chairs refused to add items to the agenda and awkwardly called meetings that included no more than superficial announcements before adjournment. We responded by using the public comment portion to press our requests for a new committee charge and the Chicago Principles for Free Speech. The chairs countered by disregarding transparency and basic norms of parliamentary procedure, or outright canceling meetings. Our committee only met a handful of times throughout the 2021-22 year.
The following year, the diversity committee postponed any meetings until October when the chairs pushed through a proposal to create an alternative diversity “task force,” creating a new sacred space absent any non-believers. The faithful readily outvoted us and moved the proposal to the faculty Senate where they advanced it by way of an orchestrated race hoax, accusing me and others of hostility toward staff and students of color I had never met. Professor Paula Parks–the faculty director of our campus’ segregated courses emphasizing “a curriculum and pedagogy responsive to the legacy of the African and African American diasporas”–also penned an opinion piece accusing me of unspecified “hateful rhetoric” and demanded my termination. She repeated her allegations with one student at the KCCD Board of Trustees meeting in December 2022, which caused Trustee John Corkins to quip that I and others should be taken “to the slaughterhouse” and culled. National media made much of his ill-considered comments (here, here, here, here, and here).
Professor Parks and her student activists were proven to have lied when, a few weeks later, a leaked recording of the meeting was reviewed by DailyWire, InsideHigherEd, and JustTheNews. Each independently confirmed that I had not made any racist, hateful, or otherwise inappropriate remarks. In late January 2023, I penned a short letter to the trustees pleading with them to look beyond the “orchestrated public comments, loudly whispered vague allegations, fabricated testimony, counterfeit HR determinations, and outright lies.” Several weeks later, I directly addressed the Board to chastise the administration for peddling baseless allegations in an attempt to foster a cancellation campaign.
In mid-March, KCCD served me with a bizarre statement of charges seeking my termination, to be discussed at the Board’s April 2023 meeting. The allegations include the already-debunked race hoax; my First Amendment protected public comments during committee meetings where I criticized administrative interference in faculty prerogatives; and legally-protected whistleblower complaints that I had filed in confidentiality. One attorney remarked that the statement of charges resembled a plaintiff’s brief, effectively admitting KCCD’s guilt for the forthcoming wrongful termination.
I requested an open board meeting to ensure transparency and allow the public to hear whatever justification that newly-promoted KCCD Chancellor Sonya Christian might provide for the absurd charges. Community members, students and faculty filled the room beyond capacity and many spoke in my defense. However, the trustees then retreated to a closed session where they secretly voted to pursue my termination, without announcing their decision publicly. A flurry of national organizations have rebuked KCCD, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression, PEN America, the National Association of Scholars, and the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. Despite this, KCCD has yet to offer any explanation.
Fortunately, as a tenured faculty, I am entitled to a full administrative hearing. However, Chancellor Christian was sure to include charges of “immorality” and “willful refusal to perform regular assignments,” without providing any examples for these accusations. Their inclusion allows the district to suspend my salary until the administrative judge issues a decision. The last such case at our college took three years to reach the administrative courtroom. When the professor prevailed, KCCD simply appealed the decision and prolonged the ordeal for another year, until he was financially exhausted and forced to resign his position in a settlement.
Simply put, KCCD knows that they don’t need a winning case to triumph. College school boards only need to lay siege to dissenters until their children go hungry. The district can rely on its taxpayer-funded war chest to grind on us until we can no longer finance a resistance to even the most ridiculous charges. A typical dismissal case may take one to three days in administrative court. However, mine is complicated by dozens of spurious allegations that may take a full three weeks to address, likely costing over $100,000 in non-recoverable legal fees, even as my salary is suspended. Fortunately, my union will fund part of my legal defense, but those resources are not endless. I recently launched a GiveSendGo fundraising campaign in the hope that the case will be decided by its merits, and not by who has the deeper pockets.
Back on campus, the academic year drew to a close without me. Students attended the administration’s racially segregated graduation ceremonies and the KCCD Trustees elected John Corkins as their new board president. The biggest headline was the promotion of KCCD Chancellor Sonya Christian as the new state chancellor over the entire California Community College system, which encompasses 116 colleges and 1.8 million students. Tragically, my experience may only be the prelude to far more sacrifices on the now statewide altar of “racial equity.”
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