A Parent Is Trying to Get a Professor Fired Over Racial Justice Unit

  • A Florida professor says his job is in jeopardy after a parent complained about a racial justice unit in his writing course.
  • Sam Joeckel has incorporated a racial justice unit into his writing course for 12 years.
  • He said the parent told the Palm Beach Atlantic University that he is “indoctrinating” students.

Florida school districts recently began implementing a new law requiring all books in a public school to be vetted by a trained media specialist. But the state’s book bans and reviews of educational content might have reverberating effects beyond the K-12 classroom.

Insider’s Yelena Dzhanova spoke to Sam Joeckel, a long-time English professor at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University. He said he recently received notice that his job is being reconsidered after a parent complained to the university president about a racial justice unit in one of his writing classes. The university declined to comment.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

I’ve been teaching a racial justice unit in my English classes at the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida for 12 years. 

The unit this semester is incorporated into a composition class, which most first-year students have to take. All professors who teach this course at my university include readings or topics or themes of their choice that provide material to engage with for assignments.

The goal is to basically help students improve their writing. So that never changes. But the subject of the class, the readings of the class, all of that is completely at the discretion of the professor. I’ve taught many different variations, many different themes and topics in the class, but racial justice has usually been a part of it.

But a parent called the university president, and apparently the parent used the word “indoctrinating” to describe the unit. And on February 15, the dean and the provost confronted me about it in the hallway.

I posted what I heard from them on Instagram, and my post exploded.

When I went into the office two days later, I got an email in the morning saying the dean wanted to convene a meeting for that very afternoon. 

That’s never happened before. I’ve never had the dean contact me for a meeting that would take place that same day.

So when I walked into the meeting that afternoon, I noticed that an HR representative was also present. So I sit down and the dean pulls out the syllabus for my course and just reviews the entire thing. He was going through portions of the syllabus that have absolutely nothing to do with racial justice.

At this point, I’m very confused, because he had said that the concern was that I’m indoctrinating students. 

So he asked me questions about my learning outcomes and the measurement of outcomes. And then, when we finally do get to the racial justice unit, he asks me just a few questions that he has in his notes. I could tell that they were prepared questions. I answered the questions, and he basically responded by nodding and saying, “Okay.” He asked me one or two follow-up questions. And then we moved on.

He didn’t voice any concern during that meeting about the racial justice unit.

But he did seem to focus on and question my pedagogical approaches.

So I walked away from that meeting with the opinion that the university is attempting to make this an issue of my curriculum and my pedagogy, rather than racial justice, as the parent claimed. Because if it was overtly about racial justice, the university would face a lot of controversy and negative attention, and it doesn’t want to attract that.

At the beginning of every semester, all faculty at my university are required to submit their syllabi to their deans. So I’ve been here for 20 years, so that’s 40 semesters. So 40 semesters, and four classes per semester, is 160. So they have in their possession at least 160 of my syllabi.


And not once have they examined one of those 160 syllabi and said, “Your pedagogy seems off here.” And I’ve been promoted multiple times and have the highest rank at the university.

So if in fact that is what the university is doing, it is completely unfair and wrong. This is completely disrespectful to a professor who has been at the university for 20 years. I’ve been teaching the course for longer than I’ve been teaching any class in my career — and I’ve taught 18 different courses in my career.

This whole process was contrary to all protocol of the university. So what happens is, if a student has a problem, the student’s supposed to go to the professor. And if it’s not resolved there, the student’s supposed to go to the department chair. If it’s not resolved there, the student’s supposed to go to the dean, and then if that doesn’t get resolved, then it goes higher up. 

Well in my case, it wasn’t even the student. It was a parent, and the parent didn’t come to me. The parent went straight to the university president. After speaking with the parent, the next move that the university makes is to postpone the issuance of my contract renewal. That seems to me completely unfair.

They sent a letter that university officials will let me know the status of my employment by March 15. 

Everyone else at this university has already received their contract renewal form. They received theirs on February 15. So mine has been delayed, pending this review.

I’m currently still employed by the university.

My students are aware of what’s going on. The upperclassmen, whom I have taught before, show support for me. 

But then I also teach some students who are first-year students, like in the composition class. And we’re still kind of getting to know each other. So they just kind of seemed a bit shell-shocked now when they’re in the classroom. 

But I just carry on and do my job, and keep doing what I’ve been doing for 20 years.

This was my first job out of graduate school. I was born and raised in Las Vegas. I went to California to get my doctorate and moved out here with my wife for my first job as a university professor.

And I’ve been here ever since. 

So I stay here partly out of my history with the university.

Also, as you may or may not know, the job market for English professors is bleak. I mean, it’s really bad. So it’s tough to find another job. 

But I will say also, that I love these students. These students are amazing, and I teach some really cool classes. And I really enjoy my work. I enjoy teaching.

If they terminate my contract, I’m not stuck in Florida. I could move, but I do want to continue teaching at the university. My roots aren’t deep here in Florida. I don’t have any other family members here or anything like that. But the university where I’ve taught for 20 years is here, and I’d like to keep teaching these students.

Since hearing of the complaint, I haven’t slept. I haven’t gotten more than four hours since learning of the review. I’ve completely lost my appetite.

Physically, I’m not too healthy right now. I feel completely beaten down. But I do feel just like I’m not going to relent. I feel confident in my cause, so that strengthens me. And I’ve also secured legal counsel, so I have a team of lawyers who are helping me through the process.

At this point, the ball is in the university’s court. I’m just waiting for them to let me know what they want to do next. So in the meantime, I’m just teaching my classes and doing what I’ve always done.

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