Florida Christian college professor says he was fired for teaching racial justice: NPR

Sam Joeckel, a longtime English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, says his contract was terminated early after accusations that his racial justice classes “indoctrinated” students.

For years, Joeckel’s class included a section on the black experience in the U.S., where he touched on the work of historical figures such as WEB Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, as well as longstanding racial disparities in mass incarceration and educational achievement, as WLRN reported earlier.

But administrators recently pushed back against Joeckel’s curriculum, saying they received a complaint from a student’s parent about his lessons related to race, the professor said. Joeckel’s contract was subsequently revised last month. A few days ago, the instructor learned that his contract would be terminated early.

“They did this for a clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice,” he wrote in a statement on Instagram Thursday.

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a Christian college in West Palm Beach, Florida. As of 2021, nearly 3,700 students attend the school, either in person or online. White students make up just over half of the student population, while 10% identify as black and 17% as Hispanic.

The fallout at the university comes amid a campaign by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis against what he calls “woke indoctrination” in education.

During her tenure, DeSantis worked to set limits on how topics of race and gender are discussed in K-12 education, as well as to ban programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at public colleges. Although Palm Beach Atlantic University is a private institution, Joeckel believes the school is influenced by the state’s political climate.

“The timing of this is no coincidence as we are dealing with an ‘anti-woke’ crusade by Governor DeSantis and other far right politicians and activists,” he wrote on social media. “I believe this is inconsistent with the Christian beliefs that I firmly hold and that the PBA claims to uphold.”

“I definitely think what’s happening here is that this ‘anti-woke ideology’ is now seeping into even a Christian university like Palm Beach Atlantic University,” he told WLRN earlier this month.

The school did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment on Joeckel’s contract. But in an internal memo written last month and obtained by The Palm Beach Postchancellor Chelly Templeton said the school is studying Joeckel’s curriculum to “better understand the pedagogical rationale for including these extensive lectures in a Composition II class.”

She added, “It is important that the objectives of Composition II remain the focus of the course.”

Students and alumni condemned the disciplinary action, arguing that the school contradicted its own values โ€‹โ€‹of unity and academic freedom. A petition asking for Yokel’s contract to be renewed had more than 2,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

In an accompanying open letter to university president Debra Schwinn, supporters wrote, “Criminalizing much-needed conversations around race is โ€” at its core โ€” racism and discrimination itself.”

Yokel said racial justice has been part of his course for 12 years, calling it a “perfect topic” to teach at a Christian school.

“The pursuit of racial justice goes hand in hand with the overarching message of the gospel,” he told WLRN earlier this month.

Yokel, who has taught at the school for more than 20 years, said he plans to file a lawsuit against the school.

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