UCLA Professor Suing School After Refusing to Grade Black Students Differently

UCLA Professor Suing School After Refusing to Grade Black Students Differently Royce Hall Royce Hall on the campus of University of California, Los Angeles. Completed in 1929, it is one of the four original buildings on UCLA's Westwood campus and named after philosopher Josiah Royce. (Kirby Lee via AP)

By Jason Clemons | Friday, 08 April 2022 05:40 PM

A judge recently ruled that a UCLA professor who had been suspended after refusing to grade black students more leniently may continue with his lawsuit against the school.

According to Inside Higher Ed, a group of students initially emailed UCLA accounting professor Gordon Klein, shortly after George Floyd's death, and requested that Klein institute a "no-harm" final exam that would include extending the timeline for other final assignments and projects.

The students sought these accommodations, according to a Daily Wire report, due to recent "traumas … we have been placed in a position where we [must] choose between actively supporting our black classmates or focusing on finishing up our spring quarter.

"We believe that remaining neutral in times of injustice brings power to the oppressor, and therefore staying silent is not an option," the UCLA students added.

The students also stated their request wasn't a "joint effort to get finals canceled for non-black students" … but rather a plea for Klein to "exercise compassion and leniency with black students in our major."

According to reports, Klein did not acquiesce to the group request. Instead, he posted the following message, via email:

"Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. … Do you know the names of the classmates that are black?" asked Klein . "How can I identify them, since we've been having online classes only?"

The Klein email continued, with the professor asking which students "may be 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?"

Additionally, Klein suggested "a white student from [Minneapolis] might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they're racist, even if they are not. My (teaching assistant) is from Minneapolis, so if you don't know, I can probably ask her."

Klein then reportedly ended that email with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., echoing the iconic line of "not judging a man by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character."

In the wake of the interactions, UCLA suspended and then denounced Klein's actions. However, the school later reinstated the accounting professor.

On March 30, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III ruled against UCLA in its attempt to have Klein's lawsuit dismissed.

Ford ruled that Klein provided sufficient evidence to "support judgment in his favor" for several of his claims.

Klein's lawsuit alleges he was punished for treating students equally, as required by California law. He also claims UCLA's Anderson School of Management "disregarded" a broader institutional directive, in terms of not punishing professors over student complaints, minus a full investigation.

Also, Klein believes the incident with his students cost him a number of court-related opportunities, where he had been compensated for serving as an "expert" witness.

Klein's lawsuit will be scheduled for a jury trial in April 2023.