An English professor at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University says his job is under review after his employer told him they received a complaint that he is “indoctrinating” students.
“The racial justice unit is what got me in hot water,” Sam Joeckel told CNN.
Joeckel said he has been teaching a unit on racial justice in classes for many years without complaints until his provost and dean said Wednesday they needed to talk to him “privately” at the end of a class.
The two told him his contract renewal for next year would be on hold as they investigated the materials used in the racial justice unit, he said.
Joeckel was given a letter from the university, which he shared with CNN, informing him a decision about his employment would be made by March 15.
“The told me they had concerns that I was indoctrinating students. That was the exact word they used: indoctrinating,” Joeckel said. “I had no idea this was coming.”
Joeckel said his conversation with his employers indicated the investigation was prompted by a complaint from a parent.
Palm Beach Atlantic University did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN Saturday. A university spokesperson on Friday told CNN affiliate WPBF, “I’m advised we can not comment on a personnel matter.”
PBA is a private Christian university and its employee handbook says, “Discontinuance of employment may occur at any time, without cause, at the discretion of PBA.” The institution does not offer tenure, the review process for employment decisions regarding senior faculty that is meant to safeguard academic freedom.
A number of students came to Joeckel’s defense online. Lauren Carleton, who graduated in May, told CNN she had taken two of Joeckel’s classes and didn’t feel she was being pressured to think a certain way.
“He is open-minded, and never wants to push his agenda on students; he pushes students to be critical thinkers and open-minded. That was my experience,” she said.
The review of Joeckel’s employment comes as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has proposed plans to defund all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities in Florida. And his administration rejected a proposed Advanced Placement African American studies course in high schools.
DeSantis was at the PBA campus Wednesday for a news conference on a separate matter.
While most of the governor’s recent education decisions may not directly affect PBA, Joeckel believes they are still setting a tone for the state.
“Of course I can’t say with certainty the connection, but things like this do not happen in a vacuum. What happened to me is definitely influenced by a toxic political culture, and it’s my opinion that the university is playing a role,” Joeckel said.
“We do not like to talk about racism,” he added. “We do not like to have uncomfortable conversations.”