Florida English professor says the university canceled his contract after a complaint about his racial justice department

(CNN) A former English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida says the school terminated his contract early after a complaint was made that he was “indoctrinating” students by teaching about racial justice.

Sam Joeckel told CNN in a statement Wednesday that he felt the university terminated his contract early “for one clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice.”

Officials at the private Christian university informed Joeckel last month that his contract extension was on hold while they investigated materials he was using at the racial justice department and told him a decision would be made by March 15, CNN previously reported. The former professor told CNN at the time the conversation with his employers in February indicated the investigation was prompted by a complaint from a parent.

“I believe this goes against the Christian beliefs that I hold and that PBA claims to hold closely,” Joeckel said in his statement this week. “PBA has chosen to reject the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘Like a boil that can never be healed while covered, but must be opened in all its ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light, [racial] Injustice, with all the tension that its exposure creates, must be exposed to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be healed.’”

In a statement in response to CNN’s request, Palm Beach Atlantic University spokesman Jason Masterson said, “Following the advice of legal counsel, the university has not commented.”

The university’s staff handbook states: “Termination of employment may occur at any time, without cause, at the discretion of the PBA.” The institution does not offer tenure, the review process for hiring decisions regarding senior faculty members, designed to protect academic freedom.

Joeckel said he believes “the timing of this is no coincidence,” noting the rhetoric of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other “far-right politicians and activists” on issues like race.

DeSantis, a Republican, has said he intends to dump all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida state colleges and universities. These policies and programs are designed to promote the representation of people who have a history of discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Joeckel said he plans to pursue legal avenues “to fight back and show the PBA and other institutions that they can’t get away with this.”


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