Are you offended? Fired professor attacks Kean’s ‘extreme political correctness’
ELIZABETH — An adjunct professor who was fired by Kean University on charges that she violated the state’s anti-discrimination policy is firing back, saying she is the victim of the school’s “extreme political correctness agenda.”
The business law professor was fired last year after six years on the job as a result of numerous student complaints that she injected her personal and offensive opinions about gender, sexuality, religion and immigration into her lectures, which several students described as "rants."
One student, for example, complained that the professor said Mexicans are stealing jobs. Another claimed she said that “America should stick to Catholic/Christian principles.”
The professor, however, denied the allegations, explaining that the students took her “debate points” out of context.
And then she filed her own discrimination complaints — against her former students and the university.
This workplace dispute over the state’s anti-discrimination policy came to light as a result of the professor’s appeal to the Civil Service Commission, which only identified the professor by her initials — C.B.
The decision comes amid controversy at another higher education institution in the state, which fired an adjunct professor associated with Black Lives Matter after she made an appearance on Fox News Channel's "Tucker Carlson Tonight."
Essex County College president Anthony Munroe last month defended the termination of Lisa Durden, who went on the show to defended her group's all-black Memorial Day Celebration. Munroe said many students and parents complained after her segment aired.
"Racism cannot be fought with more racism," he said in a public statement.
The political positions of these two college professors might be worlds apart, but both show how college campuses are trying to strike a balance between free expression and limiting offensive speech.
In the appeal of her termination, the former Kean professor uses a favorite term of those who criticize campus speech policies: political correctness.
She said that her students' students’ complaint “are based on political correctness.” She said Kean used the policy as a pretext to punish her for teaching critical thinking and promoting its “extreme political correctness agenda.”
She also said Kean is violating its own Policy Statement on Free Speech and Dissent, and that the investigation was based on disgruntled, biased students “with no other evidence than baseless hate, lies and discrimination.”
She then used the state policy to go after her accusers.
Her complaint said that they discriminated against her on the basis of marital status by referring to her as “Ms.” instead of her preferred “Mrs.”; that they discriminated against her on the basis of age when one student told administrators investigating her that she was “old school;” and that they discriminated against patriotic Americans because the students “essentially say American citizens don’t have the right to expect immigrants to abide by U.S. laws.”
While the professor’s own discrimination complaints were dismissed by the school and state officials, she was handed a partial victory last month when the Civil Service Commission concluded that she is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The appeal decision says the students’ complaints last year were investigated by the university’s Office of Affirmative Action Programs, which concluded that she had violated the policy.
The policy prohibits discrimination, harassment or use of derogatory or demeaning references based on race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, age, sex/gender, pregnancy, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, familial status, religion, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait, genetic information, liability for service in the military, or disability.
According to the Civil Service Commission’s decision, the university pointed out that the use of "Ms." “does not rise to the level of a policy violation” because the term is “used in a general manner and does not necessarily reflect marital status.” And “old school” does not violate the policy because the term is “associated with traditional practices, characteristics, mannerisms, etc.”
The commission agreed, citing definitions of “Ms.” from the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries to conclude that “referral to her as ‘Ms.’ would be a breach of etiquette, but not a violation of the State Policy.”
But the commission did find that the student’s complaints about her lectures were not conclusive.
The professor’s appeal said she lectured out of the textbook and used “debate points” to “encourage and develop students’ critical thinking, interdisciplinary thinking and debating skills.”
She said all viewpoints were “zealously debated” and that she would play Devil’s advocate to challenge students to develop their arguments.
The case is now before the Office of Administrative Law.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5.
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