This professor says teaching about racial justice is rooted in his faith. He may lose his job for it
Professor Sam Joeckel says he hasn't been sleeping much over the past few weeks — ever since he was told his contract at Palm Beach Atlantic University is under review, following a complaint from a parent about a unit of study he was teaching on racial justice.
Over the next week, the English professor expects to find out if he can keep the job he’s had for the past two decades.
The way Joeckel sees it, racial justice is a “perfect topic” to teach at a Christian university like his.
“The pursuit of racial justice goes hand in hand with the overarching message of the gospel,” Joeckel said. “The civil rights movement has a rich history in … fighting back from a distinctly Christian perspective.”
Joeckel says he’s been teaching a unit on racial justice in his English classes for 12 years — as a way to educate his students on the Black experience in the United States and give them ideas for research papers they have to complete for his courses —whether it’s about the work of historic leaders like W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington or long-standing racial disparities in mass incarceration and educational attainment.
In the years Joeckel has been teaching the course, he says administrators at Palm Beach Atlantic University have had access to his syllabus. But he says they never raised concerns until now.
According to Joeckel, on Feb. 15 he was approached by the university’s provost and the dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, who told Joeckel his contract was under review after a parent complained about the lessons on racial justice.
“I asked, ‘Dean, could you please elaborate on the nature of the complaint from the parent?’” Joeckel said. “The dean responded by telling me that the concern was that I was “indoctrinating” students.”
The dean and a spokesperson for PBA did not respond to a request for comment on Joeckel’s allegations and the status of his contract.
Even though PBA is a private school, Joeckel says it’s not immune from the impact of state policies restricting how race and history can be talked about in the classroom — initiatives that have largely been focused on public institutions.
“I most definitely think that what is happening here is this “anti-woke ideology” is now infiltrating even a Christian university like Palm Beach Atlantic University. So I think there's undoubtedly a connection,” he said. “I think we're in really bad shape if even a Christian university is pushing back at an attempt to teach racial justice. That just does not seem right at all.”
According to the university’s policy handbook, employees can be terminated at any time without cause.
Faculty can also be dismissed for cause, for reasons such as “incompetence” or “grave moral delinquency”, among others. Once a professor is dismissed, they can request that the Provost and the Senate Ethics Committee review the decision. The university president can then consider the committee’s recommendation and reverse the termination or not.
Gabe Roberts, an attorney for Joeckel, says their hope is for the professor to keep teaching at Palm Beach Atlantic.
“The goal? Have him return, continue to teach as he's been teaching for the last 20 years,” Roberts said. “If that doesn't happen, if the university is not willing to do the right thing here, then we'll have no choice but to review what legal options we have.”